Black Elk Speaks By John Gneisenau Niehardt Summary and Analysis Author's Postscript

Summary

Having concluded his story, Black Elk points to Harney Peak in the distance and says that it is the place of his vision and that he would like to go there once more before he dies. He tells his son Ben, who has been acting as interpreter, that if he has any power left at all, there should be some rain or thunder. The party travels to the peak with Black Elk dressed and painted as he was in his vision. It is a cloudless day in the middle of a severe drought. Black Elk sends a prayer to the spirits who appeared to him almost 60 years before, saying that he acknowledges their great power and laments the fact that he has never been able to actualize the vision they granted to him; he has not been able to maintain the sacred hoop of his nation and make the tree flower in its center. He begs the Great Spirit to allow him to help his people. A low sound of thunder is heard and it begins to rain. Black Elk weeps. After a short time, the sky clears again.


Analysis

In this chapter, Black Elk steps out of the story he is narrating into the present day reality of his conversation with John Neihardt. This is the only chapter in which Neihardt becomes a participant in the narrative, witnessing Black Elk's supplication of the spirits of his vision. The entirety of Black Elk's story up to this point was, of course, only told to Neihardt.

In his prayer to the Great Spirit, Black Elk uses the symbology of the vision granted almost 60 years before. He offers a prayer to the four quarters of the earth. He refers to the gifts of the six grandfathers of his vision: the pipe, the cup, the bow, the wind, the herb, the daybreak star, the sacred hoop, and the flowering tree. He expresses his sorrow at not having been able to use the power of his vision to bring his people to prosperity and happiness. The low sound of thunder and the small amount of rain that occur seem to signify diminishment: Both Black Elk's power as a holy man and the vital relation between the Sioux nation and the Great Spirit are much weaker now than they had been. And yet, it does rain, for however short a time, during the worst drought that any of the old Indians can remember. That fact, which Neihardt says may appear only coincidental to Wasichu (white) readers, leaves the reader with a sense of the authenticity of Black Elk's early vision and the hope that the fragile state of the Sioux nation can eventually be strengthened until it thrives once more.

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During the fishing lesson, how does Watanye react when Black Elk falls into the water?




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