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Alcohol and Native American Experience


Many novelists addressing the Native American experience use alcohol as a motif to express the paucity of Western culture and the capacity for alcohol to destroy traditional Native American spirituality. Alcohol appears as a subject in both Susan Power's The Grass Dancer and Louise Erdich's Love Medicine as a malevolent force. In both novels, it has an enormous negative impact on the Indian culture. Alcohol literally represents the capacity for physical destruction. Symbolically, it acts as a sign for the death of the Native American culture and the coopting of Native spirituality by Western culture.

The action of The Grass Dancer is set into motion by an alcohol-driven tragedy. Henry Burger, an Anglo who has just broken up with a Sioux woman, is bemoaning his fate in a bar. After too much to drink, he drives home and begins to hear "mocking voices speaking a language unfamiliar to him. Sioux, he guessed" (Power 6). As he continues to drive, the pebbles striking his truck are "Sioux ghosts he was certain were pelting his truck with rocks" (Power 6). In his stupor, he becomes convinced that "Dead Indians were trying to put one over Henry Burger" (Power 6). He eventually smashes into a car being driven by the protagonist's father and brother.

Louise Erdich also uses alcohol as a motif, yoking it with destruction and corrupt Western spirituality. Native Americans are forced to adjust to white society, and, in doing so, they must sublimate their identities. June Morrisey, who her grandfather considered so pretty he called her "Miss Indian America," cannot adjust to Western life, symbolized by her inability to hold work: "She reported drunk for work in dimestores and swaggered out of restaurants she'd worked at for a week" (Erdich 9). Relationships between family members are disrupted by drink. Eli gives his prize hat to King, who "sway[s] to his feet. [King's] drunk on his behind. I...

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Alcohol and Native American Experience. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 12:50, April 26, 2019, from