The Storyteller's Escape

by Leslie Marmon Silko

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Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 664

The old woman’s occupation as storyteller, as well as her conscious efforts to remember stories, create stories, and be remembered in her own story, reveals a recurrent theme in Silko’s works: that a common heritage of stories helps people survive. The stories build, continue, and eventually transform the tradition of the community. People survive in cohesive groups because they know and value the same stories. They remember their loved ones and their heroes and know themselves through stories. The old woman, who had guarded and transmitted the Laguna heritage all her life, “could die peacefully” if she knew that someone would tell the story of her final days.

The creative, transformative power of stories is most boldly illustrated when the old woman reflects, “I just might as well think of a story/ while I’m waiting to die” and begins a new story. At this point, the storyteller acts like “Thought Woman” (also known as “Grandmother Spider”), a Laguna creator figure who creates by thinking; as the storyteller narrates, she simultaneously tells of and creates the child A’moo’ooh (this Laguna term of endearment means granddaughter).

In the new story, A’moo’ooh looks back with pity on the storyteller slumped in the shade, knowing how the old woman hates the enemy and contemplating what the storyteller is thinking. At this point, the narration of the story is assumed by the child. Reconsidering the poem in the light of the narration of A’moo’ooh, readers might now suspect that A’moo’ooh (perhaps grown older) has actually been the narrator throughout. This realization broadens the implications of the practice of storytelling, as readers wonder whose story this actually is and how long this story has been told. As A’moo’ooh completes the old woman’s story, she completes a cycle of storytellers—while starting another. She achieves the storyteller’s escape by telling the story. The storyteller momentarily believes that her escape and achievement will be to die before the enemy can find her, but readers know that the real escape is that the story lives on. The enemy could not kill the story.

When the storyteller exults that she has fooled the enemy, she emerges as what is often called a trickster character, a complex figure known for mischievous pranks and comic or coarse behavior. However, the often-contradictory trickster is also a culture hero who can create and teach. Coyote, the Laguna trickster figure, is known for his protean ability to adapt and to persevere. Significantly, “The Storyteller’s Escape” is situated in Storyteller within a group of stories about Coyote. When the storyteller creates the A’moo’ooh story, she mimics Coyote’s divergent thinking and willingness to change in order to survive; as she plans to “die just to spite” the enemy, her thoughts even sound like Coyote: “I’ll fix them good!/ I’ll fool them!/ I’ll already be dead/ when the enemies come.” When she declares that “this one’s the best one yet,” she shows a Coyote-like pride in both the story she will tell and the fact that the story relates her own exploits. It is only after she makes the resolve to die that the she finds real relief from the sun.

This narrative poem merges well with the other segments of Storyteller, since the details of the child and the sun as butterfly imagery echo the details in “Aunt Susie Had Certain Phrases,” a story near the beginning of the volume. The other poems and narratives in the volume offer examples of outsiders trying to steal or stamp out the Laguna heritage, suggest ways in which stories convey heritage and heighten the meaning of everyday life, and illustrate traditional tales of the Laguna people; the cumulative effect is to underline the importance of “The Storyteller’s Escape.” The poem is not about the survival of just one individual through stories, but about the continuity of a people through stories.

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