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...

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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. Like other creation stories told by cultures around the world, it offers an explanation of how the world came to exist.

Another theme of "The Earth on Turtle's Back" is the subservience, benevolence, and magnanimity of the animals of the Earth towards humankind. When the animals living in the water below see the chief's wife falling, their first thought is to somehow save her. They devote all of their efforts to this until they succeed. This shows the primary importance of humankind in relation to the rest of the animals, and it also indicates the debt and respect that humans owe to the animals of the Earth.

A further theme in this story is the need for persistence when pursuing important goals. The animals each try with all of their strength to save the woman until one of them succeeds.

Finally, the story has the theme of the triumph of the underdog, or one who would not normally be expected to succeed. Larger, more powerful and proficient animals attempting to swim down and reach the earth fail, but the tiny, lowly muskrat is the one who finally reaches the goal and enables the creation of the world.

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The Onondaga creation story, "The Earth on Turtle's Back," is an allegorical story of the ways in which people relate to and exist within the world.

The first demonstration of this we arrive at is the way the characters in the story relate to a dream. The woman's dream of the tree being uprooted is seen as prophetic. Oracles and prescience are not rare in the contexts of religious and mythological stories, but what is rare, in my opinion, is the way the people related to this vision. They didn't try to prevent the uprooting of the great, beautiful tree, which at this point is the only mentioned source of food in Skyland. They instead actively sought out the fulfillment of this prophecy. The ability to push through fear for the sake of change, unknown change at that, is one of the first themes we are given in the story.

This theme is not unique to the humans in the story but is also shown by the other animals in the story. The animals, upon seeing an unknown creature fall from the sky, immediately welcome said creature and recognize the creature's need for land. They push through the same fear for the sake of change, going as far as almost dying to actively create it.

The relationship the animals have with the woman is another identifiable theme. The way their existence and efforts are necessary for the woman's survival differs from the Abrahamic traditions of dominion so familiar to the Eurocentric perspective. The narrative makes clear that humanity is not above, or even separate from, the so-called wild or natural world. Humanity is a small part of the natural world and completely dependent upon it, the way that an arm is dependent on the rest of the body for its existence.

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There are a couple of themes present in the Iroquois creation tale "The Earth on Turtle's Back." This creation tale tells of how the world came to be, all supported by a great turtle.

The tale tells of the chief of Skyland and his wife. The pregnant wife dreams of a great tree that is uprooted from the ground. She tells her husband about the dream, and he decides that the dream is telling them what they must do. There is a great tree nearby. The great tree is uprooted, creating a hole through which the pregnant wife falls.

The animals below the Skyland see the woman falling and rescue her. Unsure if she would be able to survive in the land of waters, one of the animals (a muskrat) dives deep into the depths to pull up the Earth. Having no place to put the Earth, an old and wise turtle suggests that the animals place the Earth on its back for support. The pregnant woman, who has seeds in her hand from the great tree, drops the seeds on the land, and the seeds immediately begin to sprout. This is how the Earth began.

There are two main themes present in this creation myth: cooperation and the power of nature. First, the theme of cooperation is present. Without the cooperative help of the animals, the Earth would not have come to be. The swans save the woman carrying the seeds. The birds have knowledge of the Earth below the water. The muskrat offers to dive down to get the Earth, and the turtle supports the Earth.

Secondly, the power of nature is also a prominent theme. Without the animals saving the woman, the Earth would not have come to be. It is only through the collective power of the animals that the Earth is actually able to flourish. If the animals would not have thought to save the woman, exerting their power, the Earth would never have come to exist.

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