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The purpose of the quotation marks around the word “borrowed” in Thomas King’s novel Medicine River is to capture or convey the irony in the characters’ actions. Just as individuals today commonly use what are known as “finger quotes” while communicating orally to emphasize the absurdity or irony of something, King employs quotation marks around the word “borrowed” to suggest that the individual doing the borrowing is exceedingly unlikely to return the item to its rightful owner. The item in question may be sincerely requested with the intent of borrowing it, but one of the more dysfunctional characteristics of Native American culture allows for the act of returning the borrowed item to take an unusually long time. On page 118 of King’s novel, he describes his protagonist’s youthful endeavors: “. . .on graduation night, he took off with a couple of friends, ‘borrowed’ a car and drove it to Edmonton, where they wrecked it after a high-speed chase with the cops . . .” Again, the use of quotation marks around “borrowed” indicates a very low likelihood that the item “borrowed” will ever be returned. A loan should come with no expectation of repayment. A history of genocidal repression perpetrated against Native American tribes left behind economic destitution and the most severely and systemically dysfunctional society in the United States. King’s use of the quotation marks is benign in its intent, but that usage illuminates the depths to which the community portrayed has been force to sink by virtue of its ethnicity and history of victimization.
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