The sheer multitude of characters serves to emphasize the novel’s focus on the interplay between characters and events. The short sections of the novel move from character to character. Sometimes the point of view changes even within the short sections. Nearly all these characters are developed fully, and they make up a wide array of bizarre, sometimes perverse individuals. The characters are clustered, and each cluster is eventually tied to other clusters of characters; this movement unravels the narrative in the novel, emphasizing each event’s and person’s interplay in the novel’s nonstop motion.
Though no character dominates the novel, Sterling emerges as its conscience. Sterling, appearing near the beginning and at the end of the book, is unique among the characters in that he enters Tucson by accident, wandering into town with no real purpose, and then leaves it behind, taking only the awareness he has gained. His eventual gain of understanding for the endurance of the Earth and the importance of tribal spirits is the very heart of the novel. At the beginning, Sterling is immersed in the white system, and his self-delusion is rooted in his European thinking, symbolized by his obsession with crime magazines. Sterling’s fascination with the white image of “Geronimo” (his favorite “criminal”) illustrates his inability to understand reality in a tribal sense. Silko educates the reader about Geronimo’s “true” existence, as Sterling should have been educated, through the oral stories of an Indian matriarch. The crime magazines and other trappings of white culture are abandoned once Sterling returns to his culture and begins to think in a more tribal-centered manner. Sterling leaves the corrupt world of the novel behind and returns to the Stone Snake and to his reservation. Once home, he recalls the old-time ways he was taught as a child, realizes the sacredness of the Earth, and knows that the Twin Brothers and the people will come from the south.
Seese’s fate is precarious but hopeful. Her addiction to cocaine and her connection to that world of depravity are directly responsible for the loss of her child, Monte. While she searches for Monte, she begins to wean herself from her addiction; she lapses back into drug use, but her experiences while using again prove so horrifying that she apparently commits to permanent cessation. Through her dreams, she eventually realizes that Monte is dead and lost to her forever. Seese continues to survive and, at the close of the novel, remains with Lecha, who has completed the transcription of the ancient manuscript and who predicts that the unrest of the people will be followed by natural disasters and civil war. Seese’s future and her beliefs regarding the prophecy are unknown, as she does nothing but cry during the final pages. Yet Silko has Lecha and Sterling rescue Seese from the crumbling Tucson, promising at least a potential future.
Silko creates the character of Lecha with many characteristics of Coyote, a Native American mythic character who is half creator, half fool and renowned for greediness and trickery. Her desertion of Ferro, her son, and her playfulness with the corrupt world—even while she translates the manuscript and believes in her grandmother Yeome’s teachings—display luck, creativity, and craftiness, those attributes of Coyote that maintain vitality even in the midst of desolation. Yeome has given Lecha a gift of psychic power, which she has used to gain wealth; like many old families of Tucson, she profits from others’ misfortunes, for she soon realizes that she has psychic powers only to discover the dead. Nevertheless, Lecha is the keeper of the ancient manuscript, the calendar that will predict the coming catastrophes. She holds the key to the prophecy, to the future.
Lecha (LAY -chay), the mother of Ferro, and sister of Zeta. She is a celebrated psychic and keeper of the sacred Lakota text of the almanac. Initially in...
(The entire section is 11,071 words.)