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In the beginning of this short story named “A Man Called Horse” by Dorothy M. Johnson, we are introduced to a character who is arrogant and spoiled. His journey is told through third-person limited point of view, but his mental and character growth are unlimited. In “A Man Called Horse”, Johnson uses unique language and imagery to highlight Westerners appreciation and connection to freedom and equality compared to people from the East, both literally and symbolically.
When living in Boston, the main character had the care from his grandmother and the wealth and privilege from his father, but always felt a disconnect from happiness.
On his journey to the West in 1845, a time when it was considered barbaric and dangerous, he was captured by the Crow Indians and was brought to their camp where he does not understand the language they speak. This is Johnson’s use of literal freedom, or in this care the lack of freedom. After four pages, we finally hear the main character called by his name, Horse.
He calls himself this because his position has been lowered to the level of an animal. Horse is unable to leave the camp due to the fact that they stripped him of all of his weapons and clothes. If he were brave enough to leave, he would probably die from the harshness of the Western landscape.
While at the camp he married a woman of the tribe named Pretty Calf, but he refers to her as ‘Freedom’. “You are my treasure, he said, more precious than jewels, better than fine gold.
I am going to call you Freedom.” (Page 7) Johnson uses Pretty Calf as a symbolic figure of freedom. Something unmeasurable by wealth, unlike his previous life in Boston, he was rich with assets in his heart. Throughout his time at the camp with the Crows he discovers the meaning of freedom. He learned to love his wife, her brother and his mother-in-law and devoted his life to his loved ones. He gained skills of respect and honesty, which he believes is the key to happiness. Horse deals with an eternal struggle of equality, which also was conquered through this novel.
When residing in Boston, he felt a strong desire to live with people who were equal to him, but he did not understand exactly what that meant yet. When first arriving to the Crow camp he viewed these people as heathens and savages and wished to escape. He had to gain their trust and respect, a common trait among Native Americans, and after doing so he became one of them. He learned to love his wife, her brother and his mother-in-law through time and devoted his life to his loved ones. Horse often refers to the idea of boasting or bragging but in the end, he comes to terms with the fact that this trait is what was holding him back from truly being equal. Johnson uses the symbolic idea of freedom in personality and thoughts to tie together this short story with the theme of the equality of people.
“A Man Called Horse” has many similarities to Little Big Man, the movie directed by Arthur Penn in 1970. Both containing a ‘white man’ who lives and survives in the Wild West with Native Americans. In Western Literature, Indians are seen and portrayed often due to their prominence during the time period. Both men in the novel and the movie must gain respect from their tribe by either fighting or killing. This barbaric act proves to the rest of the group that the person trying to enter their tribe is loyal. The main character in Little Big Man, Jack Crab, is very close with his adopted grandfather, Lodge Skin. He is portrayed as a chief figure of the tribe and refers to the Native Americans as ‘Human Beings’. This idea can also be compared to Horse’s struggle with equality. Native Americans have never had it easy in this country, but when reality is shown they are human beings just like everyone else. Horse found equality through honesty and loyalty, a trait taught to him by the Human Beings.
Johnson uses Horse, a character born in the East, to contrast the thoughts and feelings to people from the West. Eastern characters are often in Western Literature to show this contrast, and in hopes to unite the two group by the end of the novel or short story. Horse’s struggle with freedom and equality is almost opposite to those at the camp when he arrives. These men roam the land freely, not fearful of who man cross their path. Honestly and truth is one of the only things Native America cherish and Horse learned both from them. After living a truthful life with himself, Horse realizes that he does not need to boast or apologize because he is as equal as any man on this earth.
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