Gerald Vizenor Short Fiction Analysis - Essay

Gerald R. Vizenor

Gerald Vizenor Short Fiction Analysis

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Like much postcolonial literature, Gerald Vizenor’s short fiction refuses to accept the sciencebased worldview of the Occident, instead employing a Magical Realism that fuses Native American religious beliefs with modern images. This was already the case in his early, relatively more conventional short narratives (including Wordarrows) and has subsequently led to even freer fantasy. He is also postcolonial in that his engagé position inclines him toward satire, playful diatribes, and seemingly pedantic documentation that interweave the conventions of factual and fictional literature, so as to comment on actual events but without letting their seriousness constrain his sense of humor.

He undermines the distinction between fact and fiction because it is based on the dichotomy of objective and subjective, which colonialism used to subordinate the supposedly superstitious emotionalism of “primitive” people to its own “objectivity.” Similarly, colonialism (in the guise of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, for example) long tried to replace oral traditions with bureaucratic literacy, taught by a school system that forbade the use of Native American languages. Despite a decreasing market for short fiction (except in poorly paid academic journals), Vizenor produced many brief works, a practice congruent with the oral tradition he seeks to preserve; his craftsmanship cannot be separated from his politics.

“The Psychotaxidermist”

This story is a selfreflexive account of a generation. Its narrator, Colonel Clement Beaulieu, is a persona of Vizenor, who combined the first name of his father with the last of his grandmother. Beaulieu recalls an anecdote about Newcrows, a shaman whose imagination could bring dead animals to life. In a satire of white society, the shaman is arrested for performing this miracle on a golf course. Then, he infests the prosecutor and judge with magical ticks, thereby ending the trial. In an epilogue, Beaulieu begins telling the story to a group of nuns, with its protagonist changed to Sister Isolde. The point is that oral narratives are altered for each audience. Only through such imaginative adaptation can the tales themselves become psychotaxidermists, not merely preserving past forms but reanimating them.


The preface to this work compares the ancient use of arrows to the modern employment of words in the defense of the tribe. Most of the stories are vignettes from the time when Vizenor was executive director of the American Indian Employment and Guidance Center in Minneapolis. As he has acknowledged, some of these vignettes might seem racist except for Vizenor’s being a Native American. For instance, “Roman Downwind” portrays a teenager who barely passes his driving test on the third try, celebrates until he had exhausted his cash and family, then talks an...

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