Critical Context

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Linda Hogan is an established poet who has published several short stories, but Mean Spirit is her first novel. Of mixed-blood Chickasaw descent (not Osage as are the characters in Mean Spirit), Hogan was inspired to tell the story of “the great frenzy” because of her father’s ancestral ties to Oklahoma. She is similar to Joy Harjo, a Creek Indian contemporary poet, in her impressive ability to incorporate spiritual beliefs into her poetry. This talent carries over into her prose; she communicates eloquently the continuance of traditions and the endurance of the Native American peoples.

Hogan’s historical novel is written in a style much like that of Gabriel García Márquez and Jorge Luis Borges, two twentieth century Latin American writers. Her novel contains realistic description combined with strong components of the supernatural or the bizarre, placing her novel in the genre of Magical Realism. Many happenings in Mean Spirit seem bizarre: the swarming crickets that attack Nola (the event that pulls Nola out of her depressed, nearly catatonic state); the swarming bees, that attack and kill the sheriff after he attempts to shoot Belle; the speaking river, which foretells the devastation that the new dam will bring; the amazing meteorite that saves Belle’s life. Hogan uses this technique to connect animals or the Earth with people and to connect traditional beliefs with contemporary Indians. The integration of the realistic and the bizarre facilitates Hogan’s effort to merge ritualistic ceremony with her political interest in revealing suppressed Native American history.