Discuss the regional and cultural variations shown in The School Days of an Indian Girl by Zitkala-Sa.
There are a number of regional and cultural variations shown in The School Days of an Indian Girl by Zitkala-Sa. They come together in the huge culture clash between the narrator's Dakota heritage and the norms and values of white society that she experiences in a white school. When she attends this school, she experiences an erasure of her Indigenous heritage.
Given her later experiences, it may seem strange to record that Zitkala-Sa is initially very excited to be heading out east with the missionaries along with seven other “bronzed” children, as she calls them. This journey to the Red Apple Country is supposed to hold out the prospect of freedom, taking Zitkala-Sa and the others to a place where they will feel as free as they do chasing cloud shadows on the Dakota plains.
Straight away, we can see some obvious regional and cultural variations, and a potential clash of cultures to which they might lead. Zitkala-Sa, in her innocence and naivety, assumes that the Red Apple Country won't be all that different from what she's used to back home.
When she arrives at her school, however, she's in for a very unpleasant surprise. It's absolutely nothing like the Dakota plains. Far from being a place of freedom, it's an environment hedged about by all kinds of petty rules and regulations, the kind that Zitkala-Sa never had to endure back home.
Everything is just so strange, which actually makes Zitkala-Sa cry. There's so much noise and confusion, so many weird sights she's never seen before, such as an “upward incline of wooden boxes”, which she learns is called a staircase. Some respite is provided when she's able to talk to another girl in her mother tongue, but unfortunately for Zitkala-Da, this is about as good as it gets.
For when she actually begins her formal schooling, it's clear that all traces of Native American identity have been suppressed. Indian girls have to wear stiff shoes and uncomfortable dresses that cling closely. A further attack on Zitkala-Da's heritage comes when she has her long hair cut, as part of an attempt to make her look more like the white girls at school. The experience of losing her locks is a traumatic experience; she actually has to dragged downstairs and forcibly tied to a chair to receive a haircut.
All this is part of a concerted effort by the school authorities to impose white American culture on Zitkala-Da and the other Indian girls. Their Indigenous heritage is regarded as something not to be cherished, but rather erased by a systematic process of enforced acculturation.
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