Literary Analysis Essay on Black Elk Speaks by John Gneisenau Neihardt

Published: 2021-07-26
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Harvey Mudd College
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Black Elk Speaks is a transcription of personal conversations between Neihardt and Black Elk. This novel is based on the memories Black Elk shard with poet John Neihardt. Surprisingly, Black Elk is a character in this story, and Neihardt is not. American Indian societies had a long custom of storytelling, and Black Elk was not different. He narrated his stories with anecdotes and sometimes prayer and chant. In this article, we will analyze the novel to determine Judeo-Christian elements in the text and most importantly determine their possible implications for our reading of the text. However, it is essential to understand that Judeo-Christianity is not a substitute for either Christianity or Judaism, it does not commit to either Christian or Jewish religious doctrine. It provides fundamental components that act as a framework to guide all the Christians. This novel has several Judeo-Christian elements, and it is important that we evaluate them.

The first chapter portrays Black Elk as a modest Character whereby he endorses Neihardt as the individual through whom he will tell his narrative, which is a part revelation, part tribal history, and part autobiography. He stresses that his life narrative is also the narrative of his tribe. Black Elk sees himself as an instrument of a supreme being. In this chapter, we also learned about the four ribbons tied to the pipe that Neihardt and Black Elk smoke. We are told that it represents the powers of the four corners of the word. The white for the north which symbolized the source of cleansing wind, the black for the west which represent the source of the rain, yellow for the south which symbolized the place of growth and summer and finally red for the east which represents the place of the morning star that provides wisdom. Black Elk explains that all these powers unite in one Great Spirit. The Great Spirit of Black Elks belief seems to be the same as the Judeo-Christian God, the supreme power that rules the world and is characterized as loving and kind. In the book of Zohar, four key elements of Judeo-Christian tradition are mentioned in the context of the creation of the first human being (Adam). In fact, Genesis 34: 4-5, explains that Adam began to beg God saying Oh my Lord, my creator and my God, you directed the four elements to be gathered together We are told of the four corners of the Earth in the Bible but with the different meanings compared to the one Black Elk explained.

The first chapter ends with Black Elk leading a prayer to the Great Spirit. Similarly, the act of praying is common in the Judeo-Christian tradition, whereby it is emphasized that believers should pray to God often before starting or ending an event. In chapter two of the novel, Black Elks relates the occurrences of his early childhood in the context of increasing tension between the whites and the Americans who wanted to settle the west. He explains that in ancient past, human beings and animals used to live together in harmony and suffering and pain were unknown. But as the white people came looking for Gold that is when harmony was disrupted. This reminds us of the Biblical account of the Garden of Eden before the fall of man where God created Adam and Eve and placed them in the Garden of Eden and humans peacefully coexisted with various types of animals. Black Elks explains that the white mans obsession with gold is the primary cause of the destruction of land and terrible dislocation of Indian culture. This chapter explains about the great philosophical and cultural differences between whites and Indians that led to conflicts. Black Elk also explains that in nature he saw the evidence of a supreme being. Judeo-Christians believe that God created the World and everything in it. This shows that there is a great connection between the divine power Black Elk is talking about and the God Judeo-Christians worship.

In chapter three of the novel, we are told that it was common among multiple Indian tribes including the Sioux (The tribe of the Black Elks) to induce a vision using sweating and fasting at the time of initiation to childhood. Fasting is a very sacred event in Judeo-Christianity, and most Christians believe that fasting is an essential spiritual ingredient. Moreover, Black Elks vision is apocalyptic that is it explains the end of the human race or history in the imaginable future. The Judeo-Christian tradition, on the other hand, tells of the apocalyptic phenomenon, particularly the idea of the judgment or the final judgment which is explained in the Last Book of the New Testament (Revelation). Black Elks vision shows a short history of human beings, from its blissful and innocent beginnings just like in the Garden of Eden, through the horrific near-future and the difficult present, into a final return to happiness and prosperity. Chapter six of the novel talks about the Indian Marriage and courting practices, and we learn that Sioux people valued loyalty and fidelity and most significantly they observed clear moral values in their sexual behavior. The Bible advocates against fornication and unhealthy sexual practices and recommends that sex should be practiced during marriages only.

After evaluating this novel, we see that the broadening diversity of the American scene in the 19th century reminds us how limiting a Judeo-Christian perspective of religion can be to our scholarly questions. Judeo Christian elements in this novel allow us to engage ourselves with the Bible and through them, we can understand the values and beliefs of Christianity. This is essential for us the readers given the fact that no other worldview has had a significant influence on America as the Judeo- Christian worldview. In fact, America was founded on Biblical teachings. Declaration of the Independence Day explains that we should believe in God and the natural law. This means that the positive impact of Christianity is widening particularly in the rich culture and history of the Western civilization. And Christian influence on our beliefs, values, and practices are continually increasing, and it is well integrated into the flourishing community of today.

The inclusion of Judeo- Christian views in the novel allows us to understand the principle idea of Judeo-Christianity which is the non-self-interested love. From the novel, we see that the white people greed for gold led to the displacement of the Indian population and consequent destruction of nature. If these people, for instance, held the Judeo-Christian views, perhaps they may have initiated alternative approaches instead of causing destruction. We also learn that our greatest good and highest purpose that we can manifest is to learn to love without self-interest. I tend to believe that the similarity of Black Elks accounts and the Judeo- Christian views adds more relevance to the novel. This is because it challenges the reader to think in two perspectives that is from the Black Elks view and the Bibles point of view. It is vital to know that human ecology is greatly influenced by beliefs about destiny and nature. Judeo- Christian principles have led to a culture of life and not a culture of death since Judeo-Christian values teach that human life is the first gift of God. These Judeo-Christian values allow the readers to develop some sense of wisdom since the beliefs shared through multiple biblical accounts enables them to establish the right and the wrong.

There are a lot of features to Judeo- Christian ethic, some of the more obvious ones are personal responsibility, the sanctity of human life, compassion for others and a high regard for marriage. The heart of the Bible is about justice. It advocates for equal treatment for everyone and emphasizes on love and compassion. It is vital that we learn values that will assist us value humanity and coexist carefully. There must be a valid reason why this novel has survived two centuries, and I certainly believe that the relationship between the Black Elks views and the Judeo- Christian perspective is one of the reasons. Finally, I think we should not underestimate the significance of Judeo-Christian values regardless of the religions we practice this is because some of their principles can be applied worldwide and mainly promote humanity and peaceful coexistence. This is the same reason why more Americans have died for the liberty of others than any other countrys soldiers.

Works Cited

Neihardt, John G. Preface To The 1972 Edition. Black Elk Speaks, pp. xxvii-xxviii., doi:10.2307/j.ctt1d9njt6.7.

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