A Man Called Horse

"A Man Called Horse" as Transgression of the Western Genre College

Dorothy M. Johnson’s short story “A Man Called Horse” transgresses some of the conventions of the classical Western genre. In this sense, Johnson’s text can be read as a “revisionist Western”, in so far as Johnson does not merely adhere to the dominant norms and tropes of the Western genre, but instead tries to subvert them so as to create a new perspective within the genre. Accordingly, the tale begins with what could be understood as a classical Western theme: an aristocrat, who is nevertheless somewhat isolated from society, is captured by an Indian tribe. The process by which the young aristocrat comes to belong to the tribe, accepting their world-view and thus acknowledging the value of the Native American culture, thereby opposes dominant narratives whereby the Native American is either some type of noble savage or an embodiment of primitive evil. By accepting the Native American norms, the protagonist as such recognizes Native American culture as a civilization in its own right, thus providing a new indigenous perspective, although through the eyes of the white man, of the encounter between Europeans and Natives that is so characteristic of the Western genre.

The outset of “A Man Called Horse” represents a classical...

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