John Joseph Mathews
b. 1894 d. 1979
Consider the specter of Dawes Era policy on plot of Sundown. Osage land
in Oklahoma was not largely allotted, compared to other tribal lands, as a
result of the Dawes Act. The Osage Allotment Act of 1906, however,
divvied up lands to homesteaders, and this is reflected in the plot of the
novel. Much debate and hostility coursed through Osage country, and
throughout Oklahoma, concerning mineral rights, as the Osage land was rich
in oil and minerals. Many members of the Osage tribe, as well as many unscrupulous white men and
mixed-bloods, became wealthy off of the rich oil and mineral reserves.
Carol Hunter, in her article “Historical Context in John Joseph Mathews’
Sundown,” claims that Challenge failed to “develop any viable role in
society” (64). Is this foreshadowed in any way by his birth, described in the passage you read?
Mathews initially juxtaposes full-blooded Osages and the mixed-bloods
and white men. What do you learn of reservation culture, in regard to
“progress” and tradition, from the images of these figures in the chapter
you read for class?
One provision included in the Osage Allotment Act was that the Osage would
retain oil and mineral rights for twenty-five years. The Osage became the
richest “Indian” nation in the world in the 1920s and this attracted attention to
Recall John Windzer's fascination with William Jennings Bryan and Windzer's own poetic phraseology in the passage that you read for class. What does his hero-worship of Bryan and the "sophistication" of his language tell you about his affinities or ambitions? After the last of the two poetic stanzas Windzer utters, he says "But I live as a challenge" (107). The narrator makes it clear that Windzer himself doesn't "know what he challenged"; do you?
Think about the name "Challenge," which becomes the name of Windzer's son. Why is Mathews so bold in his naming of his protagonist? What is the challenge of the mixed-blood and how does Mathews offer a meditation on this in these few pages of his novel?