Leslie Marmon Silko is a Native American writer raised in the tribe of Laguna Pueblo. During her childhood, she learnt Laguna legends and traditions from her family members and also got educated in the University of New Mexico before becoming a literature writer. She is a descent of both Anglo American and Mexican American, because of which she grew up on the edge of pueblo society and her family was not allowed to participate in ritual activities. As a result of being a short story writer, one of her most important works is called Storytelling that is composed of various legends and stories related to the traditional Indian culture. In this book, Silko intends to clarify the interrelationship between the stories she had heard and her sense of storytelling and language that had been given to her by the old folks, the people back home. (Barnes 1579) The audience in the author’s view is those who are fond of clarifying the relationship between the spoken and the written. The author also stresses “the key to understanding storytellers and storytelling at Laguna Pueblo is to realize that you grow up not just being aware of narrative and making a story or seeing a story in what happens to you and what goes on around you all the time, but just being appreciative and delighted in narrative exchanges”, so “it isn’t like there’s only one storyteller designated”. The reason why Silko writes these stories is to satisfy herself by translating the feeling, flavor or sense of a story into a literature version. However, during this process, she does not change the spirit, the mood or the tone of the story because she regards stories as living things with their own vitality. (Barnes 1581)
Against a backdrop of describing racism and revenge in Storytelling, Lullaby is one of its most famous story told from the perspective an old woman who recalling the tragic memories in her life. Arranged through the way of flashback, the story is elicited by a blanket of Ayah’s son, Jimmie who has died in the battlefield, then the occasion of weaving with Ayah’s mother and grandma and finally Ayah’s husband named Chato. Except for Jimmie, Ayah has another two children named Danny and Ella who are taken away from her by the whites. What is an added disaster to these poor couple is that Chato is chased from the work for his physical defect. Apart from a bit of payment and a blanket, they have nothing at all.
The story is named as Lullaby, but is not about the innocence of children. “On the contrary, this is a story about the horrors of adulthood, but it also reflects the ability to weave all of the events of one’s life into a story”. “Memory, too, serves as a blanket that warms Ayah and allows her to continue living despite the horrible conditions she faces”. (Salyer 16) In the view of Edith Blicksilver, “Lullaby describes the Anglo’s exploitation of the Indian and tragic consequences of forcing young children to choose between the old tribal reservation traditions and a materialistic, urban, sterile society so alien to their close-knit extended family culture.” “Silko is able to extricate her powerful feeling s for this individual from her sympathetic involvement with her as a victim of racial oppression”. This old Navaho woman witnesses the transitional period between old and new. In her natural traditional life, she may not have been liberated as an Indian woman based on the modern definitions, but she knew her worth. While faced with the totally fresh world, she shows her heroic fortitude.
Indian was once a matriarchal clan society. It is hard to describe Indian as a society formed with a certain civilization since the European colonists landed here, so it provides a good opportunity for those colonists to control the aborigines on their minds. The whites forbid the Indians to give birth. Children are hauled away from their parents to a special naturalized school where kids are not allowed to speak their mother tough but only English. They are trained there to be the slaves of the white in terms of changing their names, studying the Bible and western culture. It is impossible for them to meet their biological parents again. In the story Lullaby, to some extend, it is lucky for Ayah to have chances to meet her children for twice. However, it is just a self comfort or self deception that are forced to be formed in the Indian’s personality. They have no right to choose but adapt to what these new immigrants brings to them, like culture, wealth, development and also disease which causes a great reduction of Indian population. Seen from the above condition, we can say with certainty that Indian people should be feared. They have no power at all in all respect to fight against these invaders. However, I find a kind of fearlessness and powerful inner forces from this woman named Ayah. Her strength is not a superficial one, liking killing some whites or starting some activities for defiance, but her braveness and persistence in dealing with all the events happened in her life. She has done what she can do and also has a strong heart to accept the result.
Her fortitude will be illustrated from her responses to facing with a broken family and the death of her child and husband.
Ayah’s family was broken by the whites who force to bring her children away. The white doctors ask her to sign her name on the paper. She does it as what her husband tells her because only he understands what the whites are talking about. However, she cannot believe that it is a contract to send her children away to a place called Colorado where there are many sick and dying strangers. Without knowing the fact, she just wants them to go and sign the name. ”She took the pen from the man without looking at his face”. “She stared at the ground by their feet and waited for them to leave”. From her actions, we can tell she is really nervous and afraid to contact with white strangers because she dares not to face up to them. However, she feels something is wrong later when they stand still and point at her kids. Out of maternity, she ran with her two children up to the hills avoiding them being taken away. This action is a comparative one to those before. They stay there for a quite long time to wait for her husband to pick them up. She just tries to ensure that those white doctors have left so that her children can still be with her. Living with her own children for the rest of her life has already become a fantasy, but at least she fights for it for one time which leaves her one more afternoon to share the beautiful view of warm sun, blue sky and light cloud with kids. The kids are gone finally. She hates her husband Chato who tells her to sign the name. As the revenge, she does not lie down besides him for many years later. We can personally feel the pain when we are away from home for a long time. Actually parents’ is far more than what we have burdened, so it is easy for us to understand Ayah’s sadness and anger. Nevertheless, when her husband is ill and chased away from the farmland, she comes back to him. She feels that “for forty years she had smiled at him and cooked his food, but he remained a stranger”, but she still “walked back to find Chato” because they are a couple and they have nothing left but each other. It can’t be easy for her to keep living with this man who makes her lose kids, but she still chooses to accompany him. The reason why she can handle this is because she has a strong heart.
The second aspect is her reaction to the death of her first child, Jimmie, and her husband. The blanket belonged to Jimmie when he is alive is the clue of the whole story. Ayah seems to take it to anywhere she goes. When Chato tells her “Jimmie isn’t coming home anymore”, “she didn’t cry then, but she hurt inside with anger”. The pain that cannot be relieved is the most excruciating. Ayah mourns Jimmie for twice in the story. The first one happens when Chato breaks his leg and can’t get payment until he can work again. She thinks if Jimmie is here, he can do that for his father. The second time happens when the white doctors bring Danny and Ella away. She thinks if Jimmie is here, he can read the contract for her and kids will not be taken away. Since the children left her, she moves to the hill where they spend the last time together with the blanket Jimmie has sent her. She takes the blanket with her all the time from which we can tell that she actually mourns Jimmie in every minute. Her strong appearance makes us feel more of the pain she suffers.
Chato is so old that the rancher finds a new labor to replace him. They have to move out of the gray boxcar shack. She is old too. With the white hair and wrinkled face, she is not stopped by the owner of the bar when she enters for looking for Chato. Men in there are afraid of her which makes her satisfied. She finds him when they are walking along the pavement. Chato talks with her that the ranch cannot be managed well without him. He also called her wife with the name of his sister. He wears the old boots, shirts and clothes, which makes him covered in rags. She laughed at him. He stops his step to look at her. He is really old now. Ayah asks for a rest. They sit down with their backs against the rock. “She offered half of the blanket to him and they sat wrapped together”. “His eyes were closed now, and in the light from the stars and the moon, he looked young again”. She begins to sing lullaby for him, making everything turn to the original and the nature. At this time, I think Ayah may not think of other things. She has a man who has accompanied her during her span time, the blanket that strongly suffused with the love of his son and the beauty of nature she used to shared with Danny and Ella. She feels satisfied and happy for what she has had. That is what the worth of life, which cannot be taken away by anyone.
The external environment sometimes may bring us various pressure, fearness or intranquility, which is out of our control. However, we can improve ourselves and try to face the difficulties with a strong inner power. Frustration, to some extend, is the fortune of life for it making us realize more of the value of what we have had.
Evans, Charlene Taylor. Women of Color: Mother-Daughter Relationships in
20th-Century Literature (1996): 172-87.
Blicksilver, Edith. Southwest Review (1979): 149-60
Salyer, Gregory. Leslie Marmon Silko. New York: Twayne, 1997