John Tatekeya, the Dakotah rancher whose cattle have been stolen, at first appears enigmatic. The reader may be at a loss to understand John’s seemingly indifferent behavior toward the trial. Yet what seems a puzzling lack of response on John’s part may be tied to the point of the story: that the crimes committed against John, by the individual and by the system, are only the most recent in a long legacy of prejudice and contempt. In other instances, the reader readily sympathizes with John’s deep feelings toward the natural world, his respect for tradition, and his sense of personal honor. In the end, John is demystified; the story reveals him as a human being with understandable problems, concerns, obligations, and faults.
Aurelia, John’s lover, is a beautiful young woman torn between two worlds. On one hand, Aurelia is respectful of the ways and traditions of her people; on the other, she is defiant of the proscriptions placed upon her by some of those same traditions. Closely monitored by her tradition-minded grandmother, Aurelia is in many ways emblematic of the struggle of women in any culture to be their own persons in the modern world. Readers can sympathize with Aurelia’s decision, at seventeen, to become John’s secret lover; she helps readers to understand the conflicting impulses to remain true to traditional values and at the same time to break free of outmoded ones. The only fully developed female character in the novel, Aurelia...
(The entire section is 525 words.)