Analysis

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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 344

In Medicine River, Thomas King uses the community of Medicine River and the personal struggles of Will Sampson to illustrate the alienation of Native American people from society and to demonstrate the importance of identity and acceptance to an individual.

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People in the town of Medicine River are integrated into the larger cultural context of North America. They follow sports teams, eat modern food, travel, use dating services, and generally enjoy the benefits of a modern life. No matter how integrated they are, however, Native American people remain "others" to some in society. An activist Will knows is accused of shooting a man who mocked him for his ethnicity. While Will believes he did it, he also understands what could have driven a man to do such a thing.

Will himself embodies this schism. He is only half Blackfoot because his mother married a white man who later abandoned the family. Because she went outside the reservation for a husband, Rose, Will, and James are forced to move to Calgary. Will struggles with his identity, both as a Native American and as a man who never knew his father. He explores these identities as he visits Medicine River, develops a relationship with Louise and her daughter, and remembers his past with the people of Medicine River.

King writes about Native Americans and Will as "others" in their larger societies and shows how damaging this can be. Until Will accepts himself and chooses his own identity, he is not at peace. Only with Louise and South Wing, does he come to define himself as a full individual.

In the same way, though, Native American people are often denied a full identity as members of North American society, and it damages their social standing. They are not allowed to integrate in every way. One man tells a story of being denied access to a hotel room even though he had a reservation because he did not have a credit card. They are kept from being full members of society and are therefore denied a full identity.

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