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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 425

Gardens in the Dunes is a fictional 1999 novel written by Leslie Marmon Silko. Similar to an epic or a classic folk tale, it tells the story of a young Native American girl named Indigo of the Sand Lizard tribe, who was forcibly assimilated into white culture. Although it faced...

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Gardens in the Dunes is a fictional 1999 novel written by Leslie Marmon Silko. Similar to an epic or a classic folk tale, it tells the story of a young Native American girl named Indigo of the Sand Lizard tribe, who was forcibly assimilated into white culture. Although it faced a bit of criticism for its very descriptive and detailed language, the novel received generally positive reviews, mainly because of its accurate portrayal of Native American history during the late 19th century and early 20th century.

Even though the plot is fictional, it still holds a certain level of historical value in literature for having realistic and powerful themes such as feminism, white imperialism, ethnicity, environmentalism, and naturalism and the struggles of Native Americans of the Californian deserts.

A testimony of those struggles is Indigo, a young girl of the last generation of the Sand Lizard people—a Native American tribe that lived on the desert dunes down along the big river, in a town called Needles in Arizona. She is separated from her family by policemen who raid their home and ruin their ceremonial tribal dance and is sent to a governmental boarding school in Riverside. There, she is forced to learn the white culture and be properly “civilized." However, she manages to escape and hides in a vividly described garden. A kind and intelligent white woman by the name of Hattie finds her and helps her and (together with her husband Edward) takes Indigo on a botanical tour across Europe and Southwest America.

On their journey, we slowly become familiarized with both the Western and the Indian culture and tradition and we learn of the many ways in which they differ. Indigo may have learned the Western societal norm of what it means to be a lady, but at the same time she teaches her temporary adoptive family the honest and universal connection of man and nature.

What is probably the most pivotal element of Gardens in the Dunes is its important message. Through the characters’ experiences we witness the wisdom and spiritualism of the Native Americans and their ancestors. We learn of their pure and intelligent nature and their deep, spiritual connection to the environment and the universe itself. At the same time, we’re reminded of an important part of European and American history and how modern society came to be.

Essentially, Gardens in the Dunes is a culture clash and with it we learn of two opposing systems, their different lifestyles, and the legacy they will choose to leave behind them.

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