I Heard the Owl Call My Name

by Margaret Craven

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What is the lesson of life that Mark learned by living in Kingcome village in "I Heard the Owl Call My Name"?

In his article, ""I Heard the Owl Call My Name": A Study of Cultural Imperialism in a Canadian Native Novel," Clifford Beaulieu writes: "The hero Mark has to learn that he cannot impose his culture and values on others. He must respect their cultural heritage, and he can only share his values if they choose to accept them. Moreover, by recognizing the importance of the Indian's spiritual relationship with the environment, he can understand that their culture meets legitimate human needs."

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In this novel, the most important life lesson that Mark learns is to have respect for other people and other cultures. Another valuable lesson he learns is humility. In addition, he realizes the importance of patience.

As a missionary, Mark enters a Kwakiutl community with the plan to save people...

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In this novel, the most important life lesson that Mark learns is to have respect for other people and other cultures. Another valuable lesson he learns is humility. In addition, he realizes the importance of patience.

As a missionary, Mark enters a Kwakiutl community with the plan to save people through Christianity. He believes that his religion and his faith are right, and that other people should change their beliefs and lifeways to match his. While he thought he understood that this would not happen overnight and that he might be totally successful, he later came to see that he had been naive. He gained appreciation for the generosity and kindness of the community members toward him, as a stranger whom they tolerated despite his self-righteous attitude. Taking more time to try to understand their culture, he might see where Christ could play a meaningful role, but he could not expect others to reject their deeply-held beliefs based on the views of one outsider.

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As predicted by the Bishop, Mark discovers that he had more to learn from the people of Kingcome than he had to teach them.  Although what they have taught him is hard to put into words, he finds that he has learned "enough of the meaning of life to be ready to die" (Chapter 20).

From the villagers, Mark learns the value of living as one with the cycle of nature and in harmony with each other in true community.  He learns to "accept endurance and faith as guideposts to survival, to recognize that humanity and the animal kingdom are one and the same, and to embrace life as the sum of positive and negative experience" (Enotes - Themes and Characters). 

Perhaps most important of all, Mark learns the value of tolerance and acceptance of ways which sometimes seem strange to him.  In trying to pinpoint the life lesson he has acquired, Mark understands that he has not learned "the truth of the Indian...there (is) no one truth...he had learned (only) a little of the truth of one tribe in one village...seen the sadness, the richness, the tragic poignancy of a way of life that each year, bit by bit, slip(s) beyond memory and (is) gone" (Chapter 21).  As he demonstrated when he accepted Keetah without condemnation when she returned from the outside world carrying Gordon's child, Mark has learned that humility and understanding is central to harmony, and that teaching and learning is a matter of give and take.

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