Bear's Heart Critical Essays

Burton Supree


(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

While Supree’s text is illuminating, the real story of Bear’s Heart is in his own artwork, as can be surmised from the book’s subtitle. His drawings reveal the pain of imprisonment and show the insidious influence of his white captors and educators. The pictures themselves are very primitive, but they tell a powerful and complex story. For example, Bear’s Heart juxtaposes his life before his captivity with his later status as a prisoner. The first drawing, entitled “Cheyennes Among the Buffalo,” is in sharp contrast to the one called “Bishop Whipple Talking to Prisoners.” The former illustration shows the warriors on horseback among the buffalo. In the latter, the bishop stands and preaches before the Native Americans, who sit in uniform rows. The implication is one of the complete control of white, Christian culture over tribal ways and freedom. In this manner, each drawing can be studied as a testament to the destruction of a people.

The story of Bear’s Heart’s experiences is narrated carefully and objectively by Supree, who gives the young reader insights into the remaking of people who had their culture taken away from them. From the beginning of the group’s captivity, it was clear that the United States government intended not only to control or punish the warriors but also to assimilate them forcibly into white culture. Indeed, this was the very reason that the group had been removed to Florida. The indoctrination of Bear’s...

(The entire section is 531 words.)