As with much in Medicine River , humor plays a critical role in the illumination of life truths. In chapter 17, one particular instance of humor concerns the canoe trip that Harlen and Will undertake. There is much in way of expectation and excitement. That is, until they run aground...
As with much in Medicine River, humor plays a critical role in the illumination of life truths. In chapter 17, one particular instance of humor concerns the canoe trip that Harlen and Will undertake. There is much in way of expectation and excitement. That is, until they run aground and the canoe starts to sink. The worst of thoughts enter both of their minds, an undercutting of Harlen's irrepressible optimism and a seemingly fatal confirmation of Will's pessimism towards opportunity and growth. At the same time, the sinking of the boat initially supports Will's belief about Harlen and his plans: "Harlen always has a plan, an most of the time, the plan gets changed or postponed or lost." Yet, despite the thoughts of death, both of them realize that the water is shallow, not even fully above their chest. This proves to be humorous because despite their fears and calamitous beliefs, the reality was far less worse than it appeared to be. This is both humorous in the deflation of negative expectation, but also telling about the challenges one faces in life. Sometimes, they are worse only in our minds, when in reality they are not all that fatal. In a novel about the reclamation of voice that an "outsider" must undertake, such a story is both humorous and insightful.
From a personal frame of reference, Will's reclamation of voice is something that takes time. The people he meets in his life like Harlen and Louise help Will progress from someone haunted by his past and confused by his present into one who can make peace with reality in the hopes of a better future. This evolution takes place as the novel progresses. It makes sense that such a transformation is evident in the photographs featured in chapter 15. Will understands that in the second and more recent photograph, he is smiling and thus looks better because he feels better. Will begins to recognize his own condition of being in the world is not as forlorn and isolated as he once thought it to be because of the presence of people in his life and his own belief in himself. For Will, being able to gain a sense of confidence translates into control about his own place in the world. This is reflected in the picture where there is no sweat from nervousness and anxiety. Rather, there is a sense of contented confidence within his picture. For Will to exhibit this and for him to recognize it to a point where he comments on it is reflective of the maturation and growth in his character. It is also an indication that challenges and conditions can be overcome for both individuals and societies.
The community of Medicine River can be seen as representative of Native American society. The community struggles with the same level identity challenges that many others endure. The balance between resistance towards a cultural majority that fails to validate their voice while seeking to simply live their own lives without having to fight the endless battles along such lines strikes Medicine River as it would any Native American community. In these settings, there will always be a David Plume, whose insistent voice demands that the fight for acknowledgement never end. There will also be individuals like Louise, who carry their own social and personal scars that linger beneath the surface. In these settings, historical challenges present themselves, as evident when Harlen and Will visit the site of Custer's defeat and it is "closed." The community that is featured in Medicine River struggles to understand the role of its past in the present and future, seeking to validate its own voice in the midst of a dominant cultural group that does not seem willing to do so. The nuanced approach that King takes in depicting how Medicine River is reflective of Native American communitarian identity in the modern setting is a significant aspect within the themes and effectiveness of the text.
The need to use stories as a way of “sorting out, an ordering of relationships, memories, and possibilities, an attempt to come to terms with the past, an attempt to find a future” is a part of this condition. For King, the need to understand stories and their importance is critical in the reclamation of identity. Will experiences this in the novel's exposition. When he reads the letters his father wrote, it is an example of "sorting out" and understanding the order of "relationships, memories" in an "attempt to come to terms with the past." The continuation of this with his mother beating him is another aspect of this narrative, this story that defines Will's past and will come to dominate his present. The memories of the absent father, the complicated and intricate characterization of his mother, and how he and James both are in the midst of struggling to "find a future" constitute critical aspects of this bildungsroman. The understanding of a past through a lens that provides the hope for a future is where redemption lies, and something that Will comes to gain through the idea of stories and individual narratives forming a larger vision of identity.