There There Summary
by Tommy Orange

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There There Summary

There There is a novel by Tommy Orange that tells the story of twelve Urban Indian characters attending the Big Oakland Powwow.

  • Orange begins the book with a nonfiction prologue reflecting upon Native American history and Urban Indians.
  • Characters such as Dene Oxendene, Edwin Black, Orvil Red Feather, and sisters Opal Viola Victoria Bear Shield and Jacquie Red Feather all plan to attend the powwow for different reasons.
  • At the powwow, some characters die or are injured in a shooting when Tony Loneman and others turn on each other while attempting to steal the prize money for the dance competition.

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Summary

Author Tommy Orange begins his novel There There with a nonfiction prologue. He describes the Indian Head test pattern used by television networks up until the 1970s, which he remarks looked like “sights through riflescopes” with the Indian head as the target. From there, Orange jumps back in history to 1621 and evokes the story of the first Thanksgiving, which was actually a “land-deal meal.” Hundreds of Indians died two years later “from an unknown poison” after a similar meal with white settlers.

Orange next details several instances of brutal violence against Native Americans by white settlers, such as the beheading and dismemberment of the chief Metacomet and the massacre of hundreds of Pequot Indians in 1637 (which was promptly celebrated with a feast by white settlers). He also gives a brief overview of the ways Native Americans have been perceived by white people and portrayed in the media: they were victims of murder whose deaths were celebrated, they were the enemy in cowboy shows, and they were appropriated across the United States as mascots for sports teams. All across North and South America, “Indians were removed, then reduced to a feathered image.”

To set the stage for his story, Orange moves on to describe what was considered by white authorities to be the “final, necessary step” in the assimilation of Native Americans: their move to cities. Orange explains that Native Americans took to the cities and made them their own, finding ways to preserve their culture, such as the establishment of Indian Centers. As Orange states, Urban Indians—the first generation of Native Americans born in cities—feel at home there. The cities come from the land—as such, for Urban Indians, “being Indian has never been about returning to the land. The land is everywhere or nowhere.” 

The fictional narrative in There There is the story of a powwow in Oakland, California, that turns to chaos due to a plan to steal the prize money of a Native American dance competition. It is narrated by a variety of different characters, and readers watch plans for the events of the powwow form and the characters lives’ slowly convene. 

All of the main characters of the story are at least partially Native American and come from difficult backgrounds and life experiences. Tony Loneman, a victim of fetal alcohol syndrome because of his mother’s alcoholism, has become involved in drug dealing mostly by accident. Jacquie Red Feather was raped by a boy named Harvey as a teenager, became pregnant, and gave her daughter Blue up for adoption. After another of her daughters, Jamie, commits suicide, Jacquie’s alcoholism and depression make her unable to raise Jamie’s children, and Jacquie’s half-sister Opal takes care of them instead. Edwin Black majored in Native American literature in college and struggles with internet addiction and his weight at the outset of the novel. He has never known his father. 

These characters...

(The entire section is 800 words.)