Crazy Brave Themes

The main themes in Crazy Brave are cultural identity, personal identity, abuse and injustice, and creativity.

  • Cultural identity: Harjo’s Native identity has an immeasurable influence on her life, informing her art and sense of purpose.
  • Personal identity: Harjo struggles to claim her individual identity as a poet and artist in the midst of many challenges.
  • Abuse and injustice: While contending with abuse from her stepfather and second husband, Harjo also fights against the systemic injustice inflicted on Native peoples.
  • Creativity: Through poetry, music, and the visual and performing arts, Harjo claims her unique voice and her role as a storyteller.


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Last Updated on October 28, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 711

Cultural Identity

The first Native American to be chosen as US Poet Laureate, Harjo writes about her cultural identity as a Native woman, specifically as a member of the Mvskoke, or Creek, Nation in Oklahoma. She describes her connections with historic Native leaders and with her paternal grandmother, Naomi Harjo Foster, who was an artist. She writes, "I felt close to my ancestors when I painted."

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As a teenager, Harjo finds support for her Native identity at the Institute of American Indian Arts in New Mexico. As a university student, she takes part in the American Indian Movement by joining an activist group to raise awareness about Native issues. Though the group was inspired by the African American civil rights movement, Harjo notes the differences between the two movements and elucidates Native political and artistic goals.

Personal Identity

Harjo's identification with her Native ancestry is also intimately related to her relationship with her family and her community, as well as her understanding of the individual's role within the group. As a spirit waiting to be born, she watches her parents, learns their family histories, and speculates on past lives they shared. While she expresses love for her mother, she also describes her frustrations at her mother's inability to protect her children from an alcoholic father and a bad-tempered stepfather.

At the Institute of American Indian Arts, Harjo experiences a close-knit community:

I belonged. Mine was no longer a solitary journey.

After school, though, marriage proves to be an ordeal; Harjo takes on the role of wife and mother and loses connection with her individual identity. When she considers leaving her abusive second marriage, her husband manipulates her into staying, arguing that a Native family must remain together. However, as important as community is, Harjo notes the need for the individual to find their own inner strength and identity:

In the end, we must each tend to our own gulfs of sadness, though others can assist us with kindness, food, good words, and music.

Abuse and Injustice

Throughout the memoir, Harjo writes about her need to recognize and confront abuse and injustice in order to grow as a person and artist. In the context of her father's alcoholism, she writes,

This earth can be difficult and jarring. Joy can only be known through despair here.

As a child, she experiences abuse from a controlling white stepfather who expresses contempt for both Native American ways and Harjo as an individual. When her stepfather violates her privacy by reading her diary and later beats her for trying out for the high school play, the humiliation drives her to turn to drawing as a safer means of expression.

During her first marriage, Harjo struggles with a mother-in-law who attepts to put a curse on her and a husband who is unable to keep a job. Eventually, however, she realizes she is strong enough to leave the situation. During her second marriage, to a man who becomes abusive, a psychic and a dream warn her that she must acknowledge the danger in her life. As she thinks about her family history, Harjo invokes the guidance her relatives and ancestors have given her, noting that "wisdom rather than bitterness" is the way to respond to life's hardships.


From a young age, Harjo displays creative abilities, starting with her imaginative drawing skills in kindergarten. An important theme that ties the memoir's four sections together is creativity in all its forms and the courage needed to find one's voice. "Every soul has a distinct song," Harjo notes; the memoir's narrative traces her quest to find her song, which began through visual art when her abusive family dynamic lead to the silencing of her written voice.

Her feelings of self-worth increase as she deepens her artistic exploration at school and works with teachers and students who affirm her talent and Native identity. When Harjo reconnects with her creative voice during her difficult second marriage, her experience of the presence of the "spirit of poetry" gives her the strength to move into the next phase of her life: that of a poet with a strong voice. Harjo includes the poem "This Is My Heart" in the book as a celebration of the creativity, identity, and poetic voice she ultimately found the courage to express.

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Chapter Summaries