Donald Barthelme constructs “The Indian Uprising” as a battle-scene progress report. However, the narrator, clearly one of the leaders of the city forces, shows none of the tactical or organizational skills of a military officer, and his fragmented account mixes very detailed front-line news, sentimental love talk, asides directed at persons about whom the reader knows nothing, information on torture methods, and so forth. There is no story here in the conventional sense, but rather a collage of smug observations leading to a surprising reversal in the final paragraph.
The title suggests that the subject at hand is the familiar material of countless American stories: Narratives of Indian uprisings have been best-sellers in the New World since the last part of the seventeenth century, and Hollywood has made countless cinematic versions by adding the complications of romantic love to the dangers of the fight. In the first paragraph, Barthelme echoes much of that mythology by implying that the city is a kind of El Dorado, with yellow-brick streets, that its main thoroughfares are named after military heroes, and that an anguished, morally aware couple will add a sophisticated philosophical inquiry on what makes “a good life.”
The coherence is soon upset. Sylvia proves at least part of the time to be fighting on the Indians’ side, and the narrator himself takes part in the torture session. However, through the accumulation of detail the...
(The entire section is 588 words.)