East Summary

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Last Updated on October 28, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1677

Joy Harjo begins Crazy Brave by gesturing to the East as the location of beginnings: “a door to fresh knowledge.” Harjo also reveals that the East is the direction of her place of birth, in Oklahoma and the Creek Nation.

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For as long as she can remember, Harjo has loved music. She recalls being a small child in the backseat of her parents’ car and experiencing the line of a jazz trumpet on the radio as a pathway to the origins of all sound, as well as to the “ancestor realm” and the sorrows of human life. This moment was Harjo’s “rite of passage into the world of humanity,” one that connected her to both past and future.

Harjo’s hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma, is a Mvskoke, or Creek, town on the Arkansas River. Tulsa was born out of the forced exodus of her father’s ancestors, who were forced from their homes in the mid-nineteenth century. Soon, however, white Christian settlers laid claim to land that had been set aside as Indian Territory.

Harjo herself was “reluctant to be born” but felt drawn to the human world by story and music, especially her mother’s singing. The purpose of her birth, Harjo believes, was to pass on—and create—the stories and songs of her ancestors and their past. She, like everyone, has her own “soul story” to tell. As one of the oldest living relatives of her family line, she believes it is her responsibility to meditate on the past and try and preserve it through the act of storytelling. Her father is descended from a storied Mvskoke dynasty, and his grandfather, Henry Marcy Harjo, was a Baptist pastor who ministered to the Seminole in Florida. Henry became wealthy due to the Glenn Pool—a large oil field that was discovered on his lands in what is now Oklahoma. After their father’s death, Harjo and her siblings received modest yearly royalties from the oil company, until payments abruptly ended in the mid-1980s.

Harjo envisages the night her mother and father met at Casa Loma Dance Hall. Her mother, who was Cherokee, had defied her family by leaving her home with her best friend and making a new life in Tulsa. Harjo’s mother knew the night she met Harjo’s father that they would marry. Harjo categorizes her mother and father in terms of the four elements: her mother, “fire,” is purposeful and creative; her father, “water,” is ephemeral and ungrounded, with a proclivity toward drinking and womanizing.

In Harjo’s early memories, her mother is a beautiful woman whose singing voice makes “music” as she performs domestic chores. Her father was more remote, and Harjo loved and feared him in equal measure. Despite their differences, she was the one who ultimately helped guide him to the other side when he passed away. He was an alcoholic and violent toward her mother, who once recalled how he came home one night and clasped her neck in a “chokehold,” demanding that she go and tend to the baby. Although she stayed with him until Harjo was eight, this incident broke the trust between her and Harjo’s father irrevocably.

When Harjo was four years old, her parents suspected she had polio after she woke up feeling ill and in pain. This was the time of the polio epidemic, and the disease was known to paralyze and kill; it was feared to the extent that even uttering the word “polio” could seem like a curse. After her spinal cord was checked for fluid, it was revealed that she did not have polio. Shortly after the polio scare, however, Harjo began to experience a recurring dream about an alligator. In the dream, she walked by the side of a river, and an alligator emerged, pulling her under the water. Yet rather than being afflicted by a nightmare, she felt she had entered “an underwater story” in which she would live among the alligators. Today, Harjo believes she was in danger of developing polio...

(The entire section contains 1677 words.)

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