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
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
Male-to-male: dominance, rebellion
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.