Gardens in the Dunes

by Leslie Marmon Silko

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 167

Gardens in the Dunes follows the story of a young girl named Indigo, who gets separated from her Indian Sand Lizard tribe members near the California border. She encounters Hattie, a scholar and upper-class woman who is Indigo's introduction to western culture. Throughout the story, Indigo undergoes culture shock and engages in conflicts with Hattie over life in the West. Hattie believes she could be Indigo's savior and show her a new world that would brighten her horizons.

Hattie married Edward, a botanist who damaged the environment through a scheme involving an orchid and citron stock. Hattie, Edward, and Indigo embark on a tour throughout Europe, where Edward gets arrested in Italy. At this point, Indigo grows bored with western life. At the end of the story, Hattie undergoes several ordeals that made her realize the importance of her Indian heritage while regretting trying to covert Indigo. The story shows that Indigo's spiritualism was far more meaningful than Edward's capitalist endeavors or Hattie's western way of living.


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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 487

Leslie Marmon Silko’s Gardens in the Dunes received more acclaim that the lengthy Almanac of the Dead, and a number of critics, as well as professors and students in higher education, compared the text favorably to her earlier book-length works Ceremony and Storyteller, in terms of both the beauty of the prose and the ultimate positive resolution of the circumstances of the text.

Adolescent Indigo is separated from her Sand Lizard people in the hidden gardens near the Arizona-California border. She spends most of the balance of the novel engaging in compelling discussions of cultural conflict, principally with upper-class Hattie, who views herself initially as Indigo’s savior and form of entrée into mainstream Western culture. Hattie herself is an iconoclastic figure in being a female scholar, in refusing to follow the protocols of academe, and then in marrying Edward, a much older scholar and botanist, but not becoming a mother.

Edward’s defilement of the natural landscape through his foolhardy, greedy scheme concerning citron stock and illegal orchids ultimately destroys his life and his relationship with Hattie. The Grand Tour of Europe that the improbable threesome—Edward, Hattie, Indigo—undertake results in Edward’s arrest in Livorno, Italy, and Indigo’s increasing boredom with the trappings of Western culture. However, a visit to Bath, England, shows Hattie the ancient Celtic gardens that Aunt Bronwyn continues to maintain, and after Hattie later endures physical assault and abandonment in the Arizona desert, humiliation after her husband’s arrest, and the disdain of an embarrassed family, her resolution at the end of the novel to return to Europe shows that she seems to have come to the realization that her spiritual sanctity will be achieved by a deeper understanding of her own cultural background rather than in ministering to others.

Gardens in the Dunes is especially concerned with how different human cultures manifest different presuppositions and belief systems concerning how to live on, and with, the earth. Even though Indigo is in her early teens and has had virtually no formal education beyond some brief interactions within the Riverside Indian School, her spiritual and subsistence understanding of human life on earth is modeled as a more reasonable mind-set than Edward’s scientific and capitalistic approach or Hattie’s alternately accepting and rejecting attitudes toward Western value systems and norms. As well, there is a recurrent and underlying theme of motherhood and nurturing in the text that is revealed in a number of ways and in multiple cultures. Hattie’s return to Europe at the conclusion of the novel cannot therefore be understood as a failure on her part to understand and live in concert with the geography and spirituality of the New World; instead, it should be seen as her self-actualizing understanding of the manner in which each individual and each culture needs to know its sources of power and where to go for insight and renewal.

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