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Reviews 251 the traditions of his native community and walked the Hopi Trail with a keen sense of awareness of the basic values in existence in any society. The book first appeared in 1942, but the fact that it had gone into the sixth printing in May 1966 attests to its continuing interest. K a r l Y oung, Brigham Young University American Indian Life. Edited by Elsie Clews Parsons. (Lincoln: The Uni­ versity of Nebraska Press, 413 pages, $2.95.) The ever-lamented gap between the knowledge-bound professional and the indifference-laden layman has prompted the periodic appearance of “popu­ larized” researches that too often fail either to instruct by being too general or to interest by being overly academic. American Indian Life is also an attempt to span this gulf. It is a collection of twenty-seven stories written by anthropologists and based on their own field studies. Though fictional in form each is solidly based on the author’s extensive and intimate knowledge of the Indian society it depicts. It succeeds, I think, better than most in avoiding both over-simplification and undue pedantry. As A. L. Kroeber points out in the Introduction: “There is, thus, something new, something of the nature of an original contribution, in each of these stories; and they are reliable. . . . The fictional form of presentation devised by the editor. . . . allows a freedom in depicting or suggesting the thoughts and feelings of the Indian, such as is impossible in a formal, scientific report. . . . At the same time the customs depicted are never invented. Each author has adhered strictly to the social facts as he knew them. He has merely selected those that seemed most characteristic, and woven them into a plot around an imaginary Indian hero or heroine.” This method has, however, that inherent difficulty faced by all fictional writers of creating a “story” without distorting the facts. As is readily ad­ mitted by the editor, this necessitates the emphasis of certain elements of a culture—such as religion-—which because they are more exotic to the ex­ perience of the general reader are more readily adaptd to story form. Hence, the neglect of other, more mundane, and universal activities could cause a distorted view of the total culture. If making the facts supposedly more palat­ able by “fictionalizing” them were the only requisite of the successful fictionalist more scientists would undoubtedly be among the envied group. Somehow it takes something else. Perhaps it is the necessity of giving a more subjective 252 Western American Literature account of the interrelationship between an individual and his society or, at least, of portraying individual character rather than social type that in­ vigorates fiction. By such a criterion it is doubtful that many of the stories in American Indian Life can be classified as “good” fiction since the fictional element is seldom more than a hypothetical situation or “fictionalized” case history. But that is not to deny what is really, perhaps, more important. These anthropologists are trying to span the understanding gap not only between professional and layman but that between cultures as well. The prevalence in America of gross and even malicious misconceptions about the Indian and his ways has been both cause and consequence of the failure not only to recognize cultural differences as valid but to appreciate them as the unique if different expressions of the human reaction to life’s environment that they are. By “emphasizing the history rather than the romance” of Indian life, therefore, this volume has decided merit as an introduction to both the similar­ ities and differences among diverse Indian societies and the roles of individuals within a given Indian cultural setting. Hence, though the majority of the accounts may lack certain elements of the exciting story, they all contain to a satisfying compensatory degree that adherence to “truth” necessary for even so-called “good” fiction. Some of the stories, indeed, “The Chief Singer of the Tepecano” and “Cries-for-salmon, a Ten’a Woman” for two, do achieve that subtle freshness of characterization that gives an insight into these societies unaccounted for by the facts alone. It should be noted that as this is a reprint...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 251-252
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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