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Medicine River by Thomas King traces the life of Will Sampson, half Blackfoot, raised in Medicine River, by his mother. He leaves Medicine River for Toronto and becomes a professional photographer, returning only to attend his mother's funeral. Harlen Bigbear, of whom it is said, "Helping was Harlen’s specialty. He was like a spider on a web," persuades Will to remain in Medicine River and set up a photography studio. Harlen interferes in everybody's business but always with the best intentions. The main plot (Will's attempts to find community) is developed by the theme of modern life and how Native Americans identify themselves and are identified. What sometimes surprises readers is that they are as fond of pizza and basketball as the next person.
Apparent use of irony can be seen in Will's profession as a photographer because photographers often see what others do not see and are always the one taking the picture and not being part of the picture; just as Will struggles with his own status in the community, especially only being half-Blackfoot. This is situational irony (a discrepancy between expectations and reality and implying a deeper or sometimes even a different meaning) as a photographer is expected to have a talent for spotting what others overlook but personally, Will still struggles to find his place in the community, failing to recognize his own detachment. Photographs also allow people glimpses into the past or to hold onto the past. The photograph of Will's father only serves to confuse him more.
Photographers also work with negatives in developing photographs and Will does have something of a negative outlook, especially compared to Harlen, who is "ever the optimist." This is also situational irony as the reader is expected to recognize more than the simple meaning; it reveals more of Will's character and represents far more than what can be seen on the surface; the reader being able to get a deeper understanding of Will's struggles.
There are also instances of verbal irony (actual vocabulary that implies something other than the literal meaning) in the names used; even "Will's" own name and the suggestion of "will" and won't and the Friendship Center Warriors' main basketball star, Clyde "Whiteman."
The plot development in Medicine River uses flashbacks and scenarios, giving readers a glimpse- or snapshot (note the photography link) - of various exchanges creating a series of sub-plots. The realities of everyday life for the people of Blackfoot dispel the misconceptions that only traditional life exists in this context. People have issues surrounding absent parents, Will's father in this case,; Louise has a baby and is supported by Will, although he is not the father, dating services have their place and basketball and American Football are integral parts of the community, rejecting the stereotypes.
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