Sweetgrass Characters
by Jan Hudson

Start Your Free Trial

Themes and Characters

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Download Sweetgrass Study Guide

Subscribe Now

The theme of child-parent conflict, especially as it applies to the child's developing romantic interests, is a common one, but, in the context of Sweetgrass, it is exacerbated by the swiftly changing social mores of the Blackfoot. As Hudson explains to Jenkinson, "The social idea of what you do and how and why hasn't really caught up with the economic and political reality of what's going on."

The central character, Sweetgrass, represents those who are still attempting to follow the old ways and who either do not recognize, or do not want to recognize, that Blackfoot ways have changed and are continuing to change. All around her, Sweetgrass sees fathers giving their adolescent daughters to older men in marriage. Nevertheless, she still uses an example from the past as her model and recalls that "Father wanted to marry my mother, and she wanted to marry him. Mother was really old to get married, maybe eighteen, and he was only twenty-three. But they chose each other, and their parents thought it was okay." Consequently, Sweetgrass believes that the romantic love she feels for her childhood friend, Eagle Sun, should be the principal criterion her father, Shabby Buffalo, uses in arranging her marriage, rather than the number and quality of horses he could receive.

Whereas fifteen-year-old Sweetgrass is very idealistic, her younger friend, Pretty Girl, just thirteen, is very much a realist. Though Sweetgrass prattles on about how Pretty Girl's father might arrange her marriage to a young man, Shy Bear, Pretty Girl recognizes that, because her family is kimataps (poor), her fate will be different. "You know how poor my family is. My boyfriend doesn't have half the horses Father could get for me from some older men." As Pretty Girl predicts, she finds herself becoming just another of Five Killer's wives. Even though Pretty Girl is not in a love relationship, Sweetgrass persists in only seeing marriage's romantic side. When she asks Pretty Girl what it is like to be married, the response is, "Nobody gets married to be happy," and, when pressed further, Pretty Girl adds, "He'll just give me children."

She Fought Them Woman, Sweetgrass's paternal grandmother, carries the memories of the ways things used to be among the Blackfoot, and she fully recognizes how their society has changed. At one point, Sweetgrass quotes her: "Grandmother says it's bad times for women now, not so much for men. Back in the dog...

(The entire section is 614 words.)