Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 396
Orion is the name of a brawny giant in Greek mythology, a slayer of all beasts, who became a constellation. In this story, his namesake is a physically beaten, emaciated African disavowed by all on the plantation except one slave boy; accordingly, his proud name has been truncated to “Ryan.” The boy, contemptuous of his vapid chores and the animal stories often repeated to him, is eager to take his place alongside the field hands and to learn the subtleties of male conversation. Restless, he alternately laments both “the nothing always there to think of” in his mind and the bombardment of orders from others on him, “so crowded and noisy lots of time don’t hear his own voice.” For this reason, Ryan, who maintains serenity while obstinately speaking “heathen talk,” abstaining from American food, and meditating in the river, poses an irresistible attraction.
Despite a beating from Aunt Lissy, the black doyenne of Mistress’s kitchen and the supervisor of the slave children, the boy follows Ryan every spare moment, hiding behind trees. He even memorizes a word that he has heard the man shout in his direction: “Damballah.” Though the boy does not know that this refers to a powerful god in the African pantheon, the word’s very sound engenders equilibrium in him. He senses that Damballah will permeate something latent and beneficent inside himself, like a sudden gleam “you knew all the time . . . was there” appearing in a tarnished spoon when he polishes Mistress’s silver.
(The entire section contains 396 words.)
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