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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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1. Native Voices   

1. Native Voices

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Activities: Author Activities

Black Elk and John G. Neihardt - Author Questions

Back Back to Black Elk and John G. Neihardt Activities
  1. Comprehension: Who is Black Elk? Why does he receive the vision?

  2. Comprehension: What seems to be the purpose of the Grandfathers' council that Black Elk attends? What do the Grandfathers want to teach Black Elk?

  3. Comprehension: What are the "four ascents" that Black Elk encounters?

  4. Context: Consider the recurrence of the hoop in Black Elk's vision. For the Sioux, circles stand for the cyclical, interconnected nature of life itself. Given this, how does the appearance of the hoop affect the significance of Black Elk Speaks?

  5. Context: Black Elk's revelation occurred when he was nine years old, in 1872—seventeen years before the Ghost Dance religion came to the Sioux nation. How does Black Elk's vision compare to the motifs present in the Ghost Dance songs and Wovoka's "Messiah letters"?

  6. Context: What is the relationship between Black Elk Speaks and the policies of the Indian New Deal (e.g., does it affirm, respond to, complicate, or negate such goals)? Does Neihardt (or Black Elk) believe in the "continuity of the group"? What must be continued? What "certain kinds of changes" should be induced and which should be controlled? What "traditions" must be "conserved"?

  7. Context: Examine the Lakota boy's moccasins decorated with American flags [7418] and compare them to the Plains moccasins [8117]. Is one of these more "traditional"? What are you assuming "traditional" means? How do you think Black Elk would have understood each of these artifacts?

  8. Exploration: Consider the vision from Black Elk Speaks as literature. In what way is it like other literary texts with which you might be more familiar and that are more clearly fictional? Is this text "fictional" in any way? To what extent should we consider what we could call the text's multiple-authorship when interpreting it?

  9. Exploration: Compare this vision with one or both of the most famous prophetic visions in the Western tradition, the biblical Books of Daniel and Revelation. How does Black Elk's vision compare to those granted to Daniel and John of Patmos? What are the most compelling clues in Black Elk's narrative that signify that he experienced a non-Western revelation (again, think especially of the hoop imagery)?

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