Summary and Analysis: Distances and Imagining the Reservation
Tremble Dancer: an Urban Indian who is the love interest of the narrator in the first story.
“Distances” is the story that Thomas tells during the bus ride to the state penitentiary after his trial. It is a visionary tale of an apocalypse that kills the majority of the white population and spares much of the Native American community. The narrator imagines that this event is the result of a Ghost Dance—an attempt to bring back the ancestors and old times—that finally worked.
The action begins with the survivors’ destruction of anything, from houses to appliances, that reminds them of white culture. The narrator is a \"Skin,\" or a resident of the Reservation, in love with an \"Urban\" woman, a former city-dweller now afflicted by disease. Tribal life is divided amongst these new groups; although all Indians live together on reservations now, marriage and breeding between the two tribes is prohibited to prevent the spread of the mysterious Urban illness.
The struggle for survival is complicated not only by the loss of technology but also by the severity of the weather; the climate has changed so that days are hotter, and nights, colder. The narrator tells of daily activities in this environment. The bodies of the dead are burned on old football fields; he holds his sick lover within the privacy that a surviving tree affords them. A house is burned where the narrator spies a picture of Jesus Christ; he cries when he remembers the experience of watching television in dreams.
The tale closes with the return of the \"Others,\" the ancient Native American ancestors. These people defeat the survivors. Tremble Dancer is impregnated by them. She dies soon thereafter while bearing a child in the form of a salmon. The narrator holds a transistor radio, a forbidden object, in his hands in the final scene. He waits for it to work and listens to the sound of his breath.
“Imagining the Reservation” takes the thought experiment begun in “Distances” one step further. It is a philosophical story that demonstrates the power that imagination might have to alter the lives of Native Americans.
The unnamed narrator of this story poses a series of questions. Each question places cultural power now possessed by whites in the hands of Native Americans. He wonders how life would be different if his people, instead of whites, had invented the A-bomb, started Christianity, or arrived in the Americas in the fifteenth century.
These propositions are followed by a story of survival. The narrator recalls being locked in a freezer while working at a convenience store; he lived through the ordeal by remembering the story of man who died in a malfunctioning freezer. The irony is that the victim willed himself to death by simply imagining that it was too cold to survive. This cautionary tale demonstrates the effects that imagination can have on the body and spirit. It thus offers proof for the equation that appears in the text of story itself: “survival = anger × imagination.” Examples of stories are offered in support of this equation.
The story concludes as the narrator wishes that his people might reclaim the culture that degrades their...
(The entire section is 797 words.)