Analysis

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 705

As the novel’s various plot lines suggest, Silko is not concerned with asserting that her characters represent a spectrum of powers; the fact that they do so is presented as a given. The interest of the various plots is the manner in which these powers may be commissioned, and since the nature of power as it has been traditionally applied is exploitative and oppressive, much of the action reproduces the history, consequences, and ideologies of such applications. Yet Silko is not content merely to reproduce a critique. In keeping with the capacity for the almanac that Lecha guards to preserve and instruct, this novel accepts the imaginative challenge of attempting to reconfigure the nature of power so that it becomes the basis of an ethic of collective action undertaken in the name of survival.

The almost melodramatic undercurrent of each particular story is ultimately subsumed by resolutions that transform a plot line’s anxieties and compulsions and reveal them to be the basis for visionary projections, both destructive and productive. Such resolutions not only affect the narratives’ eventual outcome but also may be seen in Silko’s mode of characterization. Presented as though each is an individual, the characters in Almanac of the Dead are rather an aggregation of various cultural forces rather than self-consciously autonomous agents. The most important instance of this conception of character is Lecha, not only because she is the keeper of the Lakota tribal almanac but also because she actively makes, and implements, a choice between her native world and the Anglo one. By doing so, Lecha becomes the embodiment of the novel’s cultural core, an affirmation of the necessary unity of earth and spirit.

In contrast, the histories of her estranged son, Ferro, and her live-in attendant, Seese, reveal the abridgement of choice or the disinclination to realign misdirected energies. The result is, to say the least, destructive. On a more general plain, misuse of energies is implicitly on what the Anglo, capitalist ethos is based, resulting in the destruction both of those who identify with it and of those who unwittingly cross its path. The large number of characters whose stories intersect in Almanac of the Dead—the mobster Blue family, crooked and perverted Tucson law officers, and Mexican opportunists of various kinds—are almost all blighted by their encounter with capitalism. The exceptions that seem to prove the rule are the Mexican revolutionaries who allow for the cultural relevance of the inspirational macaw. The possibilities of renewal and renovation exemplified in Seese’s desire to locate her baby, and the various other desperate expressions of the need for attachment and love, reveal the psychic costs exacted by a ruthless and indifferent civilization.

In both its formal and its conceptual structures, Almanac of the Dead is a powerfully outspoken work. At one level, its power is conveyed through some very challenging material, particularly that pertaining to pornographic films, the history of American Indians in the whole of the territory designated by the author as the Southwest, and the pervasive presence of moral corruption in virtually every one of the novel’s various worlds. At another level, however, this corruption is supplanted by the work’s political dimension. To describe the conference with which the novel concludes as a rainbow coalition is to give it a recognizable sociological identity. Those participating in the conference are not concerned with an identity which the world at large might find admissible, since they are in the process of affirming an identity which has been already authenticated.

The mode of affirmation is not culturally discrete, ritualized, ethnocentric, or aestheticized collective enactment. On the contrary, the conference represents the necessity of going beyond such self-contained modes of cultural autonomy. For that reason, forms of intervention are contemplated, strategic actions are planned, and militant responses are embraced. These subversive alternatives do not constitute merely a political policy aimed at prevailing Anglo power structures; the elements of futuristic and survivalist ideologies make them the most visionary components of Almanac of the Dead. Lecha’s almanac seems to dovetail with Silko’s imagination, a collaboration which renews and radicalizes indigenous cultural traditions as well as creates new structures for the fictional representation of subaltern cultures.

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Critical Context