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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

Luci Tapahonso - Author Questions

Back Back to Luci Tapahonso Activities
  1. Comprehension: The location of a poem or story—its setting—almost always conveys important information about its overall meaning. Where does "They Are Silent and Quick" seem to be set? Where are the narrator and her daughter, and where are the narrator's parents?

  2. Comprehension: "A Breeze Swept Through" retells a Navajo creation story. Who or what is the "first born of Dawn Woman"?

  3. Comprehension: What is the significance of the narrator's Navajo mother saying, "'There's nothing like that in Navajo stories'" in the third stanza of "They Are Silent and Quick"? How does this statement affect the narrator, her "aching," and her feelings about constituting one of three generations of women in her family? What do these emotions have to do with the setting of the poem?

  4. Context: Why would Tapahonso compare dawn with birth in "A Breeze Swept Through"? What does her comparison suggest about the place of humans in the natural world?

  5. Context: In Language and Art in the Navajo Universe, anthropologist Gary Witherspoon argues that for the Navajo, "the earth and its life-giving, life-sustaining, and life-producing qualities are associated with and derived from Changing Woman [Earth Mother]. It is not surprising, therefore, that women tend to dominate in social and economic affairs. Women are the heads of most domestic groups, the clans are matrilineal [i.e., they trace their descent through the maternal line], and the land and sheep traditionally were controlled by the women of residential groups." What role do women play in Tapahonso's poetry?

  6. Exploration: The narrator of "They Are Silent and Quick" says, "There are no English words to describe this feeling." What do you think she means by this statement? At what point in her narrative does she switch from English? That is, where do the "breaks" occur in her English consciousness? You might compare these moments to when Gloria Anzaldúa (Unit 2), for example, switches to Spanish, or when writers like Jean Toomer (Unit 10) switch dialects.

  7. Exploration: The Navajo is a matrifocal society; that is, in certain ways the community revolves around women (for example, families tend to reside with the mother's clan). In "A Breeze Swept Through," images of the female are vital to the force of the poem. Why is the poem gendered female? Would you describe the poem as empowering to women, especially Native American women? Why or why not?

  8. Exploration: Compare the Navajo creation story in "A Breeze Swept Through" to the creation story in Genesis. How are humans characterized in each? How is the divine characterized? What are the relationships between the human and the divine in each story?

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