Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The central theme of Joy Harjo’s “The Flood” is that the power of imagination and the importance of the Native American oral tradition are essential to the survival of the Native Indian culture. The storyteller is responsible for the transmission of myths that shape Native American identity. In her role as a traditional storyteller, Harjo uses “The Flood” to warn Native Americans to keep their legends alive and preserve the meanings of their stories, otherwise their culture will die and their identities will be threatened.

Like Harjo herself, her fictional teenage girl steeps herself in the myths of her Indian heritage. The influence of the legends on the girl is so profound that “there were no words describing the imprint of images larger than the language she’s received from her mother’s mouth, her father’s admonishments.” The sacred power of the myths, coupled with the girl’s imagination, allows her to perceive a reality that goes deeper than the surface reality of reservation life. Her mind and spirit are shaped by the legends that she heard as a child.

Ironically, the girl’s parents—the very people who have told her the stories—regard the myths as little more than fairy tales that have no relevance to daily life. Their daughter’s preoccupation with these tales, especially with the story of the water monster, seems unhealthy to them. They believe that her imagination must be controlled and brought into line with...

(The entire section is 601 words.)