There There

There There Summary and Analysis of Part IV: Powwow


Orvil Red Feather and his brothers enter the coliseum, which is already packed with people, camping chairs, tables, and Indian jewelry. They purchase Indian tacos with coins they have dug out of the fountain; over the food, they discuss what they’ll do with the prize money if Orvil wins the dancing competition. Orvil checks the time and rushes down to the locker room, where the men in regalia are telling jokes and laughing. One man stands up and tells the young men dancing today for the first time to bring all their emotion with them to the dance. Indian men are crybabies, he says, but not today—not while dancing. Orvil has a gut feeling that this is true; he will dance with his feelings. As the hundreds of dancers enter the coliseum in the colorful patterns of Indian regalia, he feels like a fraud. He tries to imagine himself dancing and tries to stop thinking. He goes to find his brothers.

Tony Loneman catches a train to the powwow, dressed in full regalia. Everybody has been staring at him his whole life because of the Drone, so he doesn’t mind people staring at him now. No one on the train has ever seen Indian regalia before. An old white woman asks him where to get off for the airport, as an excuse to ask him if he is Native American. He invites her to the powwow, then stops listening to her response. People just want a story about seeing a real live Native American, he knows. When his stop comes, he skips every other step, flying all the way down.

As Blue drives to pick up Edwin, she thinks about how good it feels to be back in Oakland. She has been here for a year now, with a steady paycheck and her own studio apartment. She had gone to Oklahoma to find her family, but no one had heard of the Red Feathers. Back in Oakland, Blue went on a "non-date date” with Edwin to the movies. She likes Edwin; he feels like family, for some reason. She definitely, however, does not like him as more than a friend. She arrives at Edwin’s door in West Oakland and knocks. He doesn’t answer, and she gets frustrated that he is making her wait on such a big day, when she has driven over to pick him up. She scrolls her tired Facebook feed, wishing she had another, more interesting feed to look at. She knocks again. Edwin finally opens the door, holding two mugs of coffee.

Dene Oxendene is in a storytelling booth at the powwow, recording his face silently with a Bolex. One of Dene’s favorite directors, Darren Aronofsky, used a Bolex in Requiem for a Dream, a movie that Dene admires—and thinks his Uncle Lucas would have admired too—for its unflinching look at addiction and depravity. Dene turns the camera and sets it up on a tripod for the storytellers. He doesn’t need any more stories for the project or for the grant, but he wants to document the powwow for posterity.

Opal Viola Victoria Bear Shield is sitting alone in the second deck of the coliseum, watching from above so Orvil won’t spot her. She used to take the boys to the games here, but she hasn't done so in years. She tries to look for the boys in the crowd, but her vision is a blur: she needs glasses. Looking up, she sees something fly over the rim of the coliseum. Its movement is unnatural—not a bird—but she can’t quite make out what it is.

Edwin Black hands Blue a coffee when she comes to pick him up. He doesn’t speak the whole ride over, his nerves tightly wound at the thought of the powwow and all the work they have put into it, as well as the promise of meeting his father. Finally, he opens his mouth to tell her a story he has started writing. It’s about a guy named Phil who lives in a nice apartment in downtown Oakland passed down to him by his family. One day, he goes out for a drinks with a white guy from work named John, who sleeps over. The next day, John is still there and has brought a bunch of their friends and all their stuff. Eventually, over the next few months, the house fills up with young white people, and Phil doesn’t have the nerve to say anything. John gives him a new blanket that makes Phil sick, and when he recovers, everyone is running offices and start-ups out of the apartment. Finally, John produces paperwork that Phil supposedly signed, moves him to the closet under the stairs, and threatens him with a gun. Blue listens and remarks that this is white culture. They arrive at the coliseum and set up in the early morning light, getting the safe from the car. It is full of Visa gift cards: the prize money.

Calvin Johnson is at breakfast with the rest of the men involved in the plot. He is nervous about getting away with the plan and frustrated that he is here in the first place. Charles and Carlos complain about not getting a coffee refill, and Octavio tells them to shut up. They argue about why the prize money is in Visa gift cards instead of cash. Octavio tells Charles and Carlos to shut up and says that it’s the same thing as cash. Daniel Gonzales begs Octavio to let him go to the powwow so he can see what goes on. Octavio refuses, and Daniel says he owes him for messing the family up. Octavio tells him he needs to stay at home, but the drone can go. They shake on it.

Jacquie Red Feather and Harvey get into Oakland the night before the powwow. She refuses his offer of a room, but the next morning, they go get breakfast together. Jacquie asks Harvey if he is nervous for his job as emcee of the powwow. He tells her that he doesn’t get nervous anymore—he just tries to keep things light. Once at the powwow, Jacquie sits next to Harvey. She tells him they are all right, reminding him that their daughter is forty-two years old. She looks at the list of dancers, and Orvil’s name catches her eye. She immediately texts Opal.

Octavio is nervous as he goes through the metal detectors, but the guns are plastic and it is fine. He retrieves the black socks filled with bullets from the bushes when no one is looking. The whole group goes to the bathroom to load their guns with bullets. Octavio drops a bullet in his stall and it goes rolling out into the bathroom.

Edwin and Blue sit at the table. Edwin listens to his father’s voice over the emcee loudspeaker. He watches the dancers enter. This is his first time seeing a powwow; he has avoided watching footage online to preserve the moment. Blue convinces Edwin to go say hello to his father. They walk up together, and Harvey and Edwin hug for a long time. Harvey introduces Edwin and Blue to Jacquie, and Blue’s face goes white. They walk back to their table. Blue tells Edwin that she thinks that was her mother.

Thomas sits with the drummers before they start. The head of the drum circle, Bobby Big Medicine, asks him if he’s good. Thomas tries to thank him for giving him the opportunity to be here. Bobby Big Medicine just tells him to put his thanks into the drumming. Thomas feels good. He stands up and walks around, looking for Blue. He wants to apologize for what happened at the Indian Center. As he looks for her, he hears shouting.

Loother and Lony waited for Orvil in the sun in the stands. Finally, not wanting to wait anymore, they stand up and walk towards the drum, looking for Orvil. Their walking is stopped by the sound of people screaming.

Daniel waits to fly the drone over to the coliseum so its battery doesn’t die out. He has been having nightmares all week about guns, bodies ,and blood. He is hoping the guns won’t have to be used. Finally, he flies the drone over the top of the coliseum, but just then, his mom calls to him. He lands the drone and goes to ask her what’s up. She asks him to come eat with her. He says "not right now," and she says "okay" sadly.

Blue has become hyper-aware of the safe and all the money. She is bothered by the presence of a few men nearby with a threatening air. Next to her, Edwin chews and spits sunflower seeds. The men are approaching their table. She tries to stay calm.

Dene is in his booth when the bullets whiz in. The booth collapses on top of him. A bullet has lodged in a piece of wood right behind him. He lies on the ground and looks at out into the sun at what’s happening. He sees Calvin Johnson from the powwow committee firing a white gun, and two other men are shooting at his side. One of them is in regalia.

Orvil is walking back out onto the field when he first hears the shots, and he breaks out into a run to find his brothers. A bullet lands in his body and drags him to the ground. He wants to hear the drum one more time and fly away in his regalia. Lying on the ground, he wants to keep breathing.

Calvin is waiting to rob the powwow with the others. Tony is the one who is meant to do the actual robbing, but all of a sudden, he walks away from the safe. Octavio makes the next move, pointing his gun at the safe. Edwin crouches down to open it, but Carlos and Charles turn their guns at Octavio and yell at him to give them the money. Octavio throws the bag of gift cards at them and starts firing in their direction. They all start firing at each other, and Calvin gets hit by a couple wayward bullets.

Thomas initially does not realize that the sound of the bullets means gunfire. As soon as he realizes, he is hit in the throat. Lying down in the grass, someone holds him in their lap and wraps a shawl around his wound. Whoever it is slaps his face to try to keep him here, when all Thomas wants to do is fly away. He reaches the same blissful state he reaches from drinking. He is dying, and it is okay.

Bill hears shots and thinks of Edwin. He runs towards the sounds but pauses to pick up a call coming in on his phone. It is Karen: she says she is on her way there. Bill tells her to turn around and call the police. Before he can hang up, two bullets hit him in the head and he lands on the concrete. His phone is still open, on the call with Karen. He lies there watching his blood seep out, remembering a grenade in Vietnam.

Opal heads down the stadium stairs as fast as she can as soon as she hears the gunfire. She gets her phone out to call Orvil. The phone rings and rings; she tries Loother next. He answers, but the connection is shaky. Opal cries and stays on the line, wondering to herself, “Did someone really come to get us here?” She finally sees Loother and Tony outside the front entrance, but Orvil is not with them. Jacquie Red Feather shakes off Harvey’s hand, trying to get her to hide, and she walks towards the commotion to find Orvil. She sees a bunch of people in regalia on the ground. They look dead. It looks like performance art. Then she sees the shooters, and finds the colors of Orvil’s regalia on the ground. She walks towards him and screams for help. She finds a pulse on his neck and lifts him up, carrying him to the entrance where she finds Loother and Lony. Opal arrives, and Harvey comes running. They all get into Opal’s car.

Blue gets Edwin in the car and drives to the hospital. They haven’t even heard sirens yet, so there is no point waiting for an ambulance. Edwin has been shot once, in the stomach, and is holding up pretty well. By the time they reach the hospital, though, he has passed out in his seat. They arrive at the same time as Harvey and Jacquie with a teenage boy in regalia. The nurses put Edwin and the boy on stretchers. Inside, Blue sits next to Jacquie, wanting to say something but not knowing what. There is another woman who looks like Jacquie there, looking at Blue. They all wait together.

Opal knows Orvil is going to make it. A voice comes from deep inside her, where her old teddy bear used to speak from. She prays. A doctor finally comes out and speaks to them. Opal looks up and listens.

Tony sees Carlos shoot Octavio in the back and fires at him a few times. Charles shoots Tony in the leg, but he misses a few more times. Tony knows those bullets might be hitting people behind him, and he feels the old familiar anger coming on. He charges at Charles head-on. More bullets hit him; he stumbles, but he keeps going. With a roar, he tackles Charles. He finds his gun on the ground and fires a shot into his head. Tony finally collapses. He hears Maxine singing an old Cheyenne hymn, and he is transported back to being four years old in her kitchen. He is laughing as he blows soapy bubbles at her. Tony goes to play with his Transformers in his bedroom. They fight in slow motion. Tony returns to his body on the field. He is full of holes; although he wants to rise up and float away, the holes pull him down below. Tony hears birdsong, as light as his grandmother used to dance. Tony isn’t going anywhere.


In Part IV, the pace of the novel picks up. The mood, previously somber and reflective, heightens in drama and suspense. The entire novel has foreshadowed the event of the powwow, and in Part IV, it finally arrives. As if this foreshadowing weren't enough, Octavio names his feeling of dread as he loads his gun with bullets in the bathroom—a dread which he likely shares with readers. Several characters begin to hear screaming, but still, readers wait in suspense for the action itself. Finally, the shooting commences in an anticlimactic moment, beginning first from the perspective of Dene, who is shot by a stray bullet while in his storytelling booth. Several characters proceed to be felled by wayward bullets before Orange turns to the shooters themselves. This roundabout telling of the main event serves to decentralize it. Because the entire plot has led up to the shooting, it is not a startling or shocking event when it finally breaks out. This could be a deliberate technique on Orange’s part to desensitize his readers and, in doing so, criticize the ability of white America to fail to be shocked by ongoing colonial violence.

One remarkable aspect about each character’s response to the outbreak of gunfire is that they move towards the danger, rather than away from it. The expected response to gun violence is to run away, but each character has a strong pull to help others. Even Bill, for example, who repeatedly communicates his dislike of Edwin, is felled by bullets on his way to find Edwin. As it turns out, the ties that each individual possesses to their heritage and to the larger community are so strong that they motivate each character even in moments of life-threatening danger. In this way, the struggle that many characters go through in the novel to find their place as individuals within the larger community is resolved in tragedy.

Throughout the scenes of the massacre, just as he does for the entire novel, Orange writes with an eye towards history. Jacquie comments that the colorful scene of wounded Indians in regalia calls to mind a piece of performance art. She doesn’t explicitly state it, but the subject of that performance art would be colonial violence. Orange is subtly drawing the link once more between that violence, its legacy, and the violence at the powwow in the here and now. This is a reiteration of Orange’s argument throughout the novel that the tragedy at the powwow is the direct lineage of the tragedy of colonization.

The novel concludes with a single act of redemption by Tony Loneman. Despite his participation in the lead-up to the crime, at the last minute, Tony does not complete the robbery. And when he realizes that Charles’s wayward bullets, aimed at him, are likely causing death and destruction to others, he charges at Charles and kills him, sustaining numerous bullet wounds in the process. In this way, Tony becomes a martyr. It is only his act of simultaneous violence, courage, and compassion that ends the massacre. This act wraps up the arc of the plot, coming full circle to the first character whose voice we heard: Tony.