Mary Oliver - Representation of the American Indians

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Mary Oliver’s poetry constructs and represents the American Indians as a group disenfranchised and dispossessed of their land, culture and language by the authoritative and dominant discourses fabricated in Western society. Her representation of the American Indian cultural identity in her two poems, Learning About the Indians and Tecumseh, is one of lament, but also of celebration. On one level Oliver pays tribute to the culture of the American Indians as they had the ability to see themselves as part of the natural world. As in her view we as humans are interdependent and communal creatures with no greater claim to superiority or right to dominate than the next being. In contrast, Mary Oliver laments the way the culture of the Western World dominates other ideologies with its almost obsessive recognition of status, through material resources. She thus critiques the way in which Western Civilisation disempowers and suppresses other groups such as the Indians who have traditionally given little cultural value to personal possessions.

Mary Oliver’s poem Learning About the Indians uses persona and alliteration to highlight how the Indian culture has been subjugated and reduced by Western notions of superiority. Her poem mourns the loss and oppression of the American Indian cultural identity that in many ways parallels her own ideologies and perspectives towards the natural world. The persona of the poem Learning about the Indians is highly critical of the ways in which the anthropocentric cultural practises of the Western world have become dominant and therefore internalised by so many. This is illustrated when Oliver describes how Mr White, a man of Indian decent, performs an Indian cultural act to school children. This was once a sacred ritual, which now has become an act to be further degraded and demeaned by Western society. ‘Our teachers called it Extracurricular/ We called it fun’. Oliver’s persona in these lines emphasises how the American Indians’...
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