Ishi, Last of His Tribe Critical Context - Essay

Theodora Kroeber

Critical Context

Ishi, Last of His Tribe is the second book that Theodora Kroeber wrote about Ishi. The first, Ishi in Two Worlds: A Biography of the Last Wild Indian in North America, was published in 1961 and written for adults. It has become a classic in anthropological studies and, read in conjunction with her version of the story for young adults, fills in much of the background to Ishi’s story. Kroeber’s writing style for adults has the same lucidity and occasionally poetic quality that marks Ishi, Last of His Tribe, and her first treatment could be read easily by older adolescents desiring to know more facts about Ishi.

Kroeber’s work on Ishi has three advantages that many other biographical works for young adults—especially on Native Americans—do not. First, it is based on an actual event unique in American history: a Stone Age man living and working among twentieth century city dwellers. Second, Kroeber knew intimately several people who knew Ishi himself, and she had full access to all historical and anthropological materials about him, as well as a solid understanding of anthropological methods. Third, Kroeber is a writer before she is a historian or anthropologist; her handling of character, events, and time is virtually unsurpassed for its sensitivity and the depth of its intuitive understanding. Her book goes beyond an attempt to educate and becomes an unusual opportunity for young people truly to share the life of a unique person.