Crazy Brave Characters

The main characters in Crazy Brave include Joy Harjo, Allen W. Foster Jr., and Wynema Jewell Baker.

  • Joy Harjo is the current US Poet Laureate and a member of the Mvskoke (Creek) Nation. The memoir charts her life from her birth in Oklahoma through her beginnings as a poet at the University of New Mexico.
  • Allen W. Foster Jr. is Harjo’s sensitive but remote father. His alcoholism and abuse eventually forced Harjo’s mother to leave him.
  • Wynema Jewell Baker is Harjo’s beautiful and talented mother. Despite her second husband’s abuse, she aided her daughter at significant moments in Harjo’s life.


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Last Updated on October 28, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 653

Joy Harjo

In her narrative, Harjo embarks on a journey to overcome hardships and learn how to be brave. She learns to rely on herself and develops the courage to make necessary changes in her life. Having worked through the challenges represented by the four cardinal directions that provide the memoir's structure, Harjo begins the task of turning her life toward a more positive direction, ultimately embracing the "spirit of poetry" as her guide.

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Allen W. Foster Jr.

Harjo describes her biological father—Allen W. Foster Jr. of the Mvskoke (Creek) tribe—as passionate, sensitive, and in love with her mother. He is an alcoholic and struggles to cope with life, leading Harjo to compare him to the element of water. His drinking, violence, and infidelity lead to her parents' divorce.

Wynema Jewell Baker

Harjo's mother, Wynema Jewell Baker—who is of Cherokee and European heritage—is a beautiful and talented singer. Harjo compares her mother to the element of fire, noting her parents' love but also their incompatibility. After divorcing Harjo's father, Wynema marries a white man and experiences a frighteningly abusive relationship. She stops singing and loses her fiery spirit, sometimes siding with her husband over the children. However, her mother supports Harjo at crucial moments, such as helping her to enroll in the Institute of American Indian Arts.

Harjo's Stepfather

Harjo's stepfather deceives the family into thinking he has good intentions, but after the marriage between him and Harjo's mother, he becomes cruel and possessive. He isolates his wife from her friends, discourages her from singing, and physically abuses Harjo and her siblings. Due to her stepfather's abuse, Harjo is compelled to leave home and finds a better environment at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe.

Harjo's University Friends

At the IAIA, Harjo makes friends with students from diverse Native backgrounds. With Navajo student Herbie Nez, she shares a love of music. Lupita comes from Mexico but claims to be from Venus and aspires to be an opera singer. Harjo's roommate, Georgette Romero, competes with Lupita over Herbie's cousin Clarence. Harjo falls in love with a Cherokee student and becomes pregnant with his child.

Harjo's First Husband and Mother-in-Law

After finishing at the IAIA, Harjo moves with her boyfriend (later her first husband) to the Cherokee town of Tahlequah, Oklahoma. Her husband does not live up to the promise he showed at school and fails to find steady employment. Harjo's mother-in-law dislikes her; at one point, she blows cigarette smoke in Harjo's face, an act her husband claims is a form of "witching." Although Harjo is concerned, the curse seems to affect only the mother-in-law.

Harjo's Second Husband

Harjo eventually leaves Tahlequah and moves back to Sante Fe, where she attends university. While participating in a Native American activist group, she meets her second husband, a member of the Acoma Pueblo tribe. However, Harjo's second husband abuses her as he becomes a heavy drinker. She recognizes the ancestral trauma that drives his actions, but the abuse leads to her experience panic attacks.

Spiritual and Mythic Figures

Figures in connection with the mythic world also influence Harjo's life. Alligators appear in her dreams as guardians, as does an old man who lives on the moon, and a being called the "water monster" symbolizes her stepfather's abuse. During her second marriage, Harjo watches a television show featuring a shaman from a South Pacific nation. The shaman's presence inspires a pivotal moment in Harjo's life that puts her on the path to reclaiming her voice and becoming a writer.

Other Characters

Other notable people in Harjo's life include her paternal grandmother and paternal aunt, the artists Naomi Harjo and Lois Harjo. Desmond Baker, her maternal grandfather, is a kind man, and Harjo relies on him for support during the difficult years with her stepfather. Members of the IAIA faculty who help Harjo include the composer Louis Ballard, a drama teacher named Rolland Meinholtz, and the choreographer Rosalie Jones.

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