Monday, September 14, 2015

AICL's first look at Rae Carson's WALK ON EARTH A STRANGER

Eds. note: Scroll down to see update on September 22nd, 2015; and an update on September 23rd, 2015, and one more on September 25th, 2015. And see this Tumblr post, written after these notes were uploaded with a note that said I was astonished at how bad the book is: My Thoughts on What Happened on YA Twitter on Friday (9/25/15).

A few weeks ago, I started to hear about Rae Carson's Walk on Earth a Stranger. The first chapters are online. I've started reading the sample chapters today because her book is on the longlist for the National Book Award. I ordered a copy of the book and will be back to finish this review when I finish reading her book. In my notes below, I raise some questions.

Walk on Earth a Stranger is published by Greenwillow and has a character, Jefferson, whose mother is Cherokee. Here's the synopsis:

The first book in a new trilogy from acclaimed New York Times-bestselling author Rae Carson. A young woman with the magical ability to sense the presence of gold must flee her home, taking her on a sweeping and dangerous journey across Gold Rush era America. Walk on Earth a Stranger begins an epic saga from one of the finest writers of young adult literature.
Lee Westfall has a secret. She can sense the presence of gold in the world around her. Veins deep beneath the earth, pebbles in the river, nuggets dug up from the forest floor. The buzz of gold means warmth and life and home—until everything is ripped away by a man who wants to control her. Left with nothing, Lee disguises herself as a boy and takes to the trail across the country. Gold was discovered in California, and where else could such a magical girl find herself, find safety?
Rae Carson, author of the acclaimed Girl of Fire and Thorns series, dazzles with the first book in the Gold Seer Trilogy, introducing a strong heroine, a perilous road, a fantastical twist, and a slow-burning romance, as only she can.

Summary is in regular text; my comments are in italics. 


January of 1849

Chapter One

The main character, Leah, is out hunting. She’s wounded a deer and is tracking it when she comes across a sensation she’s come to know as one she gets when she’s near a gold nugget, or, a gold vein. She finds the deer, kills it, and wants to cut the parts she can carry but the “gold sense” overwhelms her and she starts digging in the snow till she finds a nugget the size of a large, unshelled walnut.  Her gold sense tells her it is about 90% pure, and will be worth a hundred dollars.

On page 8 we learn about Jefferson—or rather—his dad. Leah remembers him thinking she had a good aim. We learn that Leah works hard, hunting and farming, and panning for gold, too, because her dad has no sons who would do that work. Girls in town poke fun at her strong hands and strong jaw. She’s glad they don’t know about her gold sense. 

Chapter Two

We meet Leah’s dad, who is sick with a violent cough. He tells her a much-loved story about a nugget he’d found when she was a baby, and how he’d hid it, but two-year-old Leah had found it. He re-hid it, and she found it again. That’s how they learned about her gold sense. They keep it secret because people would want her to find gold for them, especially since “the Georgia gold rush played itself out long ago” (p. 13).  Surface gold is mostly gone, but Leah knows there’s more, deep underground. She also knows that it would take more than her and her dad and pickaxes to get at it. Her dad doesn’t want to buy slaves to get it because he was raised Methodist and that "back in the day" the church was against slavery.

Debbie's comments:
Georgia... homeland of the Cherokee Nation. They were forcibly removed from their homelands. Though the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that they were a sovereign nation, President Jackson defied the Supreme Court and ordered their removal. They were rounded up in 1838. Many were held in prison camps awaiting departure for Indian Territory. Carson gestures to history of Methodists and slaves, but doesn't give readers similar context for who owned this land prior to Leah and her family. 

Her dad asks her where she found the nugget and they realize she found it on McCauley land. She wants to keep it but her dad tells her she can’t keep it. Her dad says he’ll return it when he goes to Charlotte, NC to assay the bag of gold dust they keep hidden. Turning it in in town would draw people to their property. Taking it to Charlotte is better because no one there knows them. But, since he’s not well, Leah thinks her dad is not likely to make the trip. She offers to go but he won’t let her because it’d be dangerous.

Chapter Three

The next day, Leah takes their wagon to school. Something is not right. Kids aren’t rushing around playing. She looks for Jefferson (p. 20):
His face is framed by thick, black hair and a long, straight Cherokee nose he got from his mama. An old bruise yellows the sharp line of his cheekbone.
Debbie's comments:
Noting he is Cherokee and wondering how that will play out as I keep reading.

Jefferson has a newspaper in hand and tells her that gold has been discovered in California. It says that President Polk announced the discovery. Because gold is everywhere, Leah wonders how much is in California, such that the President would announce it. She tells him she thinks that everyone in the town, Dahlonega, are going to go to California. Dahlonega “was built on a gold rush of its own” (p. 21).

Debbie's comments:
Dahlonega. Sounds like a Native word. Carson tells us that Dahlonega was built on a gold rush but again, doesn't tell readers who that land belonged to. I'll look up history of that town. 

Jefferson thinks there’s plenty of gold out there and says “someone like me could…” We learn (by way of narration) that his dad is a “mean Irish prospector” and that is mom is “a sweet Cherokee mama who fled with her brothers ten years ago, when the Indians were sent to Oklahoma Territory” (p. 21). Nobody in town blames her for taking off.  His “someone like me” means (p. 22):
“a stupid, motherless Injun,” which is one of the dumber things people call Jefferson, if you ask me, because he’s the smartest boy I know.

Debbie's comments: 
Oh... this is interesting. His mom "fled" in 1839 when they were "sent" to Oklahoma Territory...  I think that's soft-pedaling what happened. Both words are accurate, but both also obscure the violence and the very important history of the Cherokee Nation's long fight to keep their land, that they ended up in the Supreme Court who ruled in their favor, that President Jackson ordered their removal! Cherokee's fled, but they were being chased by armed soldiers and the militia, too. I'm not sure why her son stayed behind. I'll dig in to some materials and see how that could have worked. It is possible, of course, but here's where I get into plausibility. 

That said, my gut clenches to think of Jefferson heading west to seek gold. Is he going to do to California Indians what was done to Cherokees? 

Good that Carson pushes back right away on the "stupid Injun" but wondering what it adds to the story to have it there in the first place. Right now it seems like it serves to make Leah out to be A Good White Person (using caps there, thinking of Anne Sibley O'Brien's comment to my post about dinner with Deborah Wiles).

Leah and Jefferson talk about how much it would cost for them to head to California. He invites her to go with him, that they can tell people they’re married, or a brother and sister. As she heads home after school, she thinks about marriage, and Jefferson. She hears two shots and when she gets home discovers someone has killed her dad. Her mom is also shot and tells her to trust someone, that they were wrong to be alone as they have been. She tells her to run, and then dies.

Chapter Four

Leah grabs a gun and heads to the McCauley homestead, seeking Jefferson. At his house, his dad is drunk. She finds Jefferson at the woodshed, chopping wood. He tells her that everyone in town thinks her dad has a stash of gold and that once they hear of his death they’ll be there, looking for it. Leah tells him it is true.  When they get to her house, she stays outside while Jefferson goes in to look around. As she waits, she can’t feel the hum of her gold sense and realizes the bag of gold dust is gone.

Chapter Five

Inside, she lifts the floorboards where they kept the bag. It is gone. It was worth over a thousand dollars.  She finds the nugget and gives it to Jefferson.  He says he wishes she had trust him with their secret and she thinks of how much else he doesn’t know (about her gold sense). The next few days are a blur. Nobody else’s home has been bothered, so the Sheriff thinks it was just someone passing through who had heard the stories of their stash. Finding nothing, that person kept on going.  

The day of her parents’ funeral, Jefferson tells her he’s going west and wants her to go with him. With her gold sense, she thinks that “California is the Promised Land” (p. 46) but thinks she can’t leave her home. Jefferson goes on without her, saying he’ll wait for a while, in Independence, Missouri.

Chapter Six

Leah goes to the funeral service for her parents. People are stirred up but it isn't about the death of her parents; it is about the news of gold in California.  Jefferson's dad is at the funeral. After the funeral he asks her if she knows where Jefferson is, but she doesn't tell him that Jefferson is on his way to Independence. Her Uncle is at the funeral, too, and she spots his revolver. She recognizes it as like the one her dad had. She figures out he is the one who killed her parents. He moves into their house. She decides to go to California. 


That's it for now. I'll be back when I get the book... 


Update, September 22, 2015

Chapter Seven

Hiram sends Lee (Leah) into town to sell two horses to make room for ones he's going to bring. He plans to live in her house for a year and then go to California, using her gift (he's figured it out) to get gold. In town, Lee gets advice from Free Jim, a storekeeper about the journey Jefferson is on, and, the one she'll be on, too. Advice that will help them get to California without getting caught by Jefferson's dad or Lee's uncle, who knows she is able to find gold.

Chapter Eight

Lee realizes the prejudice that Free Jim experiences. Banks won't let Negros have accounts. She sells the two horses her uncle wanted her to sell, follows Free Jim's advice to disguise herself as a boy, and takes off.

Debbie's comments:
I like that Carson is telling readers, through Lee, that the bank is discriminating against Negros. 

Chapter Nine

Lee spends her first night out.

Chapter Ten 

Lee has a good breakfast, thanks to a woman she meets as she travels. Later, Lee comes across two men who are talking about Lucky Westfall's (her dad) murder. One says he may have been murdered by the same people who killed some Indians by Dalton. The men talk about winter wheat, and, "whether it's really murder to kill an Indian" (p. 97). At the end of the chapter, three men come up on her. She worries about their intentions and manages to get away. She makes camp but wakes up and finds they have found her.

Debbie's comments: 
Carson doesn't address the men's discussion of whether its murder when an Indian is killed. The discussion is, I think, about the worth of an Indian person, and gets at the idea held by some that Native peoples were less-than-human. Perhaps she expects that readers will easily see the idea a racist and wrong, but I don't have that same expectation of readers. Many (most?) adult readers, for example, don't remember seeing "the only good Indian is a dead Indian" three times in Little House on the Prairie

Chapter Eleven

The men dig through her things. As they rifle through them, they spill her gold coins. One of them, Emmett, says that it reminds him of the old days. Ronnie replies "This kid don't look anything like a Cherokee." They remember getting a rifle from someone and that Zeke could never get it to shoot straight. Ronnie tells him it is because he "hit too many Indians in the head with it" (p. 106). The men start drinking and invite Lee (they think she is a boy) to ride with them. She creates a diversion, runs away, and hides. They look for her but don't find her.

Debbie's comments:
Carson doesn't address the wrongness of the hitting Indians with a rifle.   

Chapter Twelve

In the morning she finds a few gold coins that the men didn't gather. She also finds her saddle and then, her horse. She rides on and secures a job on a flatboat on the Tennessee River that will get her closer to California.

Chapter Thirteen

Lee helps load the Joyner family's possessions onto the flatboat. Mrs. Joyner says that "It's God's will for America to cover the continent from sea to sea" and that "We'll be part of something grand, helping spread civilization into the wilderness" (p. 138-139). That night Lee looks up at the stars and remembers Jefferson telling her that the Cherokees call the Pleiades "Ani'tsutsa" and that it means "the Seven Boys." The story is about "how eight boys got so mad at their mama they decided to run away, but as they leaped into the sky, she grabbed the eighth boy by the heel and dragged him back to earth, leaving his seven brothers to shine in the night."  Jefferson likes to think of himself as the eighth brother, "the one who stayed" (p. 143).

Debbie's comments:
Manifest destiny. Carson doesn't address what it means for Native people. Jefferson's story about the Ani'tsutsa story is incomplete. The boy that is pulled down is pulled down with such force that when he hits the ground, it closes over him. His mother sheds tears every morning and every night, and eventually, a tree sprouts. It becomes the pine tree.  And, the boys are not from a single family. Cherokee writer Robert J. Conley includes that story in War Woman: A Novel of the Real People

Chapter Fourteen

The flatboat reaches its destination. Lee helps unload the Joyner family, and travels with them for one day. Mrs. Joyner, however, comes to Lee that night and asks her to leave because the woman thinks Lee is a runaway and therefore a bad influence on her children. Lee leaves, alone.

Chapter Fifteen

Lee meets many people as she travels. One night, she remembers camping with her dad. In a wistful voice he told her stories of being on the frontier with his own dad seeking adventure and fortune. She thinks of how her mother, aware of his need to be out like that, let him take little Lee with him. He was "the kind of man who fled Boston to make a new life in Indian country" (p. 170) and that if she didn't let him do that trip, he might go west on his own.

Debbie's comments:
I wish Carson had inserted something in Lee's thoughts, that allows readers to think about Native peoples displaced by Whites who wanted to "make a new life" in Native homelands. And did people call Georgia "Indian country?" I don't know. 

Lee gets to Independence on April 1, 1849. She runs into Free Jim (Mr. Boisclair) in a general store. They get to talking and the storekeeper calls out, asking if they're going to buy anything, because if not, he doesn't want them to clutter his doorway. Lee calls back, saying "Show some respect" and that "Mr. Boisclair is a free Negro and a respected businessman..." (p. 173). Mr. Boisclair guides her out of the store and tells her he didn't need her help. She protests and he changes the subject, filling her in on news. Her uncle is on his way to California and plans to arrive there before she gets there. They arrange to meet the next day at noon. Meanwhile, Lee walks around, looking for Jefferson.

At lunch with Jim, Lee thinks that if she and Jefferson had left Dahlonega together, she wouldn't have been robbed. She immediately has a second thought about that (p. 178):
Then again, maybe his Cherokee blood would have made him a tempting target. The thought turns my stomach.
Jim tells her some family history. He also talks about her dad acquiring his land through a lottery. Her uncle didn't get any, and returned to Boston to practice law. Jim asks Lee to go with him on a wagon train to California but she wants to stay in Independence, looking for Jefferson.

Debbie's comments:
Based on what the three men said about beating Indians, Lee is probably right to think that Jefferson would have been a target of their violence. That line about the lottery was another opportunity for Carson to provide readers with important context about Native peoples and their homelands. 

Chapter Sixteen

Lee doesn't find Jefferson, but does run into Mr. Joyner. She arranges to go west with him and his family.

Chapter Seventeen

Mr. Joyner tells Lee they're going west with a small company led by "an excellent man, Major Wally Craven, a veteran of the Black Hawk War, who knows how to deal with Indians" (p. 193). She learns that Mr. Joyner hired another person, who turns out to be Jefferson. She notices he is wearing boots now. He tells her that he is going by his mother's name, Kingfisher, because he wants nothing to do with his father. He tells her (p. 196):
"My mother's people came out this way you know. The Cherokee crossed the border here, went up to St. Louis to trade. Figure if someone hears my name, and they know her, word might get back." 
The two catch up on how they got to Independence, and then Jeff (Jefferson) tells her about the wagon company they're part of. They ride alone the line of wagons. He points out to a group of 20 wagons that has joined last minute because "there aren't enough for them to feel safe from Indians" (p. 200).

Debbie's comments:
I understand Mr. Joyner saying "deal with Indians" but I don't know what to make of Jefferson saying "feel safe from Indians." Does he identify as an Indian? In his mind, are Indians and Cherokee's different? 

At the end of the line, Jefferson points to Major Craven. Lee tells him that she heard he was a major in "some kind of Indian war." Jefferson's face darkens and he says (p. 205):
"The Black Hawk War. An ugly bit of business. More than a thousand Indians killed. Craven was a sergeant. Only reason everyone here calls him Major is because of Mr. Joyner." 
They talk a bit more about Mr. Joyner wanting the status a title like Major confers.

Debbie's comments:
I am puzzled by what Jefferson says. I guess he's angry about the Indians that were killed. But, that emotion doesn't quite jibe with what he said early about that wagon group feeling safe from Indians. 


That's it for now. What I'm struck by is that Carson has figured out ways to push back on racism towards African Americans, but hasn't done that to the same degree with the racism directed towards Native peoples. I wonder what her source for the Seven Brothers story is. As noted above, it is incomplete and not quite right, either. All the sources I found are similar to the one I linked to, which makes me wonder (again) about Carson's source. And I am puzzled by Jefferson and what he thinks about Indians. Maybe that'll work out later in the book. That's all for tonight! I'll be back...


Update, September 23, 2015

Chapter Eighteen

On their first night, Lee tells Jefferson what Jim told her about Hiram (her uncle) losing her mother to her dad (the uncle was in love with Leah's mom but Leah's dad prevailed). She also tells him that something happened to her mom while living in Boston that "made her run away from her fine house and wealthy family to hack out a living in Indian country" (p. 207). The wagon company sets off the next day.

Debbie's comments:
There's that phrase again "Indian country" -- used to describe Georgia. 

Chapter Nineteen

One morning when Lee returns to the wagons from walking off to do her morning necessities, Major Craven tells her (p. 223):
"There's no need for you to go off--We're getting to Indian country, and you can never tell what those savages will do."
Lee replies "Maybe the Indians just want to trade" and recalls memories of her dad trading with Cherokees "before the government chased them out of Georgia." Craven says it is possible and suggests she take a dog with her when she's off on her own.

Debbie's comments:
Glad to see Lee pushing back on Craven. And--I think by that point in the trip they are in what was commonly called Indian country. 

One night at dinnertime, Major Craven stops by the Joyner's wagon and tells them to be on alert, that if the alarm sounds, men must grab their guns and women and children should stay low in the wagons. Mrs. Joyner says they would be safer running into the middle of the wagon circle, but Craven says they might get trampled there by the horses and cattle. She says (p. 227):
"Better that than being captured! I'd rather risk trampling than allow myself or my children to abandon civilization and become savages."
Craven tells her he thinks they are more interested in cattle and horses and things not nailed down. Craven leaves, and Mr. Joyner tells Mrs. Joyner that what Craven said is rubbish (p. 227):
"The part about not taking women or children. He only said it to make you feel better. Those savages would steal a comely lady like you in a heartbeat and make your life a misery or servitude. And they'll grab the children fast as a Gypsy." He makes a grabbing motion at the children. Olive squeals and shrinks away, then dashes back to her father and squirrels into the safety of his arms. "That's what they are," Mr. Joyner says. "Gypsies. Gypsies on the plains. The best thing to do would be to exterminate the whole race."
Jefferson freezes, hearing that. Mrs. Joyner says "Unless they turn from their savage ways" (p. 227). Lee leans to Jefferson and asks if he is ok. After dinner, the two talk and he tells her that "everyone talks about the Indians that way. At least a little" (p. 228). She tries to make him feel better by talking about the Seven Boys but he tells her he's not the eighth boy anymore, because he didn't stay behind (in Dahlonega).

Debbie's comments:
This is really unsettling. In my writing on AICL and elsewhere, I talk about what a Native child may feel when a teacher reads aloud passages like the ones Jefferson is hearing. I imagine that a teacher may comfort that Native child, like Lee is doing for Jefferson, but the damage is done. Nowhere does Carson push back on the idea that the Native people are savages or uncivilized. The gentle pushback on extermination is from Mrs. Joyner, who says if they change their savage ways, they can be allowed to life. That makes me cringe! There's no pushback on that either! CHANGE OR BE PUT TO DEATH. That's the message there, and there is no pushback on it.

That night, Craven is on watch. Lee is awake and sees him go from wagon to wagon, peeking into the family wagons. When he gets to the Joyner's wagon he lets out "Indians! It's Indians!" and runs around waving his arms. Lee thinks it might be a test, because Craven is watching the wagons, not looking outward. Some people respond, getting guns and forming a defense, but others wander around confused.

Craven climbs atop a trunk and rings a bell till they quiet down. He tells them it was a drill. He tells them they're now "deep in Indian territory" and that they have nothing to fear by day, when they'll come to trade but at night, they'll come to rob them and to steal horses and cattle. Someone calls out to him asking "How many Induns you kill in the Black Hawk War?" and then "Ten? A hundred?" Craven mutters that it was too many, and "hopefully, not a soul more" (p. 231). He tells them to go back to sleep.

Debbie's comments:
Hmmm... "Induns" must be a typo. It is good he doesn't want to kill more of them. 

Jefferson glares after Craven and tells Lee that what he said isn't true. Lee tells him that Craven wasn't talking about the Cherokee. Jefferson replies (p. 231):
"But back home they said all that about the Cherokee--that we were thieves and worse--and it's not true. You remember when Dan Hutchings killed his brother-in-law?"
Lee recalls that Dan killed his brother-in-law and was hung for it, and Jefferson says (p. 231-232):
"Dan was a white man, as white as they come," he says. "And nobody ever said he did it became white men are savages. But one Indian does something bad, and suddenly all of them are bad."
Watching him in the moonlight, Lee thinks he looks more Cherokee than ever. She remembers her mother saying he had a "noble dignity about him, which was her way of pointing out his Indian blood while pretending to be polite" (p. 232). She tells Jefferson that nobody thinks he is bad. Angry, he tells her "That's not... I mean..." and she replies that she knew a lot of Indians when she was a little girl and that he's the best person she knows. She asks if he wants her to go spit in Craven's eye, which makes him smile. They go off to find his boot, lost in the chaos of the drill.

Debbie's comments:
Jefferson is making a good point that gestures to prejudice and discrimination being much-discussed today, particularly in the Black Lives Matter movement. I don't like what her mother said (noble dignity), and what Lee says (best person), however, because that echoes a good/bad binary, or--to use today's language--respectability politics.

Chapter Twenty

The next day they see a mound of dirt, ringed with rocks, on a hill. When they investigate, they find a grave that has been desecrated. Mr. Joyner tells them that the person in the grave is a girl and that Indians dug up the grave and stole her clothes and the blanket she was wrapped in. Lee thinks about saying that they don't really know what was stolen, since they don't know what she was buried with in the first place, but she stays quiet thinking it won't do any good. Mr. Joyner says (p. 235):
"Truly, these savages have no fear of God nor love of the white man."
Jefferson, listening to all this, rides off. Lee thinks (p. 235):
I don't know what to think about the Indians. Seems to me we don't really know anything about them. We don't even know what we don't know.
Later, Jefferson returns and tells Lee that others are saying the girl was killed by cholera and that some other men in the wagons further up in the line have it and are staying apart from the rest of the wagons but "they're afraid to go too far because of Indians" (p. 236).

Debbie's comments:
That passage, with Indians blamed for desecrating a grave makes me livid. Lee is right. It probably wouldn't do any good to push back on Mr. Joyner for saying that, but the larger question is this: why is this in here at all? Overwhelmingly, the evidence shows Native graves being desecrated. There's even a federal law about that--for those who don't know--it is NAGPRA. Its is meant to facilitate the return of human remains to tribes so they can be reburied. Yes, REBURIED. I read Lee's thoughts about what white people don't know about Indians and think that Carson is adding to that body of "knowledge" people have about Native peoples. 

And Jefferson saying, matter of factly, that others are afraid because of Indians? It reminds me of William Appess, a Pequot man raised by a white family, and his realization that he was afraid of his own people because of stories that white family told. The phrase for this unexamined racism towards ones own people is internalized racism. 

Others get sick. Jefferson tells Lee she shouldn't go off alone. He's not worried about Indians, but is worried she'll get lost. Mr. Joyner is sick, too. One of the Joyner's kids is missing. Lee thinks about all that could have happened to him, and then (p. 245):
And even though I'd never say it aloud to Jefferson, Andy could have been kidnapped by Indians. He might already be miles away.
Then, Mr. Bledsoe's slave, Hampton, appears, carrying Andy. Mrs. Joyner cries "What were you doing with him?" (p. 246) and Lee tells her "For God's sake, he was bringing him back to you." Mrs. Joyner relaxes and says "I suppose I should thank you."

Debbie's comments:
Again, Carson--through Lee--is pushing back on racism directed towards African Americans, but again, the racism directed towards Native peoples isn't treated the same way. The image of Indians who kidnap kids is left standing. 

Stopping here for the day. The more I read, however, the less I like Carson's book.

September 25, 2015

Chapter Twenty-One

Mr. Bledsoe dies of cholera. They put his body in a grave, but before they can shovel dirt in, Mr. Joyner runs up and asks Mr. Craven (p. 251):
"The Indians are going to dig up this grave, aren't they?"
Craven says there's no way to stop them, and Joyner suggests leaving them a gift. The gift is blankets from the Robichaud wagon, where the kids have measles. He heads to their wagon to get the blankets. Lee looks around for Jefferson but he's gone. Someone calls out to Joyner not to do this, but nobody stops him. Lee says "This is a terrible notion" but Craven tells Lee it is none of his business. Lee steps forward but is stopped by a person named Frank Dilley. Joyner throws the blankets into the grave. Nobody complains. They sing a hymn as the dirt is shoveled into the grave. They head to their wagons. Lee thinks (p. 253):
I've never felt so far from God's grace. I suppose I am a stranger walking on earth, but I'm no son of God. I'm no son at all.
Debbie's comments:
Now I see why Carson needed to have Indians as grave robbers earlier. It set up the scene above, and plays off of the history in which blankets infected with smallpox were given to Native people in Amherst Massachusetts by British soldiers. This was part of agreements made between tribes and the British, wherein the British would provide supplies to Native people in return for assistance. 

I'm looking for evidence of people like Joyner deliberately infecting blankets with measles during the Gold Rush. 

What bothers me about this episode in Carson's book is that factually, Whites distributed blankets to Indians, who were, in essence their allies in the war against the French. In Carson's story, she makes the Indians out to be barbaric. Having them take clothing and blankets from a young White female plays into the image of White women being defiled by African American men. 

A big question: why is this even in the story? We're obviously meant to really dislike Mr. Joyner and I suppose we're meant to like Lee, who is struggling with the evil embodied by Joyner and all the others who let this happen. Is there going to be some big reveal later, showing that those brothers who robbed Lee earlier in the story are the ones who desecrated the grave of the young woman? If so, we're all left in a state of thinking Indians are barbarous. 

Given that image and the pre-existing ignorance most readers have about history regarding Native peoples and the U.S. (individuals and institutions), Lee's attempts to intervene do not matter. 

The next morning, Craven tells them that Mr. Bledsoe's slave, Hampton, has run away. Joyner says that maybe the Indians will find him. Lee replies, in what is meant to be a sarcastic way, "Yeah, and then they can give him measles" (p. 254). Craven ignores her but warns them not to join the group that is going to go after him because the wagon train won't wait for their return.

The next night, when Lee returns from taking care of herself and clothes (cleaning her clothes) and turns in beside Jefferson (they sleep on blankets underneath Joyner's wagon), he asks her (p. 255):
"Aren't you afraid of Indians?" he says, and his voice has a mocking edge. 
The story continues with them moving on, passing more shallow graves, most of them dug up. Using Joyner's rifle, Lee and Jefferson ride out to hunt buffalo. Jefferson tells her that life, for him, on the trail is easier than life with his dad, mining and farming. To Lee's sarcastic "great" he amends what he said, saying (p. 259):
"I mean, no one likes me," he amends. "Or trusts me much. But that's no different from back home."
Lee tells him Therese (a young woman in another family) likes him. Jefferson says (p. 260):
"She does. And maybe I'm winning some of the others over too. Don't you think?"

Debbie's comments:
Wondering where the Hampton thread will go, and the buffalo hunting, too? 

I assume Jefferson's mocking tone is meant to convey that Indians aren't to be feared. I try to imagine myself as Jefferson, being Native and saying "the Indians" in the many ways he does. Here it is mocking. Earlier it was more of a factual thing (see notes for chapter 20). Jefferson's talk about being liked and trust, winning people over is unsettling, too. He wants these people, who clearly fear Indians, to like him. I assume we're to think that he is, by his actions, trying to prove to them (subconsciously, perhaps) that Indians are likable? Trustworthy? His darker skin marks him--to everyone in their wagon train--as "other" somehow but they apparently don't know he is Cherokee. He is, to use today's language, "passing as ___". I don't know what he'd be passing as, but I think, based on all I've read in Carson's book so far, these white people would kill him if they knew he is Cherokee. Recall what Lee said earlier about him being an easy target.  

Chapter Twenty-Two

They wake one morning and discover that a buffalo stampede is headed their way. Everyone runs to get into wagons. Some wagons are knocked over. Craven tries to scare them off by waving his shirt, turns, runs and then falls beneath their hooves. When the herd passes they find him with a badly injured leg. Frank offers to shoot him. Others tell him to get away but Craven says he'll go get him himself if the leg gets gangrene. About Craven, Lee thinks (p. 270):
I haven't cared for him much, not since he stood by and let Mr. Joyner put poxed blankets in Mr. Bledsoe's grave. But maybe I haven't given him enough of a chance. I like him a fair sight better than Frank Dilley, that's for sure.

Debbie's comments:
Curious she now says "pox" instead of measles. Which is the error? Early on, when Carson says that those children have measles? Did she mean smallpox then? Or is her use of pox here the error? I think measles is a rash, not a pox. I wonder about her thoughts on giving him a second chance. What would Jefferson think of that thought? 

One of the men on the "college" wagon (a wagon of three guys in college who have left college and are also headed to the gold fields) was studying to be a doctor. He sets Craven's leg. Other men start talking about who should lead if he dies. Lee looks around for, and finds, Jefferson. He's helping Therese. Lee heads over to the Joyner's wagon and hears "Indians" (p. 275).

Chapter Twenty-Three

The Indians are following the buffalo. Frank Dilley says that the Indians stampeded the buffalo herd on purpose. The Reverend's eyes brighten and he wants to hold services and tell them about the blood of Christ. Mr. Joyner worries they're going to steal his possessions. Lee watches them. There are about twelve of them. The men are in buckskin that is decorated with quills and colored beads. Some have cloth blankets thrown over shoulders, and others have buffalo robes. Most wear feathers in their hair. Lee thinks they understand English. Some of their faces are pocked with scars. One of them has blue eyes, and another one has freckles. She thinks, if Jefferson wore those clothes, he'd blend right in. She sees him watching them, too. He sees her looking at him and ducks away. Women and children follow the men. A little girl sees Lee's locket (earlier in the story she let Andy Joyner wear it as a way to keep track of him--her gold sense, remember) around Andy's neck and reaches for it. Lee steps between them and says no, the girl cries, Lee picks Andy up, Mrs. Joyner steps in and trades a silver hair brush for a buffalo hide. The Indian girl and her friends "take turns touching the shiny, silver handle." The Indians "melt away much as they arrived" (p. 278).

Debbie's comments:
I'll need to see what I find about small pox amongst the Omaha prior to 1849 (Omaha, because as the next summary shows, that is the tribe mentioned). Other things to research are relationships such that there would be Omaha people with blue eyes and freckles. I'm also going to try to find out about the everyday clothing of the Omaha's at that time. The much-acclaimed photographer, Edward R. Curtis, had props that he asked Indians to wear if they didn't look Indian enough for him. Other photographs did the photo-shop of that time period to remove items like clocks that Native people were using in order to make them look more "authentic" according to the photographer's definition. 

I've seen other writers depict Native characters (children) as attracted to shiny items or mirrors. In some instances it is plausible but it also fits into a pre-existing bit of "knowledge" of Indians as primitive peoples fascinated with shiny things of White people. Indians melting away fits into the stealthy Indian stereotype. Most stereotypes have a bit of truth to them, but some become THE thing. I think stealthy Indians is one of those things where the bit of truth has overtaken all else about how Indian people moved about. 

After they leave, a group of men from the wagon train set out to hunt buffalo. They think the Indians who went through the camp are Omaha, who "ought to be removed" so that "white men can settle the Nebraska territory" (p. 280). On the way to the herd, they catch up to the Indians. Frank points his rifle at one of the Indian men and says "bang," laughs, and waves "friendly-like" to the Indians. Frank and others talk of shooting all of them. Lee, riding alongside Jefferson, whispers that Frank and his men are snakes. Jefferson replies that "Men are men" and that "It's men thinking other men are snakes that's the problem" (p. 281).

Debbie's comments:
As we saw before, Frank is depicted in a way that tells us he is not-to-be-liked. 

Lee shoots and kills a buffalo and wants to go get it but Frank says they have to finish hunting first. He begins killing and wounding buffaloes, as do others, with glee. Jefferson and Lee put down the wounded ones to end their misery. It is a slaughter. After many miles of chasing the herd and killing buffaloes, they finally stop.

Debbie's comments:
Slaughters like that took place, but not in 1849/1850. That came later, especially with the railroad. The story as Carson tells it cues readers to further dislike Frank. It is possible that such a thing happened in 1849. The idea that killing the herds would deprive Native peoples of the Plains of a significant source of food was put forth in the early 1870s by Columbus Delano, Secretary of Interior. 

Lee bends to start butchering one but Frank stops her, telling her they're only taking tongues and humps. Astonished, Lee asks about the rest of the meat. Frank says they'll leave it to rot and that "If the Indians can't find anything to eat, maybe they'll go live somewhere else." When they stop to cook a tongue, Jefferson tells Lee that "This is one of the worst things I've ever done" (p. 283). He can't wait to get to California and away from Frank. Lee tells him that bad people are everywhere.  When they turn back to where they left the wagons, they come upon the Indian women who are butchering one of the dead buffalo. Frank and some of the others "kick their horses into a gallop, as if to run down the women and children" (p. 285). The women and children scream and run away. Frank and the men turn away at the last minute and laugh.

Back at camp they discover that Andy is missing again. Lee tries to use her gold sense to find him but realizes he's far away because she can't sense her locket (remember he is wearing it). Frank says that (p. 290):
"The Indians were eying him and his pretty blond hair. They wanted that boy of yours. We find the Indians, we'll find your son."
Lee remembers that they saw the Indians earlier and Andy wasn't with them. She's sure the Indians didn't take him but keeps quiet. A search party is organized.

Debbie's comments:
Frank is giving voice to the idea that Indians wanted blonde scalps. 

Chapter Twenty-Four

Late at night, Lee and Jefferson find Andy under a wagon. He wasn't taken by Indians. The next morning she is awakened by Henry, one of the men in the college wagon where Craven is recovering.

Chapter Twenty-Five

Craven is in bad shape. Jasper wants Lee to help him amputate Craven's leg. While there the college men invite them to work with them in San Francisco because "there's a place for us out there. To live the way we want to live, without interference" as "confirmed bachelors" (p. 312-313). Lee helps with the amputation.

Chapter Twenty-Six

Craven recovers and by July 4, when they stop midday to have a celebration, he is able to join them. Towards the end of the chapter, Lee rescues a little girl who has fallen on the tongue of her wagon. In that rescue, Lee is badly cut and bleeding. Jasper tells her he has to take off her pants to stitch her wound. She says no, Jefferson tells her she has no choice. She worries everyone will know she's not a he and then blacks out.

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Everyone knows Lee is female. She learns that some knew it all along. For most, it doesn't matter. Mr. Joyner (who Lee works for), however, won't let her use a rifle anymore.

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Mr. Joyner won't pay Lee's wages because women aren't supposed to work as she had been doing. Mrs. Joyner tells Lee she can still eat meals with them but that Mr. Joyner's decision is final. Lee can work, as long as it is the work women do, like gathering buffalo chips (that they use for fuel).

As they enter the Rocky Mountains people think about items to leave behind. Mrs. Joyner doesn't want to leave her dressing table and says "I... We will not live like savages," and with less conviction, "It's up to us to bring civilization to California" (p. 353).

At a steep slope they struggle to lower the Joyner's wagon. Lee helps but it is too heavy. A piece of furniture slides out, blocking the wagon. Mr. Joyner tries to get it out of the way, the people trying to hold it back can't do it, and Mr. Joyner is crushed to death. Mrs. Joyner takes over, telling them to leave the remaining furniture and re-hiring Lee.

Chapter Twenty-Nine

For a long time, Mrs. Joyner has noticed food stores missing. Someone has been taking them at night. They suspect Indians but have never caught anyone. Finally, Lee is awake when the thieves comes to their wagon. It is one of the college men, and, Hampton (the runaway slave). Since he ran away, the college men have been feeding him but when they took in Craven, they had to start stealing food from the Joyner's. Lee agrees to keep the secret.

At a trading post along the way, a general there tries to persuade them to go to Oregon to be farmers instead of California where it is lawless. And, he warns them with this (p. 369):
We had a situation here a few weeks ago, where an Indian offered a man three horses in exchange for one of his daughters. The settler joked that if the Indians gave him six it as a deal. This joke, as it were, at his daughter's expense nearly led to bloodshed, when the Indian came back with six horses."
Frank says, loudly (p. 370):
"That must be how the half-breed got hold of her."
Jefferson leaps forward but Lee yanks him back. Lee notices the Reverend watching her. Later, he proposes to her, telling her that Jefferson is unsuitable because of his parentage. She rejects his proposal.

Debbie's comments:
I'm a bit confused. I've been reading closely and had been thinking that nobody other than Lee knew that Jefferson's mother is Cherokee. I don't know about the truth of that popular idea that Indians traded horses for white women. I easily find it in white writings but will need to dig in my sources to see what tribes--if any--did that. 

Chapter Thirty

The Roubichaud family decides to go to Oregon. Lee is sad because they have treated her well. Jefferson tells her that Mr. Hoffman has forbade him from speaking to Therese because Frank told him that Jefferson is the one who has been stealing from others and that he's been giving what he steals to his "red-skinned brothers" (p. 379). Though it isn't true, Mr. Hoffman can't ignore the accusation. That night, Jefferson tells Lee he isn't sweet on Therese. He reaches for her hand beneath the blankets and fall asleep, holding hands.

Chapter Thirty-One

The size of the wagon train is smaller now. It travels on through barren areas. With little food or water for the horses and oxen, oxen die. Those remaining decide to cut by half the number of wagons. Just as they are ready to set out again, Mrs. Joyner goes into labor.

Chapter Thirty-Two

The majority of the train, including the Hoffman's goes on without the Joyner's wagon and the people using it (the Joyner's, Lee and Jefferson, the Major, and the college men). As Mrs. Joyner labors, Hampton walks up with a barrel of water. Lee wonders if the Major will be ok with Hampton staying, and Jefferson says the Major isn't so bad. Lee asks him "Even after the way he talked about Indians?" (p. 401) and Jefferson tells her the Major just spoke that way and did the drill to appease Frank.

Lee delivers Mrs. Joyner's baby. Both are ok. Just at that moment, Lee sees Therese Hoffman walking toward them. Her family had gone on with the others but the wagon axle broke and the rest of the train didn't stop to help. Therese walked back to the Joyner wagon for help. She dies of heat stroke.

Chapter Thirty-Three

Lee and the men set out to find the rest of the Hoffman's. Her gold sense leads her to them. They're all alive. Mr. Hoffman has a knapsack that, unbeknownst to Mrs. Hoffman, are gold. As they collect their things to walk back to the wagon, Mrs. Hoffman wants to leave the candlesticks but Lee offers to carry them, which raises Jefferson's suspicions. Back at the wagon they all argue about what to do. Keep going? Or turn back to a sure source of water. In the end, they decide to keep going.

Chapter Thirty-Four

On September 14, 1849, they make it to the Truckee River. They rest there a few days and build a rock pile as a memorial for the people who died along the way. As they continue, Lee worries more and more about her uncle finding her. She also starts to find gold, which she puts in her pockets. She decides to tell Jefferson about her gold sense and is surprised when he tells her he knows, that he figured it out. He leans in towards her and his lips brush her cheek and then he steps back and tells her, with eyes that dance, "You are going to be so rich" (p. 428).

They reach Sutter's Fort and are going to go in to "figure out this claim business" when Lee hears a voice call out "That's my horse" (p. 428). It is her uncle. He calls out that Lee is his girl and he's taking her back. Jefferson starts to load his rifle, and the men step forward saying she is with family already. Hiram's face darkens and he moves on, saying "I'll be seeing you again, my Leah. Very soon.". The group continues on its way as though nothing happened. As they approach the fort gate, Jefferson puts his arm around Lee and says "We made it." Smiling, Lee says "Let's go find us some gold" (p. 430).


That's it. For book one, that is. I'm hitting the Update button and stepping away to think about my overall review. For now I'll say this: How the heck did this get selected for the National Book Award? The answer, I suppose: ignorance on the part of the committee. In 2015, the depth of ignorance is astounding.


acriticalreviewofthehelp said...

Hi Debbie,

Let me just say that I've followed your blog for years. I've got a blog that goes into all the issues I had with the blockbuster novel THE HELP, so I can relate to what you're going through.

Even though I'd grown up during the time period the book references, and I pointed out the Medgar Evers error in the novel (early editions of the book have this error, where Skeeter claims Evers was bludgeoned and the author, in three audio interviews on the internet, one of which was the Barnes and Noble site, also claims Evers was bludgeoned to death). A simple Google search would have told her how Evers died.

I say all this to tell you to please keep doing what you're doing. Yes, this book will reach a mass audience. But so will your concerns. It can be a traumatic thing to realize that editors and the publisher, and even the author still went ahead and included misconceptions about your culture in a published book. I know all too well that The Help included regurgitated Antibellum ideology about my culture, with some of it coming out of the mouths of the black characters in dialogue that many readers may have thought funny, but were things that I knew were offensive.

Thank you for what you do. And please keep keepin' on.

acriticalreviewofthehelp said...

Sorry, that should read "Antebellum" ideology not Antibellum.