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Contemporary American West has been variously rendered variously in popular and pulp fiction by various authors. While the fiction in the form of web-slinging cowboys and Wild West images were popular, many eminent authors have written some very excellent books with nature and conservation of animals and habitat as the theme. This paper presents an analysis of two contemporary works ”The Quick and the Dead – Joy Williams’ and The Grass Dancer – Susan Power’.
Analysis of The Quick and the Dead – Joy Williams
Williams (has captured the essence of eco-terrorism, animal and wildlife conservation in the form of Alice, Annabel, and Corvus who are against the exploitation of animals for consumption and research. The Quick and the Dead is about the struggle to save animals, come what it may involve. Alice is a spirited girl who lost her parents when she was very young and she stays in an obscure house in a southwest Arizona desert.
There are a number of stories that are linked and form the tribulations, pangs, and thirsts that the character undergoes. The characters are weird, disturbed, and consumed by a mission of their won and for them, reacting against people who kill animals or disturb the ecology is bad. The main character, Alice, seems to be consumed by intense hate against anyone who harms animals and she indulges in weird acts such as staging ]puke-ins’ in restaurants that serve deer meat. She also indulges in vicarious behavior such as throwing rocks at motorcyclists who she believes are disturbing the environment and get beaten in turn but she does not mind a bit.
“For more than a month now, after school, Alice had been caring for six-year-old fraternal twins, Jimmy and Jacky. They lived with their mother, who was away all day, cutting hair. Their father was off in another state, building submarines. Hair, submarines, it was disgusting, Alice thought. She did not find the children at all interesting. They cried frequently, indulged themselves in boring, interminable narratives, were sentimental and cruel, and when frustrated would bite. They had a pet rabbit that Alice feared for.” (pp. 15)
The different characters all have a mind and behavior of their own and would be regarded as potential misfits. Daisy the nurse is a disturbed person who works in a retirement home and insists on asking strange questions such as “Do you vow to keep your wits among the witless? Do you commit yourself to ponder ceaselessly the uselessness of caring, the uselessness of love?” (pp. 57).
The three girls seem to be on a mission to avenge the dead animals. There is the taxidermist Williams who passes time by attempting to preserve the bodies of dead animals. In one story, the three girls come across Ray who is a mentally disturbed drifter and haunted by a dead lab monkey in his head. He is coming from a trek with the scavenged corpse of an endangered bighorn sheep and he has not killed the animal but is only attempting to preserve the carcass. But Alice is not bothered with the fact of who has committed the crime and to the three girls it does not matter and they tie him up, leaving him for dead. She reasons that “Evil must be repaid and not necessarily to the one who’d done the deed. You had to grab whoever was available and annoying and see what came of it” (p. 128).
In short, the novel carries its theme of eco-terrorism to the full and shows the lives and thinking of people who should be doing these things in a better way.
Analysis of The Grass Dancer – Susan Power
Power (1995) in her book, The Grass Dancers, explores the complex relations that exist among families of the Sioux native Indian tribes. The story is about Pumpkin, a native Indian teen who has come to perform the grass dance at the powwow. She has also obtained a scholarship at Stanford and is the pride of the Indian people. She develops a relationship with Harley Wind Soldier and they both spend the night in an old haunted house that has the ghost of a white woman who is seeing doing housework such as sweeping, darning, and cleaning. The stories that are narrated speak of ghosts and spirits and the way of the native Indian that was inherently one with nature.
Nature, life, the spirits, and animals form the main theme of the stories and they spell out the symbiotic relationship that the native Indians had for these entities. Harley, the lover of Pumpkin has never seen his father and elder brother as they died in a car accident and the memories of the ghosts have created an empty feeling in his chest.
“When Harley saw his father, Calvin Wind Soldier, and his brother, Duane, in dreams, they were wearing crowns of glass. Drops of blood trickled down their foreheads, beaded on their black lashes, and slipped into the corners of their mouths. Four weeks before Harley was born, his father and his older brother were killed in a car accident.”(p.3)
The book examines various themes such as magical elements, nature, animals, and the like and how humans interact with these beings. There is one incident on the nature theme which is worth mentioning in which Herod Ghost Horse is out on a quest for a medicine hole with a group of kids.
The medicine hole is a mythical opening to another world where nature in its pristine glory is seen at its full glory. There are visions of great herds of bison galloping the grasslands while the birds fly in the clear blue skies and over pristine fresh streams. The book hints at conservation and the loss of the environment with the drift of cultures. The very name ‘Grass Dancer’ explains the main theme of nature and conservation as Charlene Thunder says:
“There are two kinds of grass dancing, there’s the grass dancer who prepares the field for a powwow the old-time way, turning the grass over with his feet to flatten it down. Then there’s the spiritual dancer, who wants to learn grass secrets by imitating it, moving the body with the wind.” (p. 78)
The two works bring about a strange way in which life is depicted in contemporary west America. While both the novels are based on nature, animals, and conservation the Quick and the Dead deals with the concept of eco-terrorism and the measures taken to help wild animals, in whatever way the activists can. In the Grass Dancers, the novel deals with the Sioux native Indians and their way of life, and the message are about conservation and nature.
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Power Susan. 1995. The Grass Dancer. Berkley publishers. ISBN-13: 978-0425149621.
Williams Joy. 2000. The Quick and the Dead. Vintage books. ISBN: 978-0-375-72764-1.