Red Earth, White Earth

by Will Weaver

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Who is Guy Pehrsson in Will Weaver's Red Earth, White Earth?

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Guy Pehrsson is the main character or protagonist in Will Weaver's 1986 novel Red Earth, White Earth. Described in the story's prologue, Pehrsson is "thirty, tall, fair-haired, with wide, bony shoulders." Guy is a successful businessman residing in the affluent San Francisco Bay area when he is summoned home by an ominous, somewhat cryptique letter from his grandfather, whom Guy had believed was physically incapable of sending any such form of communication due to the elderly man's failing health. "Home," in Weaver's story about the clash of civilizations within the American Midwest, specifically, the socially-dysfunctional Native American reserves and the white majority population that grew in size, wealth and power while exploiting the indigenous populations' rightful assets.

Red Earth, White Earth could be considered a little formulaic, but Weaver’s novel is written for “young adults,” and exposes that readership to the cultural and social wounds that permeate Native American populations and the emotional tolls taken by those who flee their tribal or ancestral homelands for greener—read, “whiter”—pastures. As one could expect of a novel with such a theme, Guy, who had, indeed, fled the depressing, dysfunctional environment of the reservation for the affluence of Silicon Valley, is reawakened to his heritage by this summons home from his grandfather. Guy becomes involved in the dispute that has been brewing between the Native American population and the vested interests that seek to further exploit the economically-destitute tribes. Not content to present his protagonist as simply self-exiled from his ancestral home, Weaver makes sure the reader is fully aware of just how morally-exhausted Guy has become during his exile. As Guy drives his Mercedes car across the West and Midwest, he is depicted as the personification of white, affluent, narcissistic excess--“a quarter gram of cocaine, and three speeding tickets later”—but he is Native American, and cannot escape his heritage. Weaver’s story is about a coming home that serves to temper those excesses and remind one of the importance of a soul. Guy’s reunion with childhood friend and Native lawyer Tom Little Wolf and his involvement in the land dispute with the white farmers and developers who covet yet more native land provides the basis for this emotional return to one’s roots and to the new-found respect Guy develops for his heritage.

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