The short story "Distances" reads like a dream narrative, or a Salvador Dali painting. It is packed with symbols, many of them surreal and obscure.
In the opening text, attributed to "Wovoka, the Paiute Ghost Dance Messiah," there is a prediction of a "big flood" which drowns all white people. From the perspective of a Native American community, this flood might symbolize retribution, or cleansing. Much like the flood that God sent to cleanse the earth in the biblical story of Noah's Ark, the flood here might symbolize the flood that some of the Native Americans hope will cleanse the earth of the white people who have for so long been their oppressors.
Later in the story, the narrator references "a single plant, a black flower, in the shadow of Little Falls Dam." This flower, solitary and seemingly fragile, could symbolize the fragility of a new hope that the Native Americans have. The symbol is rather pessimistic, given that the flower is in the shadow of the Little Falls Dam, and so is...
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