The Importance of Family Values as represented in “Indian Horse” Essay
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In the novel “Indian Horse” by Richard Wagamese, Saul takes readers through his story as he recovers from being a struggling alcoholic. He describes the scarring events he braved through as a child. Saul’s family is strong in their tradition and values, they experience many events that inflict racism and prejudice. Saul begins a journey finding love from many individuals who become a family to him, whether they be biological or not, each one of them helping him find peace after his misfortune.
In “Indian Horse”, Richard Wagamese uses the theme of family values to convey the importance of belonging, this develops Saul’s strengths and weaknesses in the novel as his family\’s help him overcome his past.
Saul educates readers about the traditions in which his family values so greatly. Their values create a strength for the family as they rely on their bond to stay strong through the struggles they\’re battling. In the book Saul tells readers about the visions he used to see. He says, “our people have rituals and traditions meant to bring us visions…the loss of that gift is my greatest sorrow” (3). In Ojibway culture, seeing visions is highly respected, these individuals are called seers. Saul mentions that losing this gift is one of his greatest sorrows, this represents his sadness for losing a part of his culture. As mentioned in this section of the novel, Saul is taught that being a seer in an immense amount of power. This quote develops the theme of family values since Saul uses the words “our people” when speaking of the rituals and traditions they share, this shows how every individual in Ojibway culture thinks of each other as family. Next, the Ojibway people traveled to find rice for their travels, during this process, Benjamin and Saul perform a ceremony where they dance and crush the ice beneath their feet as the adults sing prayers. Naomi tells the boys how special rice is to their culture.
She says, “Rice is sacred. When Creator sent the Anishinabeg, the Ojibway, east from the Big Water to find their homeland, we were instructed to stop when we came to the place where food grew on the water. This country of rice was the place we found.” (28) In this quote, Naomi is educating the boys of how their ancestors made their land when they discovered the rice. This represents the importance of rice to the Ojibway people’s traditions which develop the theme of the novel. In this quote, Naomi utilizes significant words such as, “sacred” to develop the importance of their traditions. By definition, sacred means, dedicated or set apart for the service or worship of a deity. In this case, rice has developed their religious background and values, by having Saul and his brother perform the rice ceremony, this shows readers how important family traditions are to Saul. This section in the novel represents the strength that the family is able to acquire from sharing these religious traditions. Earlier in this section, Saul notifies readers of the different jobs each individual in the community is doing for the ceremony, this is a strength for the community as it represents the family working together towards an important event which celebrates their tradition. Lastly, Saul informs readers of the way things used to be, he says, “When I was born our people still talked this way.
We had not yet stepped beyond the influence of our legends.” (2) This quote significantly supports the theme, Saul says they “had not yet stepped beyond the influence of our legends” this is important because it represents the remorse of conforming to an Anglican society and losing a large part of their heritage. In Ojibwe culture, they rely on legends and stories from a strong cultural point of view. In this quote Saul mentions the fact that due to the forceful nature of the Zhanaugush people, they have lost their culture, or in other words, their identity. This represents a weakness in the novel, the loss of their cultural values creates a rift between the new and old generation. In Ojibwe culture, storytelling and legends play an integral role in maintaining culture. Legends shared within the community teaches individuals how to be a part of their community, and how to live within their spiritual beliefs. Unfortunately, this aspect of culture has been taken away, creating a severe depression upon the Ojibwe people.
Secondly, family is important since it creates a sense of fulfillment and belonging. Studies have proven that psychologically, A sense of belonging is a human need, just like the need for food and shelter. When an individual successfully achieves a sense of fulfillment and belonging they are able to abandon emotions such as loneliness and abandonment. These negative feelings can harm the person’s, intellectual achievement, immune function and health. Saul demonstrates a sense of fulfillment in the quote, “no one said a word. They didn\’t have to I stripped off my jersey and sat there breathing in the atmosphere…I was a moose” (107) This is a strong quote which represents Sauls belonging in his hockey team. After a longing for a sense of acceptance after the despair he had experienced, Saul finally feels as if he has a new family that respects him for his talents. He finally begins to feel like an asset rather than a liability to his team. In this next example, Saul is taken to residential school, where “At St. Jerome\’s we work to remove the Indian from our children so that the blessings of the Lord may be evidenced upon them” (46) This quote is an important example of when Saul felt as if he did not belong. In this quote Sister Ignacia informs readers that they strive to remove the Indian from the children, removing their values, beliefs, and culture to replace it with a new one.
This demonstrates a moment where Saul feels neglect as he loses his traditional values which meant so much to him. Due to this feeling of neglect this is a moment of weakness in the novel. The loss of his values and beliefs leads to a sense of alienation. Lastly, Saul recognizes his adoptive family when he says, “Fred and Martha Kelly were good to me. They didn\’t try to be parents. They settled for being friends” (114) This quote demonstrates Saul feeling accepted in his adoptive family, the Kelly’s. He feels accepted knowing that the Kelly’s acknowledge his past and the hardships Saul has been through, yet they offer a helping hand by being there for him as a friend. Saul uses the terms, “settled for” to represent that the Kelly’s know they can not replace Sauls biological parents so they settle for a lower level of being friends to him. Lastly, in the novel Saul describes how cultural isolation in St.Jerome\’s negatively affected his mental state, he says, “When your innocence is stripped from you, when your people are denigrated, when the family you came from is denounced and your tribal ways and rituals are pronounced backward, primitive, savage, you come to see yourself as less than human. That is hell on earth, that sense of unworthiness. That\’s what they inflicted on us.”(81) In the quote Saul demonstrates a strong representation of division from himself and the rest of the individuals in St.Jeromes.
This quote is significant because it represents how much the sense of fulfillment can affect one’s mental health. Saul uses many terms in this quote that clearly implicate Saul’s expression of worthlessness which in many cases stems from neglect and isolation. In the quote he tells readers of the words the priests used to describe his culture such as, “backward, primitive, savage”. As mentioned, these remarks leave him to feel “less than human”. Another important part of the quote is when Saul says he feels as if his innocence was stripped from him, this relates to the importance of having a sense of fulfillment. Wagamese uses a metaphor of his innocence being stripped from him in correlation to stripping him of his cultural identity which, explained earlier, creates a sense of unworthiness and loneliness.
Lastly, in this novel readers are able to see many individuals who become a family to Saul. These individuals develop Saul’s strengths and create a support system. Although many people initially think that family must be biological, this is not the case for Saul Indian Horse. Think of who you may call family, they may be teammates, close friends, or maybe even classmates. Initially, readers are introduced to Saul’s biological family. One of the most prominent family members is Naomi, Saul’s grandmother. Since Saul’s mother is distant to him due to the scarring events of her previous children being taken away from her. Naomi is an important character that signifies family in the novel as she supports and comforts Saul on many occasions, for example, Naomi demonstrates these attributes in the quote, “as they eased the canoes out into the shallows, grandmother pulled me close to her and put a hand on my head” (33) This quote strongly represents the theme 0of family values. Naomi is comforting Saul and making him feel safe. Naomi strives to keep Saul safe after the hardships they have experienced the rest often family abandoning them. Naomi’s care is also shown when she gives her last bit of warmth to saul by holding him close to her as she passes away from hypothermia. Another example of a family to Saul is his teammates. Sauls teammates create a family-like atmosphere by guiding and accepting him as their relationships grow. In the novel