Sojourner's Truth and Other Stories

Description

141 pages
$10.95
ISBN 0-88974-023-2
DDC C813'.54

Author

Year

1990

Contributor

Reviewed by Beverly Rasporich

Beverly Rasporich is an associate professor in the Faculty of General
Studies at the University of Calgary and the author of Dance of the
Sexes: Art and Gender in the Fiction of Alice Munro.

Review

Maracle is a well-known writer and brilliant orator whose books,
particularly the genre-blurring, poetic-polemic I Am Woman, are
important texts in courses on Native and Women’s studies. As Maracle
explains in the preface of this text, her objective is “to integrate
two mediums: oratory and European story, our [Native] sense of metaphor,
our use of it, with traditional European metaphor and story form. I also
sought out stories from my own life, my imagination and my history that
contained an element of the universal. Always I clung to the principles
of oratory. Each story is layered with unresolved human dilemmas; each
story will require the engaged imagination of the reader.” For
Maracle, the major differences between European and Native story styles
are the lack of instruction in the latter, the absolute faith in
metaphor, and the responsibility of the reader/listener to become the
trickster—transformational and transforming—in response to story.
This philosophy of narrative is, of course, not entirely unlike modern
European theory.

These stories, then, are shaped by the rhetorical spirit of Native
speechmaking and storytelling, which allows for sudden thought-provoking
metaphor. For example, in the “naturalistic” lead story,
“Bertha,” a down-and-out cannery worker, drinks herself to death; in
its concluding lines, a beautiful young co-worker responds to her death
with an agonized scream that “split the silence and the knife that so
deftly beheaded the fish slipped and deprived the young girl of her left
thumb and giggle forever.”

At the same time, the persuasive, reformist, and internalized voice of
the Native orator is often explicitly heard in these stories,
interpreting silence and instructing non-Native readers. In “Polka
Partners,” for example, “It was too hard to tell him that white
people cannot deal with the beauty in some of us and the crass ugliness
in others. They can’t know why we are silent about serious truth and
so noisy about nonsense. Difference among us, and our silence, frightens
them.”

This is a difficult volume to characterize, as it is meant to be. The
stories are imaginatively engaging. The non-Native reader is socially
and politically challenged by the stories’ content: by the problems of
acculturation, and by the past and present unjust realities of Native
life, often poetically rendered, as in “Charles,” a story told in
European style about a child who is trapped in a punitive residential
school. When this story is elevated to legend as the child freezes to
death in the arms of the great Wendigo, the reader is challenged by the
genre convergence of European literary form and Native mythmaking.
Clearly, this is an important work in the development of a Native
literary tradition that is feeling the impact of, and is having an
impact upon, Eurocentric literary discourse.

Citation

Maracle, Lee., “Sojourner's Truth and Other Stories,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 25, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/11911.