Dear John Wayne

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“Dear John Wayne” by Louise Erdrich is about the stereotype of the Native American, being a savage race on film and how the Native Americans watching the film react to those stereotypes. The Characters in the play are the movie goers who happen to be Native American and John Wayne in the movie. The movie was written for a different audience than the one watching. Let’s start at the very beginning… the name of the poem is “Dear John Wayne”, it occurred to me that a lot of these authors put a great deal of thought into the titles of their works. The title reminds me of a Dear John letter except in poem form, which, given the authors race, the intended audience, and the tone of the poem, would fit. I’m sorry John Wayne, but it’s just not working out between us. The first stanza describes the scene; August in a packed drive-in theater, the movie goers lying on the hood of their car. The air is filled with the smoke from mosquito coils meant to repel the mosquitoes. “Nothing works.” The mosquitoes pass through the smoke in search of blood. Stanza two describes the spread of the mosquitoes at the drive-in and the Indians on the screen, “in spectacular columns, arranged like SAC missiles”. The feathers on the Indians bristling “in the meaningful sunset”, the close of the last day the Indians will occupy this land. Stanza three starts off with the battle beginning “The drum breaks.” referring to the Indian battle drums that stop when the fighting starts, and there will be no discussions “parlance”. The poem parallels the whining sounds of the mosquitoes and the Indians arrows as they both swarm down on their prey “in a death cloud of nerves”. In the movie the settlers “die beautifully” referring to the stunt men “tumbling like dust weeds”. Above the movie screen Ursa Major can be seen, in reference to the sign of the bear. The screen fills with John Wayne’s squinty eye in the beginning of the fourth stanza. His hard face telling without verbally saying...
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