Linda Hogan, a Chickasaw Indian writer, writes about the Native American woman in her struggles to find her identity. The story “Making Do” recognizes the ordinary lives of women who have suffered great loss. Their lives are fragmented and forever affected by events beyond their control.
The story is narrated by the author, a sister of the main character.The protagonist Roberta James has had three children with three different men, none of whom she married. After getting pregnant at fifteen, she learns to cope with what life hands to her. All three of her children die, and her lover leaves her. Roberta has tried to deal with loss after loss. After the death of her third child, Roberta needs time to heal.
After losing her children, Roberta feels alone and lonely. Harriet, Roberta’s six year old girl, died from tuberculosis. Her son died at birth. In describing the death of Wilkins, Roberta says, “He died of life and I know how that can happen.” Finally, her little angel, Angela, died from unknown causes after telling her mother that she was going to die.
Everyone tries to console Roberta, particularly her grandmother Addie. It is just too much, so Roberta strikes out on her own. She leaves and travels to Tropic, Colorado, and finds a part time job. Not surprisingly, Roberta has not found what she was looking for in a new place. She is haunted by the spirits of her children. Most of the time she stays in bed or walks the streets of the town when she is not working.
Every night she prayed to die and join her kids, but every morning she was still living, breathing. Some mornings she pulled at her flesh just to be certain, she was so amazed and despairing to be still alive.
Her soul refused to leave what was not completed.
When the author finds out that her sister is barely surviving, she understands why Roberta is in such pain and grief. The Chickasaw Indians have lost so much going all the way back to the “trail of tears.” Consequently, they hold on to everything they own. “We love our lovers long after they are gone, and better than when they were present.”
In explaining the history of the Chickasaw, the story takes on an essay quality. The author recounts how her Indian family has lost so much that they become keepers of everything. When Hogan and Roberta were children, they too had to learn to “make do.” They even used their legs for tic-tac-toe paper.
One of the ways that Roberta copes with her loneliness is by whittling.
Uncle James carves chains out of trees. We laugh and say it sounds like something they would do.
When they felt hurt, the family would make art out of those feelings. Roberta was carving crows, mourning doves, and scissortails. She sent some of the birds back to her aunt asking if she would put the birds on her babies’ graves. Roberta was trying to carve the souls of her children into these birds. “She was making do.”
The story’s simplicity should not take away from the importance of the message of the author. When people lose valuable things in their lives, they have to learn how to cope and go one. Sometimes, this has to be done when a person is by herself as was the situation of Roberta.
The pain will lessen if the focus of the person is addressed toward something else: making wooden birds to go on the graves of the little children. The title indicates the message of the author. People have to make do with what they have in life.