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Early Native American Literature: Brief Outline Guide

  Note: For far more information than is included in this brief list, see the Selected Bibliography on Native American Literature
See also the description and bibliography from A Literary History of the American West. and A. Lavonne Brown Ruoff's essay on "Western American Indian Writers." This outline features information from A. Lavonne Brown Ruoff's American Indian Literatures: An Introduction, Bibliographic Review, and Selected Bibliography (New York: Modern Language Association, 1990). 
. I. Oral Literature: Myths and Legends
A. Devices
    1. Repetition
    2. Enumeration
    3. Incremental development
    4. Ritual beginnings and endings
    5. Use of archaic language
    6. Specific structure (Pima, Papago)
      a. Introduction: harmonious situation
      b. Thesis: one or more episodes showing disruption of harmony
      c. Antithesis: measures employed to overcome disruption
      d. Conclusion: restored harmony completed by cycles of four or some power of four (four songs four nights, etc.)
    7. Terse style
B. Functions
    1. Beliefs about nature of physical world
    2. Beliefs about social order and appropriate behavior
    3. Beliefs about human nature and the problem of good and evil
C. Characteristics of Myths
    1. Myths: primal world
    2. Beings are animals spirits in more or less human form: monsters, confusions of nature
    3. Mythic age flows into age of transformation (legends)
D. Characteristics of Legends
    1. Culture hero or transformer orders the world
    2. Culture hero or transformer turns animal people into animals
    3. Other beings become landmarks
    4. Flows into historical time (real heroes)
E. Figures
    1. Culture heroes
      a. Dramatize prototypical events and behaviors
      b. Show how to do what is right and how we become the people we are
      c. Shape the world and gives it its character by theft of sun, fire, or water
      d. Often of divine birth
      e. Myths are not concerned with original owners, only with culture hero's acquisition of them
    2. Trickster heroes (Raven, Spider)
      a. Provide for disorder and change
      b. Enable us to see the seamy underside of life
      c. Remind us that culture is finally artificial
      d. Provide for the possibility of change
      e. May be overreachers who gets their comeuppance
F. Themes
    1. Formation of the world through struggle and robbery (Pacific coast)
    2. Movement from a sky world to a water world by means of a fall (Iroquoian)
    3. Fortunate fall; creation story
    4. Earth-diver myth
      a. flood that occurred after creation of the universe
      b. recreation of the present world out of mud brought up from under the water by the earth-diver (muskrat or waterbird)
    5. Theft of fire
    6. Emergence myths:
      a. ascent of beings from under the surface of the earth to its surface
      b. ascent from a series of underworlds
    7. Migration myths: accompany emergence myths
. II. Facts and Figures
A. Population (estimated)
    1. European arrival
      a. 18 million in North America
      b. 5 million in U. S.
    2. 1980 census (estimate): 1,418,195
B. Culture
    1. European arrival
      a. Over 300 cultural groups
      b. 200 languages
    2. Present-day: By 1940, 149 languages still in use
C. Early Dates (see the Timeline for more information)
    1. Pequot War 1637
    2. King Philip's War (1672-1676) (vs. British)
    3. Pueblo Revolt (1680) (vs. Spanish)
    4. Iroquois defeated other tribes for westward expansion (1644-1680)
    5. Indian Removal Act (1830)
    6. "Trail of Tears": Cherokee Removal to Oklahoma (1838)
© 1997-2010. Donna M. Campbell.
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Campbell, Donna M. "Early Native American Literature: Brief Outline Guide." Literary Movements. Dept. of English, Washington State University. Date of publication or most recent update (listed above as the "last modified" date; you don't need to indicate the time). Web. Date you accessed the page.


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