There There

There There Essay Questions

  1. 1

    Analyze the prologue of There There in terms of both form and content. Why might Tommy Orange have chosen to begin his novel with this type of prologue?

    The choice to begin a novel with a critical essay is a bold one. However, in this case, it is necessary: Orange cannot rely on the general public's knowledge of the historical context and political analysis that the narrator provides in the prologue. The prologue effectively situates the novel's characters' trials in their historical context, showing that they are all shaped by the legacy of colonialism.

  2. 2

    What might be the reason Tommy Orange writes from the perspective of so many different characters? What effect does this formal decision have on the experience of reading the novel, especially in Part IV?

    The plethora of perspectives that shape There There acts as a formal mechanism through which Orange can push back on the stereotypes that reduce so much of the Native community to sameness. Through many different characters' voices, he shows that the community is diverse. However, the numerous character perspectives also allow Orange to develop coherent themes over the course of many different storylines and show the breadth and commonality of some of the issues that the community faces. In Part IV specifically, when the violence breaks out, the use of many different voices increases the feeling of chaos and commotion for readers, making their reading experience mirror the characters' experience at the powwow.

  3. 3

    What is the role of the matriarchal/grandmother figure in There There? Discuss the gender roles that appear in the novel.

    There are several strong matriarchs in There There. Many of the male characters have a strong female relative whom they love and respect. For the Red Feather boys, this is Opal; for Calvin, Maggie; for Octavio, Josefina; for Tony, Maxine. These male characters all rely and depend on these women for advice, guidance, and sometimes material support as well. It is the men, not the women, who are typically the perpetrators of violence. For example, only men are involved in the plot to rob the powwow. Women, in contrast, suffer for this violence—whether as intentional victims of abusive husbands and violent partners or as accidental victims of wayward bullets.

  4. 4

    What are some of the ways in which different characters in the novel tell their stories? What, if anything, is the novel's overall message about storytelling?

    The characters of There There give voice to their stories in different ways. Some do so through cultural expression; Orvil, for example, learns traditional dance. When he dons regalia, he feels connected to his culture. Thomas, too, finds his voice when he drums and sings at the powwow. This act of expression, however, is not explicitly about connecting to his culture, but rather about feeling a void and reaching peace that he usually requires alcohol for. These are just two examples of characters finding expression as a means of empowerment. Stories, the novel seems to suggest, can provide an antidote to the pain and loss created by years of colonial displacement as well as the contemporary problems that characters face.

  5. 5

    What does the city of Oakland represent? What is the relationship between the depiction of Oakland in the novel and the novel's depiction of Native history?

    In Orange's There There, the city of Oakland represents the importance, but also the precarity, of home. The city that Orange depicts is undergoing an active process of change at the hands of young white people, who are bringing gentrification to poorer and crime-ridden neighborhoods. As Gertrude Stein said about her home in Oakland, the process of change has made it so that "there is no there there" anymore. One of the characters, Dene, draws the direct link between this process of change and the process of displacement that pushed Native people off their lands over the past several centuries. Just as Oakland is rapidly gentrifying, in indigenous America, "there is no there there" anymore.