Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Harjo’s interest in poetry is strongly reflected in the prose of her story. Her goal is to achieve “shimmering language” that conveys an ethereal and otherworldly mood. Harjo is also a musician, and her musical training, combined with her skill as poet, lends a songlike quality to her prose.

Music and poetry both have their roots in oral tradition. The influence of the Native American oral tradition is central to Harjo’s work. She uses Indian myths to dramatize modern concerns of Native American people. She comments that “the older stories are like shadows dancing right behind” the contemporary stories that she tells. Thus the power of the watersnake myth is connected with the contemporary problems of teenage sex, alcoholism, and the encroachment of the dominant white culture on American Indian identity. Her skillful weaving of past and present, old and new, serves to enhance her central theme of survival.