Black Elk Speaks: being the life story of a holy man of the Oglala Sioux
This book is about the life and development of an Indian medicine man, Black Elk. From a historical perspective the life of Black Elk is significant as he was present at the famous he Battle of the Little Big Horn and he survived the Wounded Knee Massacre1890. Black Elk is also an important figure as he represents the Sioux people as a holy man or medicine man. The cultural as well as the spiritual aspects of the story of Black Elk also provides the modern reader with insight into the culture of the American Indian.
This book also has a message for the modern person living in a world such as ours, where war, poverty and other problems such as climate change have caused humanity to look at other cultures and views of life for inspiration for the future. In other words, there is a great deal that can be learned from this book.
Objective presentation of Data
A. Who, What When
Black Elk Speaks is a book that was published in 1932 book by John G. Neihardt. Niehardt, who is a poet and writer, felt that the story of the life of Black Elk was an important cultural as well as a personal story to record. The book itself is based on conversations that the author had with Black Elk. Black Elk was an Oglala Sioux medicine man. The native Lakota that Black Elk spoke was translated into English by Black Elk's son.
It is also important to note that the famous psychologist, Carl Jung, was so impressed with this book that he recommended that it be translated into German. Since its publication this book has been read and enjoyed by many people and has become popular, especially among those people who are interested in other cultures and, in particular, the North American Indian culture. But what is perhaps more important is the spiritual message and insight into reality that this book provides, which is important to consider in today's material world in which we live. These aspects will be discussed in more detail in the following sections.
B. How the Book is Organized
The book is in effect a personal narrative spoken by Black Elk and translated into English and transcribed and written in book form by the author. In one sense the book is a biography but it also provides insight into the spiritual aspects of the world in which we live.
The book is divided into 25 chapters dealing mainly with early years of Black Elk's life and thoughts. More importantly, the book develops in terms of Black Elk's life and experiences, especially his development as a holy man or medicine man in his culture. A central part of the story is the mystical vision that he experienced when fairly young and which influenced his entire life and his view of reality.
From a less personal point-of-view the book is structured so as to provide the reader with a clear and detailed picture of the cultural and tribal life of the Indians. In this sense, the book provides a very useful and interesting view of the growth and decline of the Sioux Indian nation.
The book also includes a very important chapter which deals with the Battle of Little Bighorn as well as a dramatic and tragic insight into the massacre at Wounded Knee.
C. What is Black Elk trying to convey?
In general there are two related themes that are central to this book; the first is the personal vision that Black Elk experiences as a holy man. This provides a spiritual as opposed to a materialist view of reality from the perspective of the Sioux people. On the other hand, the book also tells us about the life, culture and history of the Indian nation. It provides insight into the price that the Indians had to pay for the expansion of the settlers into their territory. Therefore these two aspects, the personal and the cultural, provide us with a view of life and reality that is very different to our modern materialistic world.
The book also puts forward the view that Indian culture of the time was in many ways more sensitive to nature and more advanced in some respects to our modern world. This work suggests a more ethical and moral responsibility towards the world in which we live; in terms of respect for nature and for each other and in terms of the acceptance of other cultures.
D. Psychological profile
From a psychological pint of view Black Elk is a well adjusted and clear thinking, as well as caring and sensitive, representative of his culture. He is concerned about his people and their future but he is also concerned about the future of humanity as a whole. At the same time he is also a special representative of that culture in that he is a holy man or medicine man. This allows us to see not only the daily cultural life of the Sioux Indians but also their myths visions and spiritual beliefs. As a medicine man he is an insightful representative of his nation.
3. Comparisons and Contrast
In many ways I believe that this is an important book for the modern man or woman to read. The reason for this is that in many instances in the book, the vision and ideas contrast with or contradict our modern views about life and reality. We live in a modern world that is characterized by the domination or the belief in the truth and reality of science. Scientific fact is the way we measure truth or falsity and the way that we in the modern world experience what is real. Reason and logic are the main features of what is called the modern scientific worldview. But our world is not perfect. In spite of all our science and reason our modern world is traumatized by war, poverty and disease. This is where the vision in this book as well as the attitude towards life and nature in general, becomes important for the modern reader.
The view of realty that Black Elk provides is very strange and foreign to our world view. We no longer believe in visions and generally see these as fantasies. What this book does, as well as providing insight into historical events, is to give us a view of reality that is an alternative to the scientific world view. The book is important in that it provides a different perspective of reality and this perspective may help us in the age of problems and international crises in which we live.
4. Analysis and Argument
I certainly feel that Black Elk is a responsible and authentic spokesperson for the Indians. His position as a medicine man and his deep knowledge of the culture makes him a good representative of the Indian nation. Furthermore, what is probably more significant is that one feels that he is presenting the truth as he sees it in a sincere fashion. There are no false embellishments and the book, although it is a translation, reads and feels like the authentic words and feelings of a respected member of the Sioux nation. What was also very impressive was the way that his vision and the more mystical aspects of his view of life are integrated into the story to form a complete picture of this way of life.
I found this book to be very readable and inspiring, especially with regard to the spiritual and visionary aspects that are so clearly evident throughout the text. One critique that has been suggested is that it is possibly not a true reflection of the actual life and feelings of…