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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 358

The Jailing of Cecelia Capture is a 1985 meta-fictional novel written by Janet Campbell Hale. The novel received relatively good reviews, both by critics and readers alike, mainly because of its honest and thought-provoking narrative, and its authentic portrayal of the struggles and hardships of Native American women, on both a cultural and individual level. The novel explores many socially meaningful themes such as: family, individualism, ethnicity, culture, identity, purpose, discrimination, race, class, gender, and even suicide. The novel was nominated for the 1985 Pulitzer Prize for best fiction.

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The Jailing of Cecelia Capture follows the story of Native American Cecelia Capture Welles, who has been arrested for driving under the influence, on the night of her thirtieth birthday. The book is, essentially, a character study on Cecilia. We learn that she is unhappily married to a white liberal man, Nathan Welles, with whom she has two children, and she is a student at Boalt Hall—UC Berkeley’s law school. We also learn that she is constantly trying to find purpose in her life.

The cops decide to keep her in jail for a few days more, because of an old unresolved welfare fraud case. While she is in her cell, Cecilia starts to reflect on her past and her life story. Thus, we learn of her childhood spent in the reservation in Idaho, her complicated relationship with her alcoholic father and her disapproving mother, and her never-ending attempts to assimilate herself into an unkind, predominantly white, and male-led society.

The title of the book is an interesting element, as it is both literal and metaphorical. It is literal in a sense that it describes Cecelia’s literal capture, or her arrest, and it is literally her full name; however, it is also metaphorical, as it showcases Cecelia’s psychological "capture." She is trapped inside her own mind, constantly thinking about her childhood and her youth, and realizing that, despite her best efforts, she failed to escape prejudice, and discover her true identity. Essentially, The Jailing of Cecelia Capture is a story about a Native American woman who tries to escape her past, and her endless battle with society.

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 619

Although The Jailing of Cecelia Capture begins with Cecelia’s incarceration and ends three days later with her release, Janet Campbell Hale also uses the jailing as a metaphor for the “prison” in which Cecelia has lived throughout her life. Most of the chapters begin in the present in the jail, but Hale soon has her protagonist remembering events from her past. These flashbacks, which occur in associational rather than in chronological order, fill in the details of Cecelia’s life, her case history. That history is one of entrapment and confused identity—the novel depicts the protagonist’s journey toward freedom and selfhood. Cecelia Capture Welles becomes Cecelia Capture, which involves the shedding of her “white” past and acquired “white” identity and the embracing of her American Indian heritage.

Cecelia spends her first twelve years on an Indian reservation in Idaho, where her father’s past shapes her life. Because of his failed “white” academic and athletic career at Notre Dame, he desperately wants a son to become the lawyer and athlete he tried to be. Cecelia senses his disappointment and attempts to become a worthy substitute for the missing son. Will Capture insists that she speak English and enrolls her in public school, where the white students make her miserable. Knowing that she must be better than they, she overachieves academically and athletically; but when she loses at a track meet, she understands that her lack of self-confidence has cost her...

(The entire section contains 1784 words.)

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