John Joseph Mathews’s Sundown traces the disintegration of Chal Windzer’s character. Chal is a mixed-blood Osage Indian torn by conflicts within Osage tribal values and confused by both the aggressiveness and the vices of the white Americans whom he encounters. The chronicle of Chal’s life ends with his decline into boastful, passive dreaming, womanizing, and alcoholism. Chal becomes a sad caricature of the manhood exalted in the ideals of the Osage’s warrior culture.
Chal’s life of declining faith and growing insecurities unfolds through sixteen chapters. The first five of these cover his boyhood through his entrance into the university. Chal was born in the 1890’s, when the great god of the Osage still ruled the land defined by the Caney and Arkansas rivers, centered on Pawhuska, near the Oklahoma-Kansas border. He enjoys an idyllic youth as part of an animistic culture. He interacts closely with prairie nature and leads a life nicely balanced between contemplation and action.
Even in boyhood, however, Chal’s disillusionment is progressive. It is synonymous with his personal contacts with whites—merchants, teachers, Bible thumpers, government officials, and oilmen—drawn by opportunities to convert the “heathen,” to exploit Indian lands, and to profit from the discovery and swift expansion of the Oklahoma oil fields after 1897. His disenchantment stems also from familial circumstances. His father is a sanguine white man with enduring faith in “the guv’mint” and his mother is a silent Osage woman who judges her son’s character in the Osage way and sees little good in...
(The entire section is 668 words.)