The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Bull, the son of Enemy Horse, is the patriarch of his tribe. He is used to represent stalwart Native Americans who dare to resist acculturation and maintain traditional values. He lives in a changing world, but he clings tenaciously to his heritage. Although he seeks accord with the whites officially representing the dominant culture, he refuses to knuckle under to them. He is a thorn in the flesh of those who think that a good Native American is one who forsakes tribal traditions and enters the mainstream of American life.

Henry Jim, Bull’s elder brother, has joined the white world. He cooperates with government officials. He has built a wooden house in which his daughter-in-law, a member of a tribe to the south, has gone so far as to cover the floors and windows with cloth—much to the dismay of his Native American relatives, most of whom will not enter his house, preferring to stay outside on their horses when they need to see him. Henry Jim has fenced his land as the whites do. He cannot, however, shake his Native American roots. As death approaches, he moves from his house into a tepee outside it, reverting to his tribal customs as his life runs out.

Two Sleeps, not originally a member of the tribe, appeared in the tribal village one day, beaten, exhausted, and hungry. The elders were about to expel him when he collapsed. Of necessity, they ministered to him. He then shared with them a vision that he had about a herd of buffalo he...

(The entire section is 591 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


Bull, the chief of the fictional Little Elk tribe. He has kept his band in the mountains, isolated from the white men who have invaded the land below. At the novel’s beginning, Bull takes his grandson to see a hydroelectric dam that has been constructed in a meadow that was sacred to the Little Elk people. When he realizes that the white men have “killed the water,” he shoots, ineffectually, at the dam. Bull knows that talking to the white men is of no use—the two cultures cannot understand each another, even when they know the meaning of the individual words.

Henry Jim

Henry Jim, Bull’s brother, who decided to live among the white men thirty years earlier. He believed that assimilating into their culture was the way to survive. In an effort to lead the people away from the old ways, he gives the Featherboy bundle, the Little Elks’ most sacred object, to a “dog-faced” minister who sells it to a museum. As a result, he and Bull have not talked to one another for three decades. By the novel’s end, he has moved out of the nice house the white men had built for their “prize Indian” and is living in a tipi on his farm. He has even forgotten the English language, an indication of his total rejection of the white culture.


Louis, Bull’s other brother, who has stayed in the mountain camp with Bull. He distrusts white men completely, although he can tolerate Rafferty, whom The Boy says “talks pretty good,” which means that he listens as well as speaking, a quality Louis appreciates.


Antoine, Bull’s grandson, who has just returned from the Indian boarding school in Oregon. In coming back to the mountains, he is returning to his traditional heritage, but he comes back knowing the English language. This means that he will become an...

(The entire section is 768 words.)