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N o t e B l a c k W o l f a n d S h a k e s p e a r e : a n o t e o n S i n c l a i r L e w is ’s Th e G o d -S e e k e r M a r t in B u c c o W hat seems a stunning bit of oratorical literary criticism worked into The God'Seeker (1949)— Sinclair Lewis’s carefully researched but disappointing novel about frontier M innesota in the 1840s— has gone unnoticed, or at least unmentioned, these past fifty years. In chapter 31, Black Wolf, a learned but vain Sioux who had studied Shakespeare at Oberlin College, asks A aron Gadd, an enthusiastic but naive young missionary from New England, if he “believes” in Ham let. Black W olf then initiates the startled Aaron— as Lewis ushers his readers— into an exotic realm of comparative lit­ erature. Unaware that in Indian folklore obscene humor is as endemic as shape-shifting, the innocent missionary is informed that Shakespeare’s wild characters are less like Yankees and more like minor Dakota gods, “full of rough jokes and beautiful dirt” (212). Holding forth on Shakespearean drama and Indian myth, Black W olf points out that Caliban is like Heyoka, who does everything backward. Falstaff is like Iya, the god of big eating. A nd Lear is like the crazy Taku-skan-skan. A aron is familiar with only a moiety of this fabulous world. To a visionary like Black Wolf, Juliet Capulet, though invented by Shakespeare, can be more believable, more real, more actively engaged in human affairs than a lady missionary. W hen Black W olf asserts that Indians are more “poetic,” not more superstitious, than whites, A aron can only squeal— or wonder. Although the always controversial, often prescient, Sinclair Lewis failed half a century ago to provoke debate on emerging EuroAm erican and N ative Am erican literary relations, the topic (so turns the world) holds wide appeal today, particularly for the new generation of students of western Am erican literature and culture. W o r k s C it e d Lewis, Sinclair. The God-Seeker. New York: Random House, 1949. ...


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