The Man Who Killed the Deer Characters

Frank Waters

The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

At no point does Frank Waters provide a police-blotter description of his protagonist, Martiniano. The reader comes to appreciate Martiniano through his bold actions and sharply reasoned speeches, like the one in which he defends his killing of the deer to the Council. After explaining that the Council slowed him down by refusing to let him use the communal threshing machine, he concludes: “What is the difference between killing a deer on Tuesday or Thursday? Would I not have killed it anyway?” Later, when Palemon applies the fifteen lashes, Martiniano submits stoically, even though the pain is excruciating. Yet he can feel tenderness, too. After Flowers Playing becomes pregnant, Martiniano matures into a kind of inarticulate poet, recording but not enunciating the beauty of his little mountain retreat: “The yellow moon low over the desert, the stars twinkling above the tips of the high ridge pines, the fireflies, the far-off throb of a drum, the silence, the tragic, soundless rushing of the great world through time—it caught at his breath, his heart.”

Flowers Playing, by contrast, is presented with photographic clarity. She is the Arapahoe maiden: “Have you ever seen an Arapahoe maiden down in the willows by the stream? The fresh, cool dew clinging like Navajo-silver buttons to her plain brown moccasins, the first arrows of sunlight glancing off the shining wings of her blue-black hair, the flush of dawn still in her smooth brown cheeks?” She becomes an Earth Mother, taming two wild...

(The entire section is 618 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


Martiniano, a young American Indian, part Pueblo and part Apache, tall, broad-shouldered, strong, and capable. Forced, as a boy, to attend a U.S. government boarding school, he returns as a man to his pueblo (village). Spiritually lost, he finds comfort neither in the ways of the white man nor in those of the Indian. For his failure to conform to the Pueblo traditions, he is considered a rebel and is forced to live in a hut outside the compound. After he kills a deer on government land after the close of hunting season, he is fined and humiliated. This action seems to precipitate more and more acts that provoke punishment by the pueblo leadership. He struggles with the injustice of being punished by the pueblo for behavior that he was taught at the white man’s school. He imagines that the deer he killed is still alive and is taunting him. He sees the deer as the symbol of his troubles. He becomes even more depressed when he discovers that his bride, Flowers Playing, seems to possess special powers over the wild deer that roam the area. He hopes that, by joining Manuel Rena’s secret peyote cult, he will begin to develop a faith, but the cult is discovered and must be abandoned. With the birth of his son, he begins to find peace and to understand the beauty of the ways of his ancestors and of the necessity of being a part of their tradition, meanwhile acknowledging the inevitable encroachment of the modern world.

Flowers Playing

Flowers Playing, an American Indian woman, part Ute and...

(The entire section is 632 words.)