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A Native American perspective in Almanac of the Dead

  This article will explore the Native American's criticism about the origin of European American's ideologies in Leslie Marmon Silko's Almanac of the Dead. With its provoking narratives, Silko asks us the question, "What is America and why do we need to think over our true historical identity and try to restore the ideas and spirit of Native Americans?"?Silko seems to say that we must try to discover the problems with the Euro-American ideologies that have dominated America, from the time the settlers first arrived from Europe. Almanac of the Dead shows that American history can be seen from different perspectives. For Native Americans, the four hundred years of domination by Euro-American has been a disgraceful period. Thus, it might be worthwhile to look at Almanac of the Dead as a contemporary American novel that criticized Euro-American ideologies from a Native American perspective.
  In Almanac of the Dead, the European American ideologies are based on exclusivism and extreme individualism, which produced racism and misanthropy. Exclusivism, which created physical or spiritual boundaries among the American people, is related to the idea of a 'border.' If it were not for the border, which can prevent minorities from intruding, the whites in Almanac of the Dead might not feel safe anymore. To make their hierarchical, ideal land perfect, they developed racial exclusivism.
  Euro-American ideologies are also related to extreme individualism. Even if individualism has its positive side, as in the life of Henry D. Thoreau, it also produced an alienated lifestyle that excludes all other people, and results in moral corruption and deteriorating human relationships. One of Native American ancestors prophetically had called European's the orphan people? From a Native American's point of view, the European ideal garden was just a fantasy of extreme individualism that leads to alienation from other people.
  Almanac of the Dead shows that these ideological Euro-American phenomena are bound to have a catastrophic end. Although the Euro-Americans in Almanac of the Dead wanted to change their land into the ideal garden, the result was Tucson, the characters?rallying point, which led to a pandemonium of all the evil forces. All the whites show mental symptoms caused by racism and extreme individualism. For example, Beaufrey had always loved himself, only himself recognizes that his indifference to other people affords him enormous power to manipulate them. He cannot love anybody. His arrogant and aristocratic attitude is based on the phallocentric self-involvement implicit in loveless, degenerate individualism. He imagines himself as a fetus swimming alone, hopeless in the silence of the deep, warm ocean as the image of a garden. To remain alone in his world, he has become misanthropic and misogynous. He represents a flagrant personality obsessed with extreme individualism.
  In Almanac of the Dead, we see that Euro-American ideologies are also related to technocratic capitalism and a belief in the mechanical progress of civilization. The characters in Almanac of the Dead show that contemporary advanced technology and globalized capitalism have ensnared people with fetishism and caused them to regard their own bodies and other people as machines to be controlled and manipulated. For example, Menardo, a Mexican character of mixed blood, is one of Silko's bloody capitalists. He became rich by smuggling weapons, but he is choked with the fear of being killed by terrorists. He believes that his American bulletproof vest can protect him, but his obsession for the 'modern miracle of high technology' leads him to show his invincibility off. He asks his Indian driver, Tacho, to demonstrate by shooting him in front of his friends, but this ends in a tragic-comic accident because the bulletproof vest had a 'microscopic imperfection in the fabric's quilting.' His death symbolizes the fragility and danger of Euro-American technology and capitalism. 

  Now we can ask to Silko whether there is any hope. Ostensibly, Silko focuses only on subverting the dominant Euro-American ideologies and rejects any compromise with them, but it seems that she also presents solutions to this apocalyptic vision. Even if the Euro-American world is corrupted by extreme individualism and blind faith in capitalism and technology, Native Americans have been keeping their stories (histories) as a form of an almanac of Native American stories (histories) in anticipation of the day they can take the land back. The almanac symbolizes the healing aspects of Native American narratives, which are different from Euro-American narratives and ideology.
  The almanac in Almanac of the Dead has three functions. First, it connects the small narratives so they would fight back the grand narratives on Western civilization─on capitalism, liberal individualism, and so forth─and it disrupts the Euro-American ideologies and discourses in terms of the ecological point of view. In contrast with radical individualism and exclusivism, these narratives reveal that everyone's fate is interconnected and everybody should regain the connection with Mother Earth. Furthermore, it shows that those who destroy and contaminate everything on the Earth for industrial development and selfish greed will bring about the decline of their own civilization because of their detachment from the Mother Earth.
  Second, the almanac reveals the minoritie's lost identities. In the storytelling, Silko shows the connection between identity and old stories (histories). One of the goals of this novel is to find out about Native Americans' identity through the stories in the almanac. The alienated minorities can establish their own identity by restoring the old stories from their hidden past and current voices. It seems that Silko wants Native Americans to restore their identity through the lost stories (histories) of the almanac.
  Third, in Almanac of the Dead, the almanac symbolizes the solidarity which minorities must forge to destroy Euro-American manipulative colonialism. While by coincidence all the white characters were forced to join in the last deadly scene and kill each other, the almanac rallies all the minorities. Like the almanac that intertextualizes the polyphonic voices, the minorities try to forge solidarity. The twin Brothers, El Feo and Wacah, the incarnation of the spirit macaws, bring the idea of a revolution by marching from north and south. In their quest for peaceful destruction of Euro-American society, the twins hope for solidarity not only among Native Americans, but also with other minorities who share the same idea.
  Bringing together the powers and voices of minorities also means that all the ecological and civil rights movements come together. Awa Gee, a Korean American computer hacker, participates in the ecological movement. Clinton, as a Black Indian, broadcasts the history of slavery on the radio to use the short narratives to subvert Euro-American history. Everyone who has alienated by Euro-American civilization comes together to subvert the Euro-American civilization.

  In conclusion, I argued that Silko criticizes Euro-American ideologies in Almanac of the Dead. The Euro-American ideologies in Almanac of the Dead are based on the radical individualism, racism, and ecological crisis, and also resulted in fetishism and big capitalism that make almost all characters in Almanac of the Dead lost their ethical values. However, in spite of her harsh criticism, I concluded that Silko proposed solutions through the power of the almanac. First, the small narratives in the almanac would have ecological power to fight back Western ideologies. Second, the almanac would reveal the minorities' lost identities. Third, it would make all minorities and alienated people come together to restore their stories.

Kim Dae-joong  komet99@dongguk.edu

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