I need to read the short story "Deer Woman" by Paula Gunn Allen, and write an essay. How do I do this?I have to cite some passages in my essay.

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Paula Gunn Allen's short story "Deer Woman," understanding the story will help with the essay. Maybe this will help.

This story is allegorical. As with traditional Native American tales, this story's  purpose is to teach a lesson. We would call this the theme which seems to be: value each person based on who they are, rather than on what they can do for you.

The story is about two Native American men, Jackie and Ray. They attend a dance at Sioux ceremony, with a hope to "score." They are delighted to "hook up" with Linda and Junella, two beautiful Native American women.

The women tell Ray and Jackie that they need a ride. Of the two men, Ray is the more observant one. As the girls get in the truck, he thinks their feet are the hooves of a deer.

As they travel, the girls stop at a river to "freshen up." Surprisingly, they lead the men up a sloping path to their house to meet the girls' Uncle Thunder who is very old.

Ironically, whereas Jackie and Ray had hoped to "snag" two beautiful women, Uncle Thunder observes that the women have, in fact, "snagged two strong men." However, his use of the word "strong" is not very convincing, and in fact, the two men are weak: they are sexist, with no respect for Native American women. The men have been brought to Uncle Thunder to see if they can learn to appreciate women of their culture.

Eventually, the women disappear, and cannot be found. The men fall asleep, and when Ray wakes up, Jackie is not there. Junella is, and explains that Jackie has decided to stay. She provides his watch as proof.

Further reading reveals that Linda and Junella are "deer women," and they serve Uncle Thunder in weeding out the men of their people who can be taught as opposed to those who can never learn the value and strength of their women. Jackie might stay for the chance to be with a beautiful woman, but he is obviously not one who can be saved. In trying to "save" the men of their race—one at a time—Jackie is a lost cause. His overt sexist attitude is apparent when he callously remarks, “Well, I used to say I’d walk a mile for a camel . . . but I didn’t say anything about snags.”

Later the reader learns that Jackie and Linda move to Seattle, they have a child together, but Jackie dies an early death because he told "what he wasn't supposed to tell" about the mountain.

However, Ray, it seems, can be saved. As mentioned previously, he is observant, first noticing the women's "feet." He wants to know who the women are: this may be curiosity, but also may reflect his recognition of the two as individuals, not sex objects. He asks where the women have taken them, while Jackie really doesn't care. (In fact, Jackie seems passive not only about the value of the women, but even the importance of his actions and his surroundings.)

With hope that Ray can be saved, he is returned to his world. Ray comes to see the value of the women of "his people" and even of the old ways, commenting,  “...maybe those old guys know something..."

Linda and Junella are sirens who lure men, to guide those who can be changed. Allen portrays the women in the story as strong, insightful and powerful. Their job is to lift up the value of women within their culture, something being lost over time. In this, they preserve some of the essence of their people's past, in taking the true path.

For more details, read eNotes resources available for the story; use additional quotes as well.

Read the study guide:
Deer Woman

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