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Mixed blood identity/ social identity leading to self-estrangement

Linda Hogan, a Chickasaw poet, academic, novelist and environmentalist portrays in her poem „The Truth is” how a mixed blood identity can lead to deep rooted issues within one´s self. This can be seen in the extended metaphor of the speaker´s two different colored hands, a Chickasaw hand in her left pocket and a white hand in her right pocket, portraying the speakers two contradicting ancestries. The white hand does not really fit so she needs to assure the reader, and maybe also herself, that it is actually hers. This self-assurance seen in “Don´t worry. Its mine/ and not some thief’s” raises the question of who the thief is here, (so the speaker’s version of who killed who and who loved who) which opens up one of the biggest conflicts in history. This awareness of belonging to two cultures at the same time tears the speaker apart, which is visible in the metaphor of a grafted fruit tree in the second stanza. Grafting is a technique used to combine two plants so that they continue to grow together as one and produce a new variety. Tissues of both plants are joined and if the process is successful, there is almost no visible difference between the different branches. The harsh reality for the speaker however, is that she sees herself as a tree where the grafting process has been unsuccessful. This is revealed in the phrase “It´s not that way”. Her two cultures, represented by two kinds of fruit, apricots and pit cherries, refuse to combine and grow as one. Instead of a harmonious coexistence they „knock against each other” and it feels cramped. In addition to that, the usage of „we“ when describing her identity visualizes the disunion fighting over dominance but their true request is revealed in the last line: “We want amnesty.“ In order for this amnesty to be granted within herself, she has to assure herself that the deep rooted question of whose fault it is, the settlers of the Native Americans is not important. The poet addresses herself by name a few times throughout the poem when it comes to this question. This illustrates to the reader how intrinsic it is for her to have an answer to this question on her quest for identity but simultaneously she is aware of the fact that it should not matter at all. Instead of being one entity she is “taped together “and with “two empty pockets “. The repetition of both her hands in empty pockets “even though she has put them in others/ for love not money. “ highlights her attempt at connecting with each individual culture but coming up empty handed. The speaker tries to accept her fate and goes on to describe that her pockets have keys and coins inside them which symbolize the different cultural identities with their “sharp teeth of property “fighting to be accepted and completely take over. Being of mixed blood descent and balancing both cultures, honoring both of them equally, is a challenge the poet is very much aware of. Being the daughter of a white woman from Nebraska and a Chickasaw, Linda Hogan had a difficult time connecting with both cultures. Her family moved a lot so she was denied the chance of growing up within the Chickasaw tribe. However, they often visited her father’s tribe in Oklahoma where she felt very much at home and her tribal affiliation is Chickasaw. “I think the split between the two cultures in my life became a growing abyss and they were what I did to heal it; weave it back together. … You are Indian and could pass for white. Go to powwows and to the opera with equal ease. … One life does not fit neatly into the other always” (Bruchac 155) Meanwhile she is still aware of the blame and guilt circulating between both cultures. She acknowledges the bigotry and violence done to the Native Americans and the fact that the victims as well as the culprit are a part of her. However, sympathizing with both of them seems impossible because sympathizing with the white man would mean betraying the Native American part of herself. Until she is able to create amnesty between both of them, she cannot sleep at night. The speaker is trying to resolve this conflict in the last stanza so she focuses on her shoes instead of her hands saying that those are “the true masks of the soul” because one cannot see the skin color through a shoe. But even then, it doesn’t work, she knows exactly which one the white foot is, and it still seems out of place. In Paula Gunn Allen´s poem “Dear World”,” an illness demonstrates how a mixed-blood identity can cause a loss of self and internalized oppression. This poem portrays in what ways racial self-loathing is inextricably linked to blood quantum standards. By promoting self-hatred, people of hyperdescendent experience a feeling of guilt directed at themselves rather than the long and difficult history. Lupus is an auto-immune disease which means that the immune system attacks normal tissue that it feels to be foreign and alien to the body. In other words, one´s own immune system fights itself. In “Dear World”, a mother tries to explain to her daughter about what she realizes is a connection between her illness and her blood quantum. Allen thus creates an extended metaphor (trope) portraying the speakers struggles with mixed blood identity as a “self-attack” similar to the experience of a mugging where somebody breaks into „your home” and after the police arrive „they beat up on you- instead of on your attackers”. In the second stanza it appears that the daughter understands this analogy and agrees with her mother that “it´s in the blood, / in the dynamic”. Being a “half-breed woman” and attacking oneself seems to be the logic cause and effect, implying that her mother has learned to hate herself. Furthermore, the narrator is linking her mother´s illness to the history of white-Indian relations. By uniting metaphors of invasion and attack with a physical illness and dysfunction the mother is able to explain her suffering as a mixed-blood to her daughter. The government of the United States of America created a system whereby an indigenous person has to prove that a certain percentage of their ancestors are documented as full blood Native Americans. This percentage now depends on the regulations of each individual tribe as most of them have re-established their own government. These Blood quantum laws have brought a number of issues with them as they prohibited Native Americans to continue their practice of accepting children and young adults of other descents by adoption. This can be seen in the poem where Paula Gunn Allen´s usage of war metaphors might serve as a political function as well. Being “conquered, occupied and destroyed”, portrays the mother’s body as a piece of land that is battled over by various different groups. The blood quantum laws might be argued to have been an attempt to get rid of indigenous people by forcing them to prove their ancestry into the smallest of percentages. However, the daughter is not able to think of a solution to this interracial question and instead addresses the world in a seemingly ironic question. “Well world. What’s to be done?” But without even trying to answer it she concludes that they just have to stick around and watch history unfold as it has until now because even though a lot has changed “the old ways (still) go”. The last stanza is a description of the physical pain the mother is under. The choice of violent, fire related Lexus implies that the daughter cannot bear to see her mother suffer this way. Her conclusion that “When irreconcilable opposites meet- the crucible and its contents vaporize” is another tribute to history. American Indians and Americans will not be able to live in harmony and agreement but instead as they are polar opposites will continue to fight each other leaving the weaker culture, the Indian Americans, at the verge of extinction.

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