Leslie Marmon Silko’s groundbreaking book Storyteller, first published in , blends original short stories and poetry influenced by the traditional oral tales. Now back in print—a classic work of Native American literature by the bestselling author of Ceremony. Leslie Marmon Silko’s groundbreaking book Storyteller. Editorial Reviews. About the Author. Leslie Marmon Silko was born in to a family whose ancestry includes Mexican, Laguna Indian, and European.

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Marjon book was well-received, garnering special praise for its effect and statement as a whole. It is hailed as an important literary statement in the way that the mixing and inter-mixing of genres point to artistic practices beyond mainstream ones.

The significance of the title of this short story and book becomes clear from a consideration of their contents. She refuses to speak English and is whipped for her rebellion. Her story, when she begins to tell stories, appears to be of a personal nature telling sgoryteller a personal revenge. This story, however, is symbolic of the larger concerns of her community. This land is in the southwestern United States and was home turf to Native-American peoples before the first Europeans Spaniards arrived, and before the United States gained the land from Mexico.

Albuquerque, the town she was born mrmon, reflects in its Spanish name the history of the earliest European conquest of the Americas. Silko and her two sisters were brought up in Old Laguna, a small town about fifty storytelleg outside of Albuquerque. Silko went to elementary school locally and, from the sixth grade on, attended Catholic schools in Albuquerque. She completed a B. Silko first published while a student at the university Inthe year Marmon graduated from college undergraduatethe Pulitzer Prize in fiction went to N.

Momaday, like Silko, is of American Indian descent, and this book marked a milestone stoeyteller U. Silko, very quickly, became a major and well-respected presence in U.

First published and anthologized were individual short stories. Her first full-length work was the book stooryteller poetry, Laguna Woman: Poems by Leslie Silko.

This book of poems was succeeded by her first novel, Ceremony, in The year was an especially good one lesie Silko. Silko continues to publish regularly, in both fictional and non-fictional modes. Her latest effort is the prodigious and ambitious novel, Almanac of the Dead The story begins with a young woman in a jail cell. The reason for her incarceration is not known.

She is looking out of the window and sees that the sun has stopped in its course. She calls the jailer excitedly. He hears what she has to say then walks away uninterested.

She thinks of her village and her cabin there; she thinks about the previous summer when she nailed red tin over the logs of the cabin. Her aloneness has to do with the fact that other children avoid her cabin out of fear of the old man and woman.

Already at this point in the past, the old man is enfeebled and spending winters in bed. The grandmother is gnarled and in pain due to a joint malady. The girl hates the school, as the old man tells her she would. She is whipped for refusing to speak English, and from this detail it is understood that what the girl resists is being inducted into a culture and language other than her native one Yupik.


She returns to the village at the end of the school year to find her grandmother dead. She will never return to school. It is also learned that the old man uses the girl sexually. The story now jumps forward in time, but still not to the present of the jail cell.

The young woman has outgrown the unwelcome sexual advances of the old man. The old man warns her that this will only lead to trouble. Also around this time, the old man begins the story that he will tell until his death; it is the story of the advance of a great bear.

The next major scene takes place in a local Gussuck store. The storekeeper looks on enviously at the socializing and at the red-haired man who has the young woman come join him. She has always been curious as to what he pins up above the bed when she can no longer see. She is careful to look this time before the item is removed. It is a picture of a woman with a large dog on top of her. The story now jumps further back in time, to the young woman as a little girl asking her grandmother about the morning after her parents died.

This could be a reference to blood, but this is not certain. Her grandmother tells her how her parents died. They were sold poison, or bad alcohol, in place of the drink they thought they were buying. They were found dead the next day; the shopkeeper who sold the substance left town to escape punishment. He continues with his story.

His great bear is slowly but surely gaining on him. He intones stories for hours, even days on end without stop, sometimes not even sleeping nights.

The denouement of the story now marmoj. The young woman goes to the store and entices the storekeeper to follow her. He runs out into the cold after her, without hat or gloves. She runs out onto the iced-over river, and, as she had planned, the storekeeper falls through thinner ice. Since she is seen being chased by the storekeeper, she is questioned about his death by a state trooper. She tells the state trooper that she killed the man. An attorney is visiting the young woman and cannot understand why she insists on taking responsibility for the crime.

Eye witnesses claim storytelller the man simply fell through thin ice, and that the shoryteller was not near him and so did not push him. But she does not explain her motivations or thinking. She has already begun storytelling by this time; she has become the new storyteller.


He is a sympathetic character but, ultimately, somewhat patronizing. Although the young woman does not help him understand the meaning and significance of her desire to take responsibility for her act, for his part he is quick to decide that she must be confused or of unsound mind. The grandmother seems eminently tired out by life. Her having felt its blows harshly is reflected in the gnarled and painful state of her body. Glimpses into the past suggest that she does her duty to the young woman, her orphaned grandchild, dryly and without relish.

The unhappy nature of this household reflects the unraveling of the properly functioning traditional Yupik culture. The jailer angers the young woman as he refuses to speak Yupik although he understands it. To the girl this means he is a cultural traitor, one who has capitulated to cultural conquest.


He exhibits no concern for or interest in the young woman in contrast to the community members who bring her food. He is old, dying, and even as far back as the story tunnels in time, he is enfeebled. His status as storyteller guarantees a certain veneration and care from his community.

He is brought food, and both the grandmother and young woman seem to look after him willingly. The young woman, for unexplained reasons, also tolerates his sexual advances, despite the fact that she does not welcome them. When his death is imminent, he begins narrating a story about the approach of a great bear. He is not particularly defined as a character except that his interest in the young woman seems as limited as her own interest in him.

His habit of pinning a representation of a woman and dog above their bed suggests how their relationship appeals to him primarily as fantasy, and not as an interpersonal partnership or direct communion with another human being. Her character is best described as self-sufficient. She has learned to be alone from a childhood of other children running away due to her being a member of an unusual household other children are frightened of the old man and the grandmother with whom she lives.

When she sees the disassembled parts of prefabricated houses with insulation spilling out, or when she sees machines stalled in the cold, she laughs as if she knows all along that the Alaskan freeze is the true master of all things.

This knowing laughter is suggestive of superior knowledge and self-confidence. Her role in the story is to emerge as the next community storyteller, as the old man who is the current storyteller moves, at the same time, to meet his death. This process involves an act of terrible revenge.

The Eskimo girl, along with her grandmother and the old man, represent a culture withering under the press of U. Bethel, of course, is official U. Yet, clearly, the school is a English-speaking school for Eskimo students run by the U. The dormitory matron pulled down her underpants and whipped her with a leather belt because she refused to speak English.

They knew how to work the showers, and they washed and curled their hair at night. They ate Gussuck food. This passage demonstrates the manner in which Eskimos who have adopted U. This unfortunate history of empire and colonization is recently the subject of much study and debate.

Storyteller |

Up until mid-century, history books tended to recount this history in terms of an European colonization of territory, instead of it being also an attempted colonization of peoples, cultures, and ways of life. For example, well before the actual act of revenge itself, the girl has ritualistically nailed red tin all over her cabin.

The details of her red-lined and red tasseled boots also resonate somewhat eerily. The murder is planned in cold blood.

The iced-over river is inspected minutely. It takes her days to get to know it intimately.