The Indian Lawyer

by James Welch
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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 350

Many of the best quotes in The Indian Lawyer by James Welch, like the majority of his novels, relate to the Native American experience in modern America. Sylvester Yellow Calf is the Indian lawyer in question. He had a difficult, though loving childhood, which he had the following nightmare about:

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he had a nightmare of waking up in the street, stark naked, alone in a crowd of stranger, not knowing where he was or what he was or what had happened, alone and naked and full of loathing for himself, his father the strangers and his mother.

Later in the novel, he recalls the racism of a reporter covering his high school basketball team.

It's like being in a monkey cage," the older man said. "At first you're surprised not only that they can perform their tricks but how well they do it. But in the end, you're in a monkey cage and people get mighty uneasy when they're surrounded by monkeys."

Sylvester, however, was always singled out by others as different. At one point, a sport's writer in high school tells him:

You will, must, carry the torch.

In the end Sylvester rejected his Indian heritage:

He had always been a little different-he studied hard, he took care of his grandparents as much as they took care of him, he didn't drink at all, he was always the best athlete even as a little kid-but now without dwelling on it, he knew he had become an outsider to all but the old people.

Eventually, he became a successful lawyer in a white dominated community.

A familiar feeling of unease began to wash over Sylvester. He had left so many people behind, so many friends and acquaintances, to live in a world that had little to do with his people.

Even then, he felt that people saw him as

an Indian free and easy with a lovely blond woman.

and, even within the Indian community, like an

imposter, a poseur, an opportunist who would pay lip service to the issues involved in order to get himself something he hadn't earned.

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