D'Arcy McNickle

Newmark's lecture notes:

Craig Lesley writes in his review of The Surrounded, from the Winter 1981 edition of SAIL (Studies in American Indian Literatures), “McNickle's message seems clear--in this world, any attempt to help perversely turns upon its own goodwill and adds to the ruin. His personal vision of the destruction that results from the collision of Anglo and Indian cultures underlies every event in the work. In its conception and execution, the novel powerfully and relentlessly explores that theme.”

Robert Dale Parker writes, in a 1997 Modern Fiction Studies essay, of McNickle’s “innovation” of “Indianiz[ing] the modern novel”: “McNickle's innovation worked--eventually. For many of the patterns laid down by The Surrounded and its immediate predecessor, John Joseph Mathews's Sundown (1934), reappear over three decades later in such landmark novels of the American Indian Renaissance as N. Scott Momaday's House Made of Dawn (1968) and Leslie Marmon Silko's Ceremony (1977), especially the pattern of the angst-filled, mixed-blood young man (often--though not in The Surrounded--a war veteran) returning to the reservation and struggling to find his place among its traditions and the pressures to acculturate” (898).

Parker also makes the following compelling comment: “Salvage anthropology and the modernist fascination with ethnicity and folk culture encouraged and responded to the two most momentous legislative initiatives in the history of post-removal federal Indian policy: the Dawes Act of 1887, which tried to enforce assimilation, and the anti-assimilation Indian Reorganization Act of 1934” (898). Parker describes how “storytelling,” and its insertion into modern novels, fits into the American modern tendency to try to identify “folk” “roots,” as it were, for American ethnicities of all kinds. Think about “salvage anthropology,” the practice of attempting to “salvage” a supposedly dying culture’s stories, traditions, and artifacts. How does this relate to the policies of the Dawes Act? What similar motivation might have driven both?

Beyond these concerns, The Surrounded, for Parker, is also interested in “other, linked sites of cultural contest, in particular, . . . changing gender identities and the effects of the expanding market economy” (900).

Parker continues: “[McNickle] cast his novelist's eye on reservation men's masculinity, on their frequent indifference to the labor market and their uneasy relation to the federal government and the BIA” (900).

Comparative comments by students on Sundown, by John Joseph Mathews, and The Surrounded, by D'Arcy McNickle.

Please examine one of these questions:
1. How might Native indentity be "gendered" in either/both of these novels?
2. In each novel, how does the son bear the imprint of the challenges or struggles that exist between the parents (or other "gender" struggles)?

Group 1: Michaella, Derrick, Natalie, and John
Question 1: In both of these novels the mother (unlike in past readings) is very stoic and stripped of emotions. In both, the fathers are very strong and even overbearing. While the mothers may have some emotional expression, these are almost completely drowned out by the strong emotions of the fathers.

Group 2: Elisa, Taylor, Jeremy, and Rodger
Question Two: In Sundown, Challenge must deal with being the first son, however it is after multiple daughters have been born. A gender struggle is seen when a chief accuses Challenge’s father of not having “good juices” because it has taken so much time to produce a male child. Challenge will always have to overcome being the youngest, and being male. He is torn, just like his father about who he should be. In The Surrounded, the son shows imprints mostly of his mother with his constant stubbornness towards his father. He seems to embrace his family (at least his mother) and his culture but at the same time he wants more than the country life, so he begins to travel and make a living for himself.

Group 3: Renee, Brendan, Dustin, and Evangelina
We felt that the father, in The Surrounded was viewed negatively because he didn't seem to strive for the same values as most other Natives. This could have been a direct consequence of him not being Native, but Spanish. Also, his relationships seemed to be unconventional. The mother provides a cultural background because she is a Native herself. Her relationship with her husband seems to be non-existant although she has known him for many years. The son is worldly, cultured and defined as an individual. Although he is a "half-blood," he still portrays more Native culture than that of his father and brothers. The brothers were arguing about not having a fishing rod, but Archilde abrubtly says, "make a spear then." The younger brother responds by saying, "you talk crazy." Even though Archilde is not typical in his Native customs, McNickle still emphasizes Archilde's Native awareness.

Group 4: Chelsea, Calita, Samantha, Keith, and Karen
The family members in The Surrounded live their own lives--as a whole, as an individual. They are all independent. There is an apparent separation between the husband and wife and although we do not know when this happened, the son is "imprinted" by this severed relationship; he chooses not to get close too anyone. He also has characteristics of stubbornness, that both of his parents portray.

Gender struggles:
Male-to-male: dominance, rebellion
Male-to-female: submission
Native -vs- nonnative: prejudice

There is also a recurring theme regarding "stealing." The son overcomes this particular trait by removing himself from his environment and earning money. He is very proud that he did it on his own.