Laughing Boy, ceremonially named “Sings Before Spears,” represents the young, talented, and exuberant Navajo from the reservation—a “blanket Indian” who speaks no English. Skilled in jewelry-making and at home on horseback, he finds fulfillment in creating beautiful works and in tending his animals. Yet he is competitive as well, even aggressive at times. He enjoys contests, gambling, and occasional unfriendly encounters with traditional Navajo enemies, the Ute and the Hopi. For the most part, he follows the Navajo way, the trail of beauty; he takes part in traditional dances, rituals, and ceremonies, finding significance in the Navajo religion.
Slim Girl, “Came With War,” the heroine, enables the author to overcome the taciturnity and reserve of the Indian character and bridge the two conflicting cultures. A Navajo whose grandmother was an Apache, she attended an Indian school where she learned English and adopted the values of American culture.
Her life with a missionary family ended abruptly and unhappily, however, when she became pregnant by a cowboy who refused to marry her. Cared for by local prostitutes, she became one of them after bearing a stillborn child. She disliked her existence and American ways and longed to return to the reservation, to follow the Navajo way, of which she knew little. Her interest in Laughing Boy, originating because she sees him as affording her a way back, grows into love. From him she learns...
(The entire section is 518 words.)