Native American Literature Questions and Answers

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What are some themes in "The Earth on Turtle's Back"?

The primary theme of the Native American story "The Earth on Turtle's Back" is creation. Other themes in the story include the benevolence of animals toward humankind, the need for persistence when doing something important, and the value of the lowly and seemingly insignificant.

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The Indigenous story "The Earth on Turtle's Back" tells of a time before the Earth existed when there is only water. In the sky lived a chief and his people. After his wife has a prophetic dream, the chief orders the great sky tree torn down. The wife falls into the hole where the trees roots have been. The animals living in the water become determined to save her by bringing up some earth from under the sea so she has a place on which to stand. One by one the animals try to swim down and reach the earth but they all fail. Finally the lowly muskrat manages to grasp a handful of earth, which is placed on the back of the Great Turtle. The earth grows into the world and the woman is saved, and the seeds she has brought create the plants of the Earth.

This story, which is told by Northeastern peoples such as the Lenape and the Iroquois, offers an explanation for why some Native Americans refer to the North American continent as Turtle Island. The primary theme of this story is creation....

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