Document Type

Thesis - University Access Only

Award Date


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department / School



American popular culture most often conceptualizes 19th century Native Americans according to stereotypes of the Old West or portrays them as individuals struggling to maintain their cultural identities. What these stereotypes do not show is that some Native Americans in the 19th century were world travelers, encountering a variety of other peoples and values. In this thesis, I will focus on two late 20th-century works, James Welch's The Heartsong of Charging Elk and Leslie Marmon Silko's Gardens in the Dunes, that depict the American and European travels of their Native American protagonists in the late 19th century, detailing these characters' encounters with other characters who share some of their cultural and spiritual values, as well as with some who do not, and who view the world from their particular personal and cultural gazes. After presenting a profile of the travel narrative as a literary genre, I will explore these texts within the context of that genre. Acknowledging that the characters in Welch's and Silko's works represent two different tribes, neither of which are those of the writers themselves, I will both compare and contrast the protagonists' responses to the land and the ways of life they encounter on the European continent. Welch's leading character, Charging Elk, is left behind and lost in a foreign land and later establishes relations with a segment of French society and intimate contact with nature. However, Indigo, Silko's main character, never loses herself but only discovers another part of her person, a sense of kindred spirituality in her much briefer journey throughout Europe. She, too connects to nature, and the values which she shares with selected members of the European cultures are also spiritual. Charging Elk's common bond is found in deep social relationships as a result of his prolonged stay in France. In spite of differences in their own cultural/tribal backgrounds, both protagonists recover in a European setting the unique perspectives through which they, as Native Americans, view themselves and their world. These novels, then, work against the prevailing stereotypes of Native Americans and portray them in new roles as world travelers who in their journeys find reinforcement of those values which are threatened by the majority society in their homeland. An early chapter will summarize the development of the travel novel as an American genre. Because critical analyses of these two texts are quite rare, my readings will be based, to a large degree, on the primary texts, selected articles about other works by these authors, and on book reviews.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Silko, Leslie, 1948- Gardens in the dunes Welch, James, 1940-2003 Heartsong of Charging Elk Travel in literature Indians in literature American fiction -- Indian authors -- History and criticism



Number of Pages



South Dakota State University