Themes

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Last Updated on May 12, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 568

The theme of identity and how it is created, performed, enacted, recognized, and preserved is another major thread to Kimball's story. "Black Woolly," the female raised by the coyotes, known as Little Sojourner before the coyotes took her up, becomes an adept horse wrangler and cowboy; most people who see her do not recognize her gender. This confusion, disguise or shape shifting, adds yet another motif to the story mix: the cross-dressed female in a "man's world" doing a man's job. The pioneer woman assumes here a somewhat different guise from that represented by the statues raised to her in such disparate locales as Ponca City, Oklahoma, and Upland, California.

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Will, the white boy child raised as "Black Woolly's "littermate" by the coyotes, receives, as is traditional in the hero tale, assistance from a woman, Prissy Blackstrup, who teaches him how to become human, including, as is true with Enkidu in the ancient Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh, the arts and practice of sexual intercourse. After his initiation, Enkidu's animal friends then avoided him. Will's coyote buddies, according to one of several versions served up in the story about Will's ultimate fate, are offended by Will's initiation. According to Autumn Tallgrass he was done in by the coyotes for bringing civilization to the Great Plains.

Interestingly, one of the enduring themes of the novel is brotherhood. This is connected to a number of the social concerns analyzed above and enacted first of all in Brother's name and in his search for "the creatures," the two children bounced from the wagon and raised by coyotes. One of them is Will, his brother identified by the jayhawk tattooed on his left wrist. Brother is a preacher, an itinerant circuit rider who preaches the brotherhood of Christ. He finds Will and Little Sojourner with the aid of Autumn Tallgrass, who is not named in the episode but whose identity we learn by piecing together the evidence as it emerges, a technique that Kimball uses to recreate the informal and inferential process by which knowledge is acquired in the community. He has termed this the story-telling technique of the short-grass prairie. Later in the story, Brother employs. Cannonball and other black cowboys on the Perpetual Motion Ranch that the Ole Woman and Sojourner had claimed in 1859 on the far southwest prairie of Kansas in what is probably now Stevens or Morton County. But it is the brotherhood with all living creatures, a harmony punctuated with the realities of the human condition to "take dominion" over all of nature, that most of the narrative expresses, especially in the long, wonderfully realized scene in which Brother endures an ecclesiastical trial of sorts, Will at his side, his coyote nature barely contained. In a beautifully ironic commentary on the Christian notion of the brotherhood of mankind in Christ, the crowd at the trial attempt to lynch Brother and Will after learning that Prissy Blackstrup taught Will how to cook his food and finally had sex with Will to teach him to be human again. In one sense, of course, one might call this an ecological theme, a theme of primordial innocence. But in another, larger sense, it is the question of what makes us human, and KimbalTs story suggests that it is human society, communication, touch, and finally love that make us human. It is a powerful theme, one explored in many ways throughout the novel.

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Characters