Review Of John G. Neihardt's "Black Elks Speaks"

1225 words - 5 pages

The book Black Elk Speaks was written in the early 1930's by author John G.Neihardt, after interviewing the medicine man named Black Elk. Neihardt was alreadya published writer, and prior to this particular narrative he was at work publishing acollection of poems titled Cycle of the West. Although he was initially seeking infor-mation about a peculiar Native American religious movement that occurred at the endof the 19th century for the conclusion his poetry collection, Neihardt was instead giftedwith the story of Black Elk's life. Black Elk's words would explain much about the na-ture of wisdom as well as the lives of the Sioux and other tribes of that period.The priest or holy man calling himself Black Elk was born in the December of1863, to a family in the Ogalala band of the Sioux. Black Elk's family was well known,and he counted the famed Crazy Horse as a friend and cousin. Black Elk's family waslikewise acknowledged as a family of wise men, with both his father and grandfatherthemselves being holy men bearing the name Black Elk. The youngest Black Elk soonexperienced a vision as a young boy, a vision of the wisdom inherent in the earth thatwould direct him toward his true calling of being a wichasha wakon or holy man like hispredecessors. Black Elk's childhood vision stayed with him throughout his life, and itoffered him aid and wisdom whenever he sought it. It is from the strength of this vision,and the wisdom in his heart that Black Elk eventually realized his place as a leader andwise man in the Ogalala band of the Sioux.The wisdom possessed by Black Elk is immediately present in his recollectionsof various lessons learned by himself and by others. These stories ran the wholegambit of life experiences from the most innocent acts of a boy in love, to the hard les-sons learned from the treachery of the whites. Through these stories a greater insightcan be gained into the ways of the Sioux, as well as lessons into the nature of all men.Most important in these lessons on the nature of man was wisdom, and in all of BlackElk's recollections somewhere a deeper wisdom can be found.The story of High Horse's Courting stands out as a perfect example of one ofBlack Elk's narratives. Typically, Black Elk's narratives try to bestow a lesson (or les-sons) that the listener can learn from, just as the subject of the story sometimes does.High Horse's Courting begins when a youth named High Horse falls madly in love witha girl of his tribe. High Horse neither possessed the respect nor the wealth to obtainthis girl from her parents, so he had to resort to stealth and trickery to gain any accessto her at all. Eventually, High Horse did made contact with the girl and learned of hersimilar feelings for him, but also learned that she wished to be earned from her fatherlike a lady and not to be stolen away dishonorably.The disclosure by the girl only acted to frustrate High Horse more, and heeventually had to turn to his cousin Red Deer for help. To help his...

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