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Archbishop Latour deals with the cultural differences of the Americans, French, Mexican and native people. He must learn to adapt to the ideals of the people he wishes to convert to Catholicism. Father Joseph is better at speaking and adapting to different cultures so he finds it easy to ingratiate himself within the community. Father Latour finds it difficult to understand the native thinking and needs time to observe and learn their customs before he is accepted. Each group has a different way of viewing religion. The Mexican people are very devote Catholics, but adapt the religion to fit their culture so it is not the religion that Father Latour practiced in Europe. It is more colorful and upbeat. The native people are more tied to their surroundings. They see God in nature. To them the natural world holds all the wonders of the world. They accept the presence of the missionaries, but they still follow their cultural beliefs. The missionaries see these people as heathens that need to be converted so that they can be saved by God. They want to give the people the moral compass of Catholicism to civilize their culture. They learn as they conquer the landscape that the people are shaped by their surroundings. They have been cut off from civilization in the remote plains of the desert and have adapted to their surroundings. To survive, one must surrender to nature and learn to embrace what the natural world throws at you. It takes a domineering spirit to live in this unforgiving land. The changing times brings civilization and technology to this barren land and the people have Father Latour there to help guide them and to learn to adapt to this new world that is emerging. He wants to teach the people about the healing powers of God and learns lessons of his own about people who have struggled to survive in isolation.
Native American Genocide
Native American Genocide is a theme in the novel. The native people must fight for the right to stay on their land. They are pushed from the East as the settlers make their way across the country. The deserts of the southwest is where they are left to reside. When this land is seen as profitable as the gold rush strikes, the government wants the land. This leads them to forcibly remove the Navahos from their land. The Navaho fight back and many are killed. The government does not care about the people and their culture. They only want their land and will do anything to get it. The native people are seen as savages and therefore not part of the country that they envision. The Native Americans only want to keep the land that they have come to appreciate. They are taken with the beauty of the land and are able to deal with the harshness of the climate. Because the native people are viewed as savages no one cares how they are treated. The government feels that they can kill them indiscriminately without ramifications. This leads to violent clashes between the Navahos and the army that results in the killing of women and children as well as the warriors.
Father Latour and Father Joseph have a meaningful friendship. They begin their missionary life together by running away from France to start a mission in Ohio. They complement each other. Father Joseph is good with people of all walks of life and can befriend anyone. Father Latour takes time to warm to people and understand their ways. Latour is better at dealing with the managerial side of missionary life. He thinks in broader terms and in future plans where Joseph sees the right now and what needs to happen to help the people in the present. They are able to have success because they each have their duties where they excel and it complements the other. Latour relies on Father Joseph more than he realizes.
Piety v. Greed
Father Latour and Father Joseph are examples of men who lead the missionary life. They do not have wealth or many belongings. They take their comfort in helping others and belief that God will provide them with what they need. They find that life is different in New Mexico. Some of the priests have obtained great wealth and to the detriment of the people they are there to convert. Father Martinez is an example of this greed. Martinez helped cause the riot between the native people and the government so that he could obtain land. He instigates the riot and then turns in the men so that he gets their land, which is the most profitable in the valley. This makes Father Martinez a very rich man. Latour is appalled by his vulgar display of wealth and eventually excommunicates him. The missionary life is to be about helping others seek religion and not for personal gain. Latour will not have a priest in his diocese that flaunts the wealth that he obtained by harming the people who trusted him. Greed does not have a place in the church.
Catholic v. Protestant Religion
The Catholic religion does not have the power in the American government as the Protestant religion does. When Manuelito asks Archbishop Latour to speak to someone in power to help the Navaho people, Latour says that he cannot help. He fears the backlash of the Protestants in the community and the power that they have in government. He does not want to jeopardize the church’s standing in the community. Latour knows that he does not have the clout that Manuelito needs to help his people. Catholics are not prominent in the government and the men in power would not take the advice of a Catholic Archbishop very seriously. This divide of the Catholic and Protestant religions keeps Latour from doing what he knows is right because of the consequences it could cause the community.
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In essence, the title is significant because the speaker is addressing death as a person and warning Death that its power is nothing more than an illusion..... because in the end, there is a higher power.