Critical Overview

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Although not seen as a classic work of literature, Borland’s examination of the effects of white culture on the life and psychology of a young Native American man has been used in studies of the problems of assimilation and culture clash in the United States. Recently, Borland’s book became the focus of a study compiled by Dr. Mitch Holifield, a professor in the Department of Educational Administration and Secondary Education at Arkansas State University. In his article “When the Legends Die: A Point beyond Culture,” published in Education, Holifield states that Borland’s novel “realistically portrays the deculturalization of Native Americans.” Holifield, using Edward T. Hall’s Beyond Culture (1977), analyzes When the Legends Die, concluding that an understanding of this story and the effects upon the protagonist, Thomas Black Bull, could significantly change the way educators deal with the challenges of multiculturalism in American society. He writes, “Understanding Tom’s metamorphosis suggests questions and answers for helping America’s schools be a more positive force for humane treatment for all people and for the positive coexistence and appreciate of diverse cultures.”

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When Borland’s novel When the Legends Die was first published, it was received without much fanfare. Although sometimes criticized for his overly sentimental tone in relationship to Native American culture, Borland, as a writer, is often commended for his overall philosophy of living simply with a respect for nature, a theme that prevails throughout this novel as well as most of his other writings.

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Essays and Criticism