Harjo As An Embodiment Of The American Spirit Essay Example
In the literary world, writers can deliver their intended message to the target audience in numerous ways. From one perspective, they can explain the problem right away within the story. On the other hand, they can hide a secret meaning and contextual details of the events that take place in the story and make the audience guess what else is behind the obvious plot of the story. The same is with the intended meaning of main characters and what they are actually standing for. In this regard, writers can be very straightforward and make the hero represent intended values and cultural belonging exactly in the storyline of the literary work. On the other hand, some writers prefer to give their characters traditional attributes of the intended values yet place them in a different cultural or historical context. In this regard, authors want their audience to think about attributes of certain symbols and their cultural belonging or universality. Such is the case of John M. Oskison’s short story “The Problem of Old Harjo”. The aim of this essay is to analyze how the author outlined the attributes of the American spirit in the main character of the short story.
Although most of the narration is ironic and full of humor, when the author speaks about Harjo, he chooses a calm, simple tone and no hints of sarcasm or irony, which automatically makes the audience evaluate the character for what he is rather than for the humoristic message of the author. He is described as follows:
“the old Indian came out, slowly, and with a broadening smile of welcome on his
facein his eyes, clear and large and black, glowed the light of true hospitality. Miss
Evans thought of the patriarchs as she saw him lead her horse out to the stable; thus
Abraham might have looked and lived” (Oskison 237).
In this description, the audience meets a person of dignity and true values. It is not accidental that the author says “true hospitality,” because he wants to empathize that the main character is actually an example of true values, the true American spirit that is attentive to his guest. He is also kind and generous to the quest’s horse, since he gave it corn. He also represents Christian virtue and embodies the simplicity of life which could have been characteristic of saints of the Bible. Thus, Harjo is demonstrated as a well-established personality who lived his life according to human norms of goodness and respect.
Having achieved everything in his life through hard work, he respects human values: justice and tolerance to people around. That is why he cannot understand how in order to do the right thing and follow Christian path, he has to do the wrong thing to one of his wives. At first, he cannot believe that the Church could ask for such thing that is why he is joking about it. Having realized what is actually asked of him, he said: “It is not good to talk like that if it is not in fun” (Oskison 239). Thus, the main character is not just opposing the social norms of the Mormon society, but he simply cannot understand how a forgiving God can require him to do an unjust action. In this regard, the American spirit is demonstrated in Harjo’s loyalty and responsibility for his wives with whom he lived together for thirty years. He is looking at the matter from a human perspective and the sense of justice and dignity.
Harjo demonstrates a strong will or the American spirit when he does not really care about what Mormon society thinks about him or his wives. He does not try to wear a mask like white people and pretend to be someone different. He stands for his beliefs and his deeds in life. His does not want to join the Church because of the benefits it could give him in the local white community. He wants to join the Church because he discovered Christian God and the potential threat to his immortal soul. In this regard, he is a true believer, unlike Mrs. Rowell, thinks only how to look better in the eyes of society. His unconditional commitment to Christian values and desire to preserve his soul through the right acts in this life actual alienate him from the society of Mormons. He becomes more righteous then their entire community, he becomes more American, than white Americans described in the story. That is they refer to him only as an “unreasonable Indian” (Oskison 240). However, he is more reasonable than anyone else since he believes in goodness and takes full responsibility for his actions.
Another means that the author uses in order to demonstrate that one’s cultural belonging has nothing to do with the true American spirit inside is the use of a dialect in the short story. On various occasions, Harjo’s manner of speech is different from the classic English. In this regard, the author uses the change of words order in the sentence and unusual use of words for English language. For instance, he says “but did you not speak in fun, my friend?” (Oskison 239). In this case, the use “in fun” is unconventional. When he introduced his wives to Miss Evans, he made grammar errors: “these two my wife – this one Liza, this one Jennie” (Oskison 238). Another example is when he speaks of one of his wives: “Jennie, she stay with her mother and feed her” (Oskison 240).
Overall, from all mentioned above, it can be concluded that Oskison managed to demonstrate that the true American spirit is not conditioned by one’s cultural belonging. It has nothing to do with the color of one’s skin, time living on the territory of the USA. It is also not about believing in Christian God. For the author, Harjo is truly American because he is acting like a human and treats people according to justice. Harjo’s American spirit is in his strong will, courage to follow his heart and respect for freedom. This spirit comes from within and not the outfit or mask one wears. The author managed to demonstrate this in his short story through the use of irony, dialect and contrasting of the main character with his Mormon antagonist Mrs. Rowell.
Oskison, John M. “The Problem of Old Harjo”. Selected Works. John Oskison. Gloucester:
Dodo Press, 2009. 236-241. Print.
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