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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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8. Regional Realism   

8. Regional

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Activities: Author Activities

Zitkala-Sa (Gertrude Simmons Bonnin) - Author Questions

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  1. Comprehension:How does Zitkala-Sa describe the education in traditional Sioux ways that she receives from her mother? What strategies does her mother use to teach her such skills as beadwork? What other values and skills does her mother teach her? How does the education she receives from her mother compare with the education she receives at the mission school? What kinds of discipline does she encounter at school?

  2. Comprehension:As she rides the train on her first trip to school, Zitkala-Sa narrates her feelings about the telegraph poles that she sees out of the train windows: "I was quite breathless on seeing one familiar object. It was the telegraph pole which strode by at short paces.... Often I had stopped, on my way down the road, to hold my ear against the pole, and, hearing its low moaning, I used to wonder what the paleface had done to hurt it." Later, she characterizes her own fractured identity in similar terms: "Now a cold bare pole I seemed to be, planted in a strange earth." Why does the image of the telegraph pole recur in Zitkala-Sa's autobiographical essays? What is the significance of this symbol of technological progress and linguistic communication? How does it figure Zitkala-Sa's own concerns with language and with white culture? Why does Zitkala-Sa eventually come to see herself as a "cold bare pole"?

  3. Context: Like fellow Sioux writer Charles Alexander Eastman, Zitkala-Sa found that her Euro-American education left her in a somewhat marginal social position: she did not feel wholly comfortable within white culture, but neither was she completely at home with traditional Sioux customs. How do Zitkala-Sa's efforts to solve the "problem of her inner self," as she puts it, compare to Eastman's attempts to construct a role for himself as a "white doctor" who is also an Indian? What strategies do the two writers adopt to deal with the conflicts they encounter upon returning to the Sioux agency? How are their attitudes toward their roles within traditional Sioux society different? How might gender have impacted their reactions to their status as "educated Indians"?

  4. Exploration: In "The Indian Autobiography: Origins, Type, and Function," literary critic Arnold Krupat argues that American Indian autobiography is a textual equivalent to the frontier; it is "a ground on which two cultures meet." To what extent is this true of the form and content of Zitkala-Sa's writing? How does her work compare to earlier bicultural autobiographical accounts, like those of Mary Rowlandson, William Apess, or Frederick Douglass? How does she draw on and modify the tradition of literary self-making pioneered by these writers? How does her status as a woman and as a Native American impact her narration of her own life?

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