(Masterpieces of American Literature)

The unifying theme of the short stories and poems of Storyteller might be considered Silko’s life itself. Punctuated with photographs of the Laguna reservation and surrounding landscape, often taken by her father, Storyteller seeks to assert the importance and vitality of an oral culture. Many of the tales included were told to Silko by her relatives; although not always understanding their import at the time, Silko came to realize that such stories include practical or moral instruction. Other tales and poems are imaginative reconstructions of ancient myths or are Silko’s responses to her immediate environment. Throughout, the connective thread is Silko’s experience of life as an American Indian woman.

Silko assumes many guises as a storyteller and becomes many narrators, each with an individual voice. With equal versatility, she is the Inuk girl who tricks her parents’ killer to his death, the mythic Yellow Woman riding into the mountains with her lover, or herself as a child, tormenting her uncle’s goat. As she demonstrates so forcefully in Ceremony, she capably creates male characters, catching the rougher resonances of their voices as well. Two striking stories narrated by male characters are “Tony’s Story” and “Coyote Holds a Full House in His Hand.”

In the first, Silko focuses on the killing of a New Mexico state patrol officer, seen from the point of view of one of the participants....

(The entire section is 531 words.)


(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

A collection of autobiographical sketches, poems, family photographs, and short stories, Storyteller fuses literary and extraliterary material into a mosaic portrait of cultural heritage and of conflict between the two ethnic groups composing her heritage, the European American and the Native American.

The title story, “Storyteller,” presents that conflict from the point of view of a young Inuit woman who is fascinated with and repulsed by white civilization. Set in Alaska—the only major work of the author not in a Southwestern setting—the story follows her thoughts and observations as she spends her days amid these contrasting cultures. The old man with whom she lives and who has used her sexually—“she knew what he wanted”—is the storyteller. Now bedridden with age and the cold, subsisting on dried fish, which he keeps under his pillow, the old man narrates a tale, carefully, insistently, about a hunter on the ice facing a challenge from a bear.

Between the beginning and end of his own tale, the Inuit woman’s story unfolds. She went to the government school, but largely out of curiosity, and although she remembers being whipped by one of the teachers, her fascination with whites—the “Gussucks,” as she calls them—only deepened when she observed their oil rigs, their large yellow machines, and their metal buildings. Gradually she learns that the Gussucks are not so much to be respected or feared but rather...

(The entire section is 431 words.)