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Written by Claire Cornwall
The Importance Of Land
To the Cherokee people, land is tied to many things, including history, heritage, family and gender roles. The land connects people to their ancestors as it was passed down from generation to generation in a matrilineal way. The Cherokee depended on land to hunt and farm. The Indian Remival stripped then from their ancestors and caused feelings of hopelessness and loss that permeate the entire novel. Maritole's father says that he "could hear the ancestors murmuring beside us as we walked." Even the ancestors were powerless to halt what was happening which was against the Cherokee belief that their ancestors protect those who are still alive. Once they are taken from the land the ancestors are no longer able to protect them. Land is connected with power therefore being removed from their land results in powerlessness within every person.
As the Cherokee people walk further away from their land and their ancestral home, they begin to question their entire belief system as well. For example, it was of importance that they be buried in the ground where they die, but with people on the trail dying every day this became impossible. Maritole tells us that one if the women on the trail "prayed for the spirits of the dead to find their way to the afterlife without burial. Because they were unable to practice traditional burial customs they wondered if their old beliefs would still work in their new homeland. Many if the characters express similar concerns in the novel which serves to emphasize that Infian Removal did not just re-locate the Cherokee geographically; it also changed beliefs, customs and tradition.
Loss of Masculinity
The Trail of Tears ripped the Cherokee from their homes and culture, gradually weakening the gender roles that were embedded within it. This disruption caused confusion , bitterness and frustration as people felt adrift by not being able to perform their familiar roles. Women became weaker as they had traditionally owned the land and property. Men were no longer able to farm. Knobowtee voices this when he says,"I have nothing again", the kiss of his ability to farm reducing his self worth.
Many men also felt emasculated when they found themselves unable to protect their families along the Trail of Tears. The soldiers cruelty, the extreme cold and perpetual hunger made then feel inept. This mirrors the helplessness felt by the whole Cherokee people as the fabric of their lives becomes unstitched leaving them with nothing.
Power Of The Spoken Word
Throughout the novel Glancy comments on the spoken word versus written tradition. On page 129 there is a song written entirely in the Cherokee language with only the title offering any type of translation. By including Cherokee songs, words and phrases throughout the novel the reader's attention is drawn to a language that was once thriving but is now lost. It also highlights the language barrier that would have existed when the Cherokee were trying to communicate with the soldiers along the Trail Of Tears creating yet more unfamiliarity and frustration.
Spoken stories are a very important part of the Cherokee culture. It is revered because the Great Spirit created the world with his voice. The Cherokee view the written word as representative of a white man who writes treaties that they do not understand. The written language, so negative in connotation to then, is seen as a threat to the spoken language that is part if their culture.
The character called The Basket Maker was crested specifically to communicate the Cherokee reverence for the importance of storytelling. She makes up her own stories to the disapproval of some, but she insists that stories are needed on the Trail. Many feared that the removal would separate them from the stories of their ancestors but through the Basket Maker, Glancy illustrates that storytelling is a tool in the preservation of history and the stories told on the trail will be passed down to future generations.
Cherokee names are symbols of the person's personality and Glancy's novel perpetuates this. The character Knobowtee has a name that sounds like "nobody" illustrating the feelings of helplessness and irrelevance that he has. Similarly Maritole's name echoes the word "marital' signifying her role as a wife that is almost impossible to fulfill in the face of her husband's violent attitude towards her.
Spirituality and Christianity
By introducing characters such as Reverend Bushyhead along the trail portrays the influence Christianity began to have whilst also showing the beginnings of the Cherokee questioning their own beliefs. However it is also shown that even in those who converted to Christianity, continuation of their traditional practices still prevailed. Occasional overlapping of beliefs inspired an interest in Christianity among the Cherokee which increased when it seemed to them that their traditionsl beliefs were not helping their situation along the trail.
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