What literary or artistic theme is used to suggest the persistent ways Tom's past haunts him in When the Legends Die?

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A very important theme in When the Legends Die is that of alienation. Related to this idea is the fact that Thomas is frequently reminded of his past and can’t shake it off: by being confronted with what is new and unusual for him, he is constantly reminded of his...

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A very important theme in When the Legends Die is that of alienation. Related to this idea is the fact that Thomas is frequently reminded of his past and can’t shake it off: by being confronted with what is new and unusual for him, he is constantly reminded of his past.

After Thomas’s family has to leave their home in Pagosa, Colorado, they settle in the wilderness. Here, they try to maintain their original Ute heritage and lifestyle. However, Thomas does not stay in the wilderness; after his parents die, he is yet again removed from his familiar surroundings and ends up living at an Indian school in Ignacio, in a community which is unfamiliar to him. The school, which teaches Native children to assimilate into white society, makes him feel alienated, and he longs to return to his traditional Ute lifestyle. As a result, he alienates the people around him, as well as feeling alienated himself.

Even his friendship with a fellow Ute, Blue Elk, does not help Thomas to settle, as it turns out that Blue Elk does not have Thomas's best interests at heart. Feeling alienated causes Thomas to become attached to a person who reminds him of his past and whom he considers trustworthy because of their joint Ute heritage; unfortunately, Blue Elk’s motives aren’t as honorable as Thomas first assumed, and the older man tricks him into going to the school in Ignacio.

Thomas simply can’t get used to different ways of living. The way he finds himself treated by others results in him feel alienated and angry and leads to him taking out this anger. This can be seen in the scene with the horses, for example. Throughout the story the theme of alienation repeats itself: Thomas is simply unable to adapt to any way of life that is different to his past, and he feels alienated as a result.

This alienation only ceases when Thomas is finally able to live in peace, honoring his Ute heritage, at the end of the novel. Thomas is finally able to feel at home again.

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