(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Lucy, an itinerant nurse, arrives in the Eskimo village of Kigiak, Alaska, by bush plane from Anchorage. She is welcomed by Robert and his relatives, who help her settle into a trailer home and into the rhythms of village life. Lucy’s period of alienation is mitigated by two factors: her Chinese American features, which resemble those of her Eskimo hosts, and the warm hospitality of her hosts. Although her status as an outsider, a “gussuk,” may be mitigated by her own Eskimo-like looks, it is not eliminated. Several times she describes the phenomenon of culture shock and discusses her ambivalent feelings toward her imposing natural surroundings. Lucy’s primary concern, however, is being accepted by the locals.

Lucy’s trailer is her home, office, and refuge, and a reminder of her transitory status as an outsider. While settling in, she is greeted by Amos and Mary, who become her guides through the Eskimo village. The threesome encounters Robert, Amos and Mary’s uncle, who invites the gussuk into his sister Mercy’s house. Lucy observes all the ritualistic activities of contemporary Eskimo life, and the sights, sounds, and smells peculiar to the setting: Mercy’s toothless grin, the scent of seal oil, a creaky table, a paper plate of dried fish, Mercy’s polyester slacks.

After a catalog of impressions of nature peculiar to an Eskimo village in the far north—migrating salmon, mosquitoes, muskeg—Robert reappears. Events reach a...

(The entire section is 453 words.)