Pushing the Bear tells the story of Cherokee removal and what is now referred to as the Trail of Tears. Diane Glancy weaves the story together through the voices of a variety of characters, the majority of whom are Cherokee Indians, but also through historical documents, missionaries and the soldiers who were responsible for guiding the Cherokee along the trail. Glancy describes the horror and tribulations close to thirteen thousand Cherokee Indians faced from the months of September 1838 to February 1839.
Maritole, a mother, wife, daughter and aunt, is the main voice in the novel. Her character reveals the thoughts of the women, the relationship between soldiers and those walking the trail, and the losses, both emotionally and physically, that the people suffered. Through the plethora of voices, Glancy is presents the knowledge of Indian Removal, with the perspectives of those who walked, suffered and died along the trail. After nine hundred miles of trudging through mountains, snow and water, the bitterness and pain experienced by the Cherokee is combined with their sense of helplessness and their sorrow over losing their connection with their land, their livelihood, their traditional gender roles, and their family.
The novel travels chronologically through each month and location along the Trail of Tears. Glancy taps into an emotional and horrific, but historically accurate account of what many now refer to as Indian genocide. In an interview with Jennifer Andrews for the American Indian Quarterly, Glancy tells Andrews that “the land had to give me permission to write. The ancestors had to give permission to write, too. For instance, I started off Pushing the Bear with one voice, and it wasn’t enough. I had to go back and add her husband and everybody who had traveled with them on the Trail of Tears. It takes many voices to tell a story, and I think we carry those voices within us” (Andrews 651).