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E m b o d y i n g t h e I n d i a n : R e t h i n k i n g B l o o d , C u l t u r e , a n d I d e n t i t y in J a m e s W e l c h ’s Wi n t e r in t h e B l o o d a n d Th e D e a t h o f J im L o n e y C h r i s t o p h e r N e l s o n O ne shopping trip to central Illinois— like anywhere in middle Ameri­ ca— is enough to confirm the unchanged iconic status of Native Americans. Cigar store Indians may be pricey antiques, but the gas sta­ tion offers resin figurines of Indian warriors with wolves, and businesses as disparate as heating and cooling and dry cleaning appropriate tribal names or more generic appellations like “Chief,” accompanied by logos of headdresses. The dnig store advertises its CD of spirit-soothing Native flute music with a photograph of the “authentic” musician; the poster store features soulful Indian women with flowing hair in earthy settings; even the grocery store presents smiling maidens in buckskin and feath­ ered headbands selling dairy products. Although the same types of images can be found across the country, the example of Illinois highlights how the absence or nonrecognition of living Natives supports these images, which in turn contribute to the myth of the vanishing Indian. The dominant mode of criticism in Native American studies, which employs an ethnographic approach that identifies markers of traditional culture to secure the value of literary texts, can have a similar effect: because “there is a strong desire for ‘pure’ representations and artifacts of Indian culture, which reflects a desire to understand Indians as living outside of time,” such criticism can “deny the existence of cultural change for Native Americans” and “position them as the absolute other, outside of history, outside of change, outside of culture” (Hegeman 145, 148). The highly stereotyped visual form taken by such diverse cultural representations of Indians as team mascots and on butter boxes reflects this position. Authentic Indianness is given a stable essence by being understood bodily, whether the depiction of a Native face juxtaposed with a hawk on black velvet or the regalia and rituals expected at a powwow or the blood quantum required for tribal enrollment. James Welch’s most-read and most-analyzed novels, Winter in the Blood W e s t e r n A m e r i c a n L i t e r a t u r e 4 1 . 3 ( F a l l 2 0 0 6 ) : 3 0 1 - 3 4 . 3 0 2 W e s t e r n A m e r i c a n L i t e r a t u r e F a l l 2 0 0 6 (1974) and The Death of Jim honey (1979), respond to this understanding as evinced by mainstream culture or Native characters or literary critics. It is not much of an oversimplification to say that critical thought on these two novels boils down to blood: William Thackeray terms Winter “James Welch’s Indian novel” and Loney “his half-breed novel” (‘Death" 3). As a result, “together the two novels represent opposing possibilities for contemporary Blackfeet and most Native Americans” (Owens 156). Winter’s narrator lives because he discovers that he is a fulbblood: “Although his feelings of emotional numbness are similar to Jim Loney’s, he is able to survive in this world because he finds his Blackfeet grandfather who gives him a knowledge of his ancestry and who does not reject him” (Barry, “Lost” 44). Loney’s death, on the other hand, is seen as the inevitable, tragic consequence of bis mixed blood: “Only Loney fails to find a connected ancestor, and only Loney fails” (Bevis, “Native” 21). I argue that both novels rework such standard definitions of identity, whether based on blood or culture.1 Welch uses...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 301-334
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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