The Story Must Be Told
Writing Project: Text and Contexts
Essay Concerned: Storyteller
Leslie Marmon Silko, a contemporary writer and a Laguna, brings a new perception to language and literature, seeing the creation, history and time from the Pueblo perspective. Storyteller by Silko is a multigeneric work comprised of personal reminiscences and narratives, retellings of traditional Laguna stories and lovely maps of the fertile storytelling ground from which her art evolves and to which it is returned to. The book weaves itself into a spiderweb that brings together time, land, and experience, capturing the essence of life and language in a way that diverse audiences can appreciate. In Silko’s words, “the dimensions of the process” of storytelling is explained and both the structure and primary thematic concerns are established in the book.
The short story “Storyteller” could be recognized as Silko’s signature story in a highly condensed form with almost all the issues addressed in her other work. At its center is a young Eskimo girl, orphaned, living with a dying old man, the village storyteller who is victimized by Gussuck. She determines to avenge herself against the Gussuck storekeeper responsible for her parents’ death.
Leslie Marmon Silko’s works are widely studied by scholars. Edith Blicksilver examines Silko’s portrayal of Native American woman in her short stories and suggests that “Silko attempts to explore the conflict between traditionalism and modernity”. Jim Ruppert believes that in “Storyteller” the reality of the story and the individual’s identity are woven together into one story reality that patterns all others. Linda L. Danielson gives a feminist reading of “Storyteller”. She maintains that “the central character uses narrative to maintain the integrity of self and culture in opposition to the pressures of white culture”.
The “story” serves as several roles in “Storyteller” the title story and also in Storyteller the whole book. In her anthology, Silko establishes the significance of the “story”. As it is vividly portrayed in the title story “Storyteller”, story can be seen from three main perspectives on my behalf: story as the legacy; story as a way to seek identity; story as a weapon against assimilation.
First and foremost, story has been seen as the legacy. In “Storyteller”, story is the tie that bonds the old man and the girl, two generations of Native Americans, together. The old man is the village storyteller who tells story in an intensely beautiful precision and accomplishes it with his life. The story of a bear in winter that he keeps telling becomes the girl’s legacy. It is such a powerful version from which the girl learns when she decides to create a story of her own. Most importantly, besides the story itself, the way in which a story should be told has also been passed from generation to generation as a legacy. As the old man insists, the principle of storytelling says that “it will take a long time, but the story must be told. There must be no lies” (Silko p.42). It then becomes the principle of the girl who follows it strictly and even is willing to give up her freedom to defend it. At the end of the story, the attorney wants her to change her story to tell the court that “it was an accident” (Silko p.59), but the girl refuses, even though to follow his advice would mean freedom. She chooses to carry the legacy of the old storyteller and becomes a storyteller herself.
Besides her bonds with the old man, the girl also shares a grandmother-granddaughter pairing relationship with her grandmother. According to Leslie Marmon Silko, Native American woman has been “the tie that binds her and people together, transmitting her culture through story from generation to generation” (Charlene). In “Storyteller”, the girl receives another precious legacy from her grandmother, which is the story of her parents. Being acknowledged of her parents’ death, the girl enters more deeply into her family and her culture.
Another important perspective that “Storyteller” discusses is that storytelling can be seen as a way to seek identity, not only the identity of individual one but also the whole community. The creation story plays a significant role in Native American culture. Silko has pointed out that “the origin story functions basically as a maker of our identity—with the story we know who we are. Then from the idea of one’s identity as a tribal person, we can move into clan identity”.
The title story “Storyteller” could be seen as a story of identity-seeking journey. Important characters in “Storyteller” all have their stories. The girl’s grandmother has the story of the girl’s parents. The old man keeps telling the story of the bear. Those stories establish their role in family, in community and in humanity.
In the beginning, “the nameless girl is ignorant of her identity” (Ruppert). She has no story of her own to tell. She wonders about the world which confuses her with all kinds of conflicts and finds it hard to attain a place. She tries school but only has a harsh time when Gussucks tries to change and reform her in their way with their lifestyle and language. When her grandmother dies, the girl chooses to live with the old storyteller, which allows her defining herself in her own way. Grandma’s story about her parents’ death marks the beginning of her identity seeking since she decides to plan her own story from that moment. She listens very carefully to the old man’s story and uses tricks that she learns from it in creating her own story. She finds her place in the world as a daughter, a granddaughter, a Native American, a rebel and a creature of nature in her story-creating. And finally, she completes her identity journey by becoming a storyteller who insists telling the story “as it is” (Silko p.59).
Nevertheless, Pueblo community achieves its identity from story and storytelling. In the story, characters are bonded together by stories and they confirm their identity as a Native American seeing the world from the Pueblo perspective by storytelling. That’s how clan identity is confirmed.
Last but not the least, story can be seen as a weapon against “assimilation” which is not only refers to individualities but also the cultures.
Assimilation has embodied in the image of merging of the sky and ice. It is repeated several times throughout the story while playing a significant role in story developing. Silko suggests the theme concerning cultural assimilation and warns of the danger of it in the very beginning of the story by saying that “it wasn’t a good sign for the sky to be indistinguishable from the river ice, frozen solid and white against the earth” (Silko p.1). However, it seems that the old storyteller is the only one who notices it while other citizens have bent to it. He passes the information to the girl telling her that “ice will push across the sky” (Silko p.21).
The powerful weapon against it is storytelling. Silko emphasizes that the boundaries between the sky and ice are losing. Boundaries, according to Salyer, “are what form identity”. Keeping identity, as well as being distinguishable, is essential to keep a culture from losing itself in cultural assimilation.
However, it has been already discussed above that story is significant for an individual and a community to seek identity. Unlike other indifferent and confusing village people who have lost themselves in assimilation, grandma, the old man and the girl follow the Pueblo traditions, lifestyle and speak native language. Those are what define them and make them who they are. And most importantly, they find their way to defend these valuable things with storytelling. The old man’s story which are told with passion in a traditional way is a typical one of how Pueblo people get along with other creatures showing the Pueblo perspective of seeing and dealing with the nature. The story that grandma tells is an accusation of the wrongdoings and damage that the white bring. The girl tells her story of resisting assimilation and oppression of White culture.
Red that witnesses the story of her parents’ death has been used by the girl to mark the boundaries. “The east bank of the river was lost in the sky; the boundaries had been swallowed by the freezing white. And then, in the distance, she saw something red, and suddenly it was as she had remembered it all those years” (Silko 54). The victory of storytelling against assimilation has also been shown in the image of the sky and ice. When the girl insists telling the story in her own way after killing the storeman, she knows that “the ice descending from the sky” (Silko p.59). By telling the stories and telling it the way it should be, the Pueblo culture is able to survive.
“Storyteller” is a dark tale of racism and revenge but also of the integrity of stories and their tellers. It vividly and clearly presents the very essence of Silko’s works. Silko expresses, with grace and power through her melding of oral tradition and the written words in Storyteller, the sense of life being lived, of timeless and ongoing, changing and evolving, contradictory and continuous. Story, as the one of most important elements in her works and also in the tradition of Pueblo culture, can be seen as legacy that maintain the essence of traditional culture; as a way of seeking identity from being aware of the past and pursuing their present; as a weapon against assimilation of others and other cultures.
Blicksilver, Edith. “Traditionalism vs. Modernity: Leslie Silko on American Indian Woman”. Southwest Review 64.2 (1979): 149-160
Salyer, Gregory. “Storyteller: Spider-Woman’s Web”. Leslie Marmon Silko. New York: Twayne, 1997. 58-84.
Silko, Leslie. “Storyteller”. Leslie Marmon Silko. New York: Twayne, 1997.
Ruppert, Jim. “Storytelling: The Fiction of Leslie Silko”. Leslie Marmon Silko. New York: Twayne, 1997.
Danielson, L. Linda. “A Feminist Reading of Storyteller”. Leslie Marmon Silko. New York: Twayne, 1997.
Reflective Companion Piece:
“Storyteller” is not an easy short story for reading. In order to understand it, information about the author and Native American culture and other research are needed. This paper is based on a close examination and full acknowledgment of cultural background. It also introduces other scholars’ opinions and interpretations with which the view of its own has been better demonstrated.
The paper is well-organized with an introduction part of the book and the short story, a brief literature review, self presentation and argumentation and conclusion. It makes a very clear thesis statement with simple words. Each view then is explained deliberately with detailed analysis of the text. It provides a comprehensive interpretation with the short story.