D’Arcy McNickle

(Critical Survey of Native American Literature)

Author Profile

Of Canadian Cree, French, and Irish American ancestry, McNickle grew up in a Salish, or Flathead, community in western Montana. As a child he became an enrolled member of the Confederated Salish and Kutenai Tribes.

Much about McNickle’s early life can be learned from his largely autobiographical novel, The Surrounded (1936). The novel, now a classic in American Indian literature, describes the difficult homecoming of a “mixed-blood” man educated in mission and federal boarding schools. The novel presents a devastating view of early twentieth century reservation life and recounts a tragic tale of a man struggling between two irreconcilably different worlds.

Despite the bleakness of his first novel, McNickle’s own life was an inspiring one. After beginning a career as a novelist, in the 1930’s McNickle was hired by John Collier to work for the Bureau of Indian Affairs. In this capacity, McNickle spent many years working to improve relationships between Indian communities and the federal government. McNickle also produced numerous works of anthropology and history; he is widely respected as one of the first scholars who attempted to write histories from an Indian perspective. McNickle served as a founding member of the National Congress of American Indians in 1944 and, from 1972 to 1977, as director of what is now known as the D’Arcy McNickle Center for the History of the American Indian at...

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Bevis, William. “Native American Novels: Homing In.” In Recovering the Word: Essays on Native American Literature, edited by Brian Swann and Arnold Krupat. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987. Discusses The Surrounded in the context of other Native American fiction.

Parker, Dorothy R. Singing an Indian Song: A Biography of D’Arcy McNickle. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1992. Useful biography.

Purdy, John Lloyd. Word Ways: The Novels of D’Arcy McNickle. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1990. Useful biography.

Purdy, John Lloyd, ed. The Legacy of D’Arcy McNickle: Writer, Historian, Activist. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1996. A collection of essays on McNickle’s three major novels and their cultural contexts and themes. Includes an annotated bibliography of McNickle’s works and a very useful introduction.

Ruppert, James. D’Arcy McNickle. 1962. Reprint. Boise, Idaho: Boise State University Press, 1988. This brief biography is part of the Boise State Western Writers Series.

Vizenor, Gerald. Narrative Chance: Postmodern Discourse on Native American Indian Literatures. 1989. Reprint. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1993. Discussion of McNickle’s fiction appears in this general study of Native American literature; James Ruppert’s essay, in particular, analyzes The Surrounded.

Wiget, Andrew. Critical Essays on Native American Literature. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1985. Discussion of McNickle’s fiction appears in this general study of Native American literature.