Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Simon J. Ortiz has written that what he does as a writer, teacher, and storyteller is to “demystify language,” making it “familiar and accessible to others, bringing it within their grasp and comprehension.” One way that he does this in “The Killing of a State Cop” is by using the twelve-year-old narrator as the means of telling the story and thereby as the sensibility through which the events are transmitted to the reader. The narrator is unmoved and matter-of-fact about the brutal and tragic events he is retelling. He registers no emotional reaction, and the events raise no questions of either a practical or a philosophical nature in his mind. The narrator’s concluding statement that “for quite a while, I prayed a rosary or something for him” represents only a perfunctory response to the events he has described.

Ortiz has written elsewhere that language is a “way of life” and that he does not regard it merely as a mechanically functional tool, but as “a way of life which is a path, a trail which I follow in order to be aware as much as possible of what is around me and what part I am in that life.” Ironically, in this story the language of the narrator is a gauge of his limited awareness, of his inability to grasp the significance or the tragic implications of the events. The narrator, as created by the language he uses, is no part of the life around him.

In a broader perspective, the story deals with characters with whom it is impossible to sympathize. Luis...

(The entire section is 618 words.)