Gerald Vizenor
Ishi and the Wood Ducks

Vizenor's play concerns the life and post-life of Ishi, the "last" of the Yahi people, who were the southernmost group of the Yana tribe of California. Vizenor allows Ishi to trasnscend space and time in the world of the play perhaps because, in many ways, Ishi has transcended those limits. Ishi occupies the imagination of many; he has influenced American anthropology, those who study Native American life and culture, those who are familiar with his history at the University of California, Berkeley, and many others. After he was "discovered," in very poor shape indeed, in 1911, Ishi was taken to the University of California, eventually, and as Vizenor describes in the introductory notes, "Ishi lived and worked in a museum, housed in comfortable rooms" (299).

Of the play, I said in class that Ishi and the Wood Ducks has "everything" in it. Think back on all the different genre of Native writing we have read: poetry, autobiography, short stories, excerpts from novels, plays, and personal letters. Ishi himself did not write in any of these forms, yet he has occupied the imagination of many people -- Native and non-Native alike -- who have written creative and scholarly works. In Vizenor's play, Ishi refers to his traditional wood duck stories numerous times; we, also, have read traditional legends.

If this is a play with "everything" in it, as "everything" pertains to our course, how does this play comment on the role of the "Indian" in the American imagination? How does it comment of "natural reason"? How do the characters interact with each other, and with Ishi? What are their ideas about him? How does Vizenor comment on Ishi as a person and as a symbol, something that others use? Does faith play a role in this play? As you know, our early Native writers in this course were greatly influenced by the teachings of Christian missionaries. Later writers, whose works you've read, focus on the syncretic nature of Native spritiuality; others still address Native spirituality independent of, or as distinct from, Euro-American religious influence.

Consider the devices Vizenor uses in the play; there are a lot of slippery postmodern tricks in it. Characters retain their names but shift professions and temporal moments. The only two figures with "static" identities, effectively, are Ishi and Boots. Why? Over how many years does the action of the play transpire, roughly? What is interesting about this?