Louise Erdrich's poem, "Dear John Wayne," describes assimilation and immigration into a culture defined by racism. Elements of poetry, including diction, image, tone, metaphor, irony, theme, and symbol all play a role in Erdrich's description of culture and racism. Ultimately, "Dear John Wayne" describes white culture's extortion of land and culture from a Native American perspective. The description of Wayne's face is typical, as "acres of blue squint and eye," give the reader an idea of the enormity of his presence. Erdrich uses her words carefully to describe the attitudes and beliefs that underlie Wayne's actions in the film. She writes, "His face moves over us, a thick cloud of vengeance," demonstrating the overwhelming presence of the whites, and their need for vengeance and retribution against those who fight their claims to land and superiority in the west. She continues, "It is not over, this fight, as long as you resist," her worlds clearly underscoring the resoluteness of the white claim to Indian land.
The poem begins with a description of group of young Native American men lying on the hood of a Pontiac car, watching the face of John Wayne as he defeats a group of Indians in a spaghetti western. Here, John Wayne, the American cowboy, himself symbolizes the white invasion of the west, and the white man's taking of Native culture and land. Wayne himself is the ultimate fighter against the Indians, the individualistic and rugged cowboy that symbolizes the white desire for land and power. The poem describes "hordes of mosquitoes," which represent the white invasion, and their relentless attacks and numbers that make them largely unstoppable.
It is ironic that the young Native American men are lying on the hood of a Pontiac car. The car symbolizes the success of the white invasion, and the assimilation of the young Native men into white culture, and the loss of their own, traditional ways. It is ironic that the car is a Pontiac, named after a great Native American chief who led an uprising against the white settlers. The defeat of Pontiac signaled the start of the end of Native American control over their land, and the beginning of the white assimilation of Indian land and people.
Erdrich's diction is telling in its description of racism and culture. She describes John Wayne as a larger-than-life figure that fills the ...
The tone of the poem helps to reveal Erdrich's feelings about racism and the white takeover of Indian land. Wayne is portrayed as a larger-than-life presence that ruthlessly takes what he wants. It is this tone of ruthlessness and of indulgence that runs throughout the poem. Erdrich writes, "Come on, boys, we got them where we want them, drunk, running. They'll give us what we want, what we need." Here, Wayne and the whites are seen as ruthless and driven in their quest to take over the Native American land and destroy their culture.
Simile and metaphor are used effectively in Erdrich's poem to help illustrate the racism and white assimilation of Indian culture and land. As the poem begins, the Indians are spotted near a lookout, and attack the settlers "who die beautifully, tumbling like dust weeds into the history that brought us all here together." Here, the dead settlers are seen as tumbleweeds, showing a connection with the land and as the tumbleweeds integrate into the land, the death of the settlers becomes part of the larger history of white occupation of the west. Later, after the movie ends, Erdrich describes the young native men as, "back in our skins." Here, this is simply a metaphor for the return to everyday life, and the end of the shared history and community that is created on the movie screen.
Images are a profound and important part of Erdrich's descriptions of racism and the white "disease" of expansionism. She describes the Indians in the movie as "drunk, running," while John Wayne is seen as an enormous presence on the screen, filled with "acres of blue squint and eye." Here, the images that Erdrich uses evocatively describe the Native American as weak and doomed, while the white presence, symbolized…
The description of Wayne's face is typical, as "acres of blue squint and eye," give the reader an idea of the enormity of his presence. Erdrich uses her words carefully to describe the attitudes and beliefs that underlie Wayne's actions in the film. She writes, "His face moves over us, a thick cloud of vengeance," demonstrating the overwhelming presence of the whites, and their need for vengeance and retribution against those who fight their claims to land and superiority in the west. She continues, "It is not over, this fight, as long as you resist," her worlds clearly underscoring the resoluteness of the white claim to Indian land.
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