Tradition versus Modernity
When oil is found under Osage land, the traditionally Indian town of Watona is flooded with white settlers looking to get a portion of the oil money. Many members of the tribe—who are now incredibly wealthy—begin to drift away from their cultural roots, preferring to adopt a more modern, white way of life. One such person is Grace Blanket, who, despite being descended from the Hill Indians and their rich culture, is uninterested in traditional Indian life. Instead, she uses her fortune to embrace modern conveniences, buying a giant house with Roman columns that she fills with European objects. As the Watona Indians begin to place more emphasis on material goods, the Hill Indians retreat from Watona, choosing to live in total separation from the town and the dangers of white influence. Their self-imposed isolation suggests that the moral degeneration and materialism of Watona are a disease that can affect anyone living in close proximity. As the novel progresses, the drinking and gambling culture in Watona worsens until, by the end of the novel, the Watona Indians are gambling away sacred cultural artifacts with ease. Though some characters, such as Louise and Joe Billy, begin to turn back to the old ways, many of the Watona Indians have lost their deep connection to their culture and are eventually driven away from the land of their ancestors. By the end of the novel, the former Indian town of Watona is mostly populated by whites who want to rename it “Talbert.” The clash between tradition and modernity is best encapsulated by Nola, who, after following in her mother’s footsteps and purchasing a giant European-style house, has a mental breakdown upon realizing that she is surrounded by alien objects from a foreign culture. She runs away to live among the Hill Indians who have escaped the destructive forces in Watona by erasing the road that leads to their settlement, literally severing the connection between tradition and modernity.
As a novel based on real events, Mean Spirit cannot shy away from the rampant exploitation of the Osage people by both private citizens and the government. The very land that turns out to be so valuable is given to the Osage people through the Dawes Act, a law that greatly harmed Native American tribes by preventing communal landholding, reducing the size of Indian lands, and forcing assimilation into an American way of life. The land...
(The entire section is 1025 words.)