Dee Brown Joshua Gilder - Essay

Joshua Gilder

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, Dee Brown's best-selling history of the American Indian, had a sweep and an authenticity due in large measure to his letting the Indians speak for themselves. [But Dee Brown, as the author of Creek Mary's Blood,] simply does not share their eloquence; his characters talk history to one another in an improbably self-conscious way.

Even more uncomfortable is Brown's imposition of contemporary social obsessions on a different time and culture. Creek Mary is more than a little absurd with her frontier sloganeering in the cause of women's rights….

[Unfortunately Creek Mary's Blood] is afflicted with a simpleminded egalitarianism. Dee Brown would have us believe that beneath the savage skin of every Indian beats the bleeding heart of a liberal environmentalist. Creek Mary's dream of "a mingling of the races … a paradise in which the best of the two cultures would take ascendancy" is most uncharacteristically Indian—antithetical, in fact, to the "savage mind," which emphasizes distinction, separateness, and the plurality of life, rather than running all the colors together into a tepid sameness. For all his good intentions, Dee Brown does as much violence to the reality of the Indian peoples as did the stereotyped redskins in stock Westerns; he has turned fascinating savages into boring humanists. (p. 77)

Joshua Gilder, "Who's on First," in New York Magazine (copyright © 1980 by News Group Publications, Inc.; reprinted with the permission of New York Magazine), Vol. 13, No. 14, April 7, 1980, pp. 76-7.∗