How is culture portrayed in "Yellow Woman" by Silko and "Dead Men's Path" by Achebe?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In both works, culture is shown to be a vibrant force that lingers in past, present, and future.  Silko's narrator is both apart from her culture in her affair with Silva and wedded to it.  She wishes to escape into a realm that is beyond contingency, past time and space.  Yet, in doing so, she embodies the myth of the "Yellow Woman," becoming that which she never set out to be. While the narrator is a modern woman, she is a part of the Native American cultural past embedded within her.  She cannot escape her culture in the modern sense.  She is a part of that which is the past.  Culture is shown to be a defining element in her being.

The determining role of culture is seen in Achebe's work, as well.  When the Priest tells Michael, " let the hawk perch and let the eagle perch," it is a statement on how traditional culture impacts modernity.  Like the Narrator in Silko's work, culture is set side by side with modern conditions.  The presence of the latter does not eliminate the former.  Michael finds this out in rather difficult terms when he seeks to eliminate the cultural identity of the village with a modern sensibility.  Michael's narrative unfolds in a sad manner because he fails to understand the importance of traditional culture. Its presence is embedded in everything around the individual, and Michael strives to deny this.  The Narrator in Yellow Woman understands how both the "hawk" and "eagle" coexists in her own narrative and lives in a state of liminality because of it.  Michael wishes to overcome this condition, and in the process, culture is shown to be a destructive reality.  The power and relevance of culture is seen in both works.

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Yellow Woman

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