The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

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.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

John Tatekeya

John Tatekeya (tah-TAY-kee-yah), a Dakota cattle rancher on the Crow Creek Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Tatekeya has watched with sadness and regret as his culture changed through assimilation with the white culture. The Missouri River, harnessed by a series of dams for water power, now covers some valuable Dakota lands, and Christianity has made inroads, with many Dakota replacing the traditional worship of the Four Winds. Tatekeya, in his sixties, longs for the old days and ways but realizes they are gone. He struggles to live by the old values but finds it difficult in the midst of so many changes. A successful rancher until almost half of his herd is stolen, Tatekeya decides to seek redress in court. He soon discovers that the justice sought in a court of law is contrary to his own values. As his own flaws of laziness, drunkenness, and unfaithfulness are brought out in court, Tatekeya finds himself, rather than the defendant, on trial. Although Tatekeya wins his case, he feels that he loses when Jason Big Pipe, a neighboring Dakota and a relative through ritual, testifies falsely against him. Realizing that American legal justice is not what he wants, Tatekeya risks a mistrial to discover the motives of the Big Pipe brothers. Family and cultural ties are more important to Tatekeya than the verdict.

Aurelia Blue

Aurelia Blue, Tatekeya’s lover for many years. Although she is more than thirty years...

(The entire section is 616 words.)