Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The title of “Moccasin Game” hints at the playful, gamelike approach the author brings to the serious conflicts humans have with one another and with various natural and supernatural adversaries. The opening line, which begins with the words “The Trickster of Liberty,” underscores the devious quality of fate and of human nature, and draws attention to the trickster figure found throughout much of Vizenor’s and other Native American literature. The line also provides an obvious allusion to the Statue of Liberty, thereby setting the stage for a story with political overtones as well.

Vizenor’s language and plot twist along chaotically, sentences straining the bounds of grammar, and the creative, often alliterative, wordplay and names are reminiscent of Kurt Vonnegut. Freely mixing the names of factual historical figures with his fictional characters, Vizenor makes it impossible to know what is real and what is not; possibly the point being made is that it does not matter, for the real and the fictional also interweave throughout real life. Despite the ever-present threats to humanity, including the story’s allegorical parallels to late twentieth century doomsday threats to all life, Vizenor’s vision and wordplay ultimately affirm life.

Clearly satirizing human foibles in the nuclear age, Vizenor also parodies, but much more gently, the often naïve visions of those who would create a modern, conflict-free Utopia. For Vizenor, there is no perfect world free of trickery, free of conflict. Without conflict—that is, without humans—there is no moccasin game for the wiindigoo or anyone to play. This is the ultimate irony within the ultimate game, like the game of strategic nuclear standoff, wherein the winner takes all. All is nothing; therefore, as long as no side tries to win, no one loses. The object thus remains what it has always been: to keep playing the only game in town.


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Blaeser, Kimberly M. Gerald Vizenor: Writing in the Oral Tradition. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1996.

Hochbruck, Wolfgang. “Breaking Away: The Novels of Gerald Vizenor.” World Literature Today 66 (Spring, 1992): 274-278.

Isernhagen, Hartwig. Momaday, Vizenor, Armstrong: Conversations on American-Indian Writing. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1999.

Lee, A. Robert, ed. Loosening the Seams: Interpretations of Gerald Vizenor. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green University Press, 2000.

Owens, Louis, ed. Studies in American Indian Literatures 9 (Spring, 1997). Special issue devoted to Vizenor.

Vizenor, Gerald. Interior Landscapes: Autobiographical Myths and Metaphors. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1990.