Friday, November 9, 2007

Historical and Biography: The Game of Silence

Erdrich, Louis. 2005. A GAME OF SILENCE. NY: HarperCollins Publishers. ISBN: 0060297891.

During the year 1850, the events of young Omakayas and her Ojibwe community's lives are interrupted by the arrival of distant relatives with the disturbing tale of their forced relocation and the possibility that Omakayas' community could be next.

Erdrich's A Game of Silence, the sequel to Birchback House, is set during the year of 1850 on the small island of Moningwanaykaning, Island of the Golden-Breasted Woodpecker, in Lake Superior. The book covers all four seasons of the years as they await the news of whether or not they are going to be forced to movie west as the westward expansion America.

Since the story is about the small Native American community, there are numerous characters, which include Omakayas' mother Yellow Kettle, her father Deydey,
little brother Pinch, and her older sister Angeline. Other prominent characters within the story is Old Tallow, a female hunter, her uncle Albert Pautre, who is a French Tradesmen, and Fishtail who was sent out to learn if the news of the relocation is true. The characters are well developed; however much of the focus and emotional details are focused on the nine-year-old protagonist Omakayas. She worries of the impending relocation from her home. The large amount of characters in the story the book has little stories about a specific character that involves the rest of the community. A good example of this is when a warrior girl named Two Sticks shoots a moose straight in the eye with an arrow (Erdrich, p. 79). There are also stories that are relatable to Omakayas' vision like dreams, such as dreaming of her father coming home after helping the neighboring white community's priest.

The overall plot is quite simple and true to the time. Many Native American tribes during the 19th century faced relocation from their lands due to the continuous growth of America. As any family or community would react to these type of threat, the feeling that spreads through the Ojibwe community is relatable to any reader who had to move at least once in his or her life.

The themes found within the plot of The Game of Silence are classic. The major theme seen is the one of change and acceptance. Omakayas has to learn to accept her dreams and the change that will come when she and her people leave their home. There is the theme of learning about oneself. This is specifically seen in Omakayas. Throughout the book she tries to ignore and not worry about her vision like dreams; however as her dreams, like the one of her father arriving home safely, becomes reality she and her people realize that she has a gift and is sent to the woods to face the spirits and her dreams. This is where she finally understands her purpose in the community and that her family and community must leave. There is the sense of family love. There is interaction between her entire immediate family but also with her family like community. There also a strong aspect of the culture's morals, beliefs and attitudes. Even though there is a white people settlement on the island, the community still say prayers to the great spirit Gizhe Manidoo. They also perform rituals such as placing tobacco in the ground as an offering for a safe passage from the island to the mainland.

The style of Erdrich's books quite simple. Even though there is no true dialect seen in the text, there is frequent use of Ojibwe words used to represent an expression or word, for example the word "ombay" means "come here and "chimookoman" means "white people" (Erdrich, p. 252, 255). To divide the year represented in the story, the book overall is organized into seasonal sections then by chapters. There is a prologue that tells of the coming of the relatives and introduces the characters that major characters. The speech patterns of the characters were relatively the same; however, the personalities show through heir mannerisms. Finally at the end of the book Erdrich provides a glossary of the Ojibwe words used in the text and their defintions.

Because of the multiple vignettes stories about all of the characters, The Game of Silence's style is very reminiscent of Laura Ingalls Widler's Little House series. Another similar aspect is the use of black and white drawings mixed into the text. With the fantastic examples of family and community interactions, use of traditional words, and the overall emotions shared by the entire community makes this as wonderful book.


(Intermediate) Nine-year-old Omakayas; her pet crow, Andeg; and the rest of her family have returned to their summer home, but things are changing. In this sequel to The Birchbark House (rev. 5/99), Erdrich deftly revisits the events of the previous book, including the devastating death of Omakayas's baby brother, Neewo, in the smallpox outbreak that took so many villagers' lives. And now a new threat has come: another group of Ojibwe, starving and barely alive, arrive with news of the encroaching chimookomanag -- white people. A removal order from the U.S. president means that the Ojibwe will have to move west, away from the land they love. While a small advance party sets off to gather information, the villagers adjust to the newcomers and prepare for the future. Using some of the conventions from the first installment, Erdrich brings her characters through the seasons, starting in summer. Omakayas is maturing with each passing month, and her grandmother, who has always taken a special interest in her granddaughter's gifts, gently pushes Omakayas toward adulthood. On one tense night, when she has a powerful dream that saves her father's life, Omakayas finally starts to understand her destiny and her gifts. Erdrich's own gifts are many, and here she has given readers another tale full of rich details of 1850s Ojibwe life, complicated supporting characters, and all the joys and challenges of a girl becoming a woman. Copyright 2005 of The Horn Book, Inc. All rights reserved.
(July 1, 2005)

Gr 5-8-Omakayas's tale, begun in The Birchbark House (Hyperion, 1999), continues in this book. Older and more insightful, Omakayas begins to understand the elements of life more fully as she accepts her gift of telling dreams. Changes are coming to the Ojibwa people and she struggles to deal with all that she is experiencing and her dreams foretell. Her sister falls in love with a warrior, strange and lost members of her tribe come to rely on her, and her people are threatened with certain eviction from their homes and food supply. But traditions are strong, and after Omakayas is sent off into nature to face the spirits and her dreams, she learns to accept the fate of her people and comes to see it as an adventure, "the next life they would live together on this earth." Although the story is set on an island in Lake Superior in 1850, readers will identify with the everyday activities of the Ojibwa, from snowball fights to fishing excursions, providing a parallel to their own lives while encouraging an appreciation for one that is very different. The action is somewhat slow, but Erdrich's captivating tale of four seasons portrays a deep appreciation of our environment, our history, and our Native American sisters and brothers.-Kimberly Monaghan, formerly at Vernon Area Public Library, IL Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
(July 1, 2005)

Have the group read the prequel The Birchback House.
*Discuss the cultural beliefs of the Ojibwe community, such as it gender roles.
*Have the group discuss the similarities between Erdrich's books and Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House books.

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