What does the character Always from Joan California Cooper's novel Family have in common with Native Americans?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Joan California Cooper's novel Family, the character named Always coincides with true Native Americans in terms of suffering they both endured and their drive to overcome.

Always is the favorite child of the slave narrator, Clora. Though Always endures physical abuse after being sold to Doak Butler, she soon becomes the caretaker of the entire farm and "becomes indispensable" to Doak Buttler's new bride Sue and to his crippled brother Jason (eNotes,"Family: Summary"). The author sets up a striking contrast between the slave Always and the crippled master Jason that can also be paralleled with the contrast between Native Americans and the white man. As the author herself phrases it, "[u]nder the invisible hand of Always and the cripple body of Masr Jason, the farm did better and better" (p. 135). In other words, as the editors of Literary Essentials: African American Literature phrase it, Always was the one who made the farm prosperous, which stands in marked contrast to what crippled Jason was able to do (eNotes, "Family: Characters"). Always symbolizes a natural force that brings prosperity, while Jason symbolizes the typically destructive force of the white man, the same destructive force that led to the Civil War and the end of slavery. Similarly, Native Americans were always the guarders and protectors of their North American land until Western settlers came along. In fact, it can be said that Native Americans hold the "perception that land is itself a sacred, living being," a belief that connects to Native Americans' religious beliefs (Brady, "Justice"). However, when Western settlers arrived in North America, they treated the land as their own, drove Native Americans from the land, placed them on reservations, and even enslaved them, just like they enslaved Africans ("Democracy in Early America: Servitude and the Treatment of Native Americans and African Americans prior to 1740"). Hence, Always not only correlates with Native Americans in terms of how she valued the land and made it prosperous, she also correlates with Native Americans in terms of Western enslavement of both Africans and Native Americans.

Another way in which Always correlates with Native Americans concerns her drive to fight off being treated poorly. Throughout the story, Always does many things to try and establish freedom for either herself or her children. For example, she swaps her own son for Doak and Sue's son so that her own slave son actually grows up as a free man named Doak, Jr. As the Civil War rages on, she even manages to hoard gold and silver in the hopes of someday buying her own place. As the editors of Literary Essentials: African American Literature phrase it, Always was "always hoping, scheming, plotting, and becoming" (eNotes, "Family: Characters"). Similarly, after the American Revolution, the new US government began scheming to expand US territory westward, even though the 1783 Treaty of Paris ending the Revolutionary War gave the US only ownership of territories between the Atlantic and the Mississippi River, as well as the Great Lakes and some territory in the south, minus the Floridas and New Orleans ("18e. Native American Resilience and Violence in the West"; "Treaty of Paris (1783)"). Hence, expansion westward, in the eyes of Native Americans, encroached upon rightful ownership of Native American land and defied terms of the 1783 peace treaty. The result was many battles between Native Americans and the new US government. In many of these battles, the Indians were victorious ("Native American Resilience"). Hence, just like Always, the Native Americans also acted with determination to try and preserve their land and circumvent mistreatment from Westerner's.

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