Short Fiction Essay: Setting
"I hear again the ring of axes in deep woods, the crunch of snow beneath my feet. I feel again the smooth velvet of ghost-birch bark" (Whitecloud 157). In "Blue Winds Dancing," author Tom Whitecloud uses vivid descriptions of the outdoors. He allows us to understand how beautiful nature is. He gives nature a personality. His surroundings are almost a character themselves. In this story, Whitecloud is the main character. Written in first person, he brings us on his journey from civilized American lifestyle back to his homeland at an Indian Reservation near Woodruff, Wisconsin. On his trip back to his homeland, he compares his American ways of life to his heritage. He writes of how happy he is to be returning to his heritage. He begins to recollect his memories of the culture and is very anxious to be with his people again.
He writes of how much the trees, mountains, snow, the "blue winds" and his people mean to him. When he reaches his homeland he is very happy to be home.
This is the opening of the story. Whitecloud is tired. He wishes he has spent more time with his people:
There is a moon out tonight. Moon and stars and clouds tipped with moonlight. And there is a fall wind blowing in my heart. Ever since this evening, when against a fading sky I saw geese wedge southward. They were going home" (Whitecloud 156).
He is ashamed to have left his homeland where he was raised to join the lifestyle of the American.
He will begin his trip home. With the moon and stars out we are given a sense of something coming to an end. A "fall" wind in our heart also indicates something is about to end.
Coming to an end are his ways of the typical American life. He is leaving them behind to reunite with his people. He can see the geese flying southward back to their home. This reminds him of how he is also going home.
Whitecloud is tired of his civilized life, but is glad he is leaving it behind:
I am tired. I want to walk again among the ghost-birches. I want to see the leaves turn in autumn, the smoke rise from the lodgehouses, and to feel the blue winds. [...] I want to hear the drums and feel the blue whispering winds (Whitecloud 157).
He wants to "walk again" with his people he grew up with. He wants again appreciate and "feel" the turn of seasons.
Here, Whitecloud is very angry that the Native Americans (stone age) are inferior to modern lifestyle (twentieth century):
On the boardwalk there are some Indian women in colored sashes selling bits of pottery. The stone age offering its art to the twentieth century. They hold up a piece and fix the tourist with black eyes until, embarrassed, he buys or turns away (Whitecloud 158).
The twentieth century man would be ashamed and turn away if they were given the option to join the Native American culture. This is very important since it is underlining much of the theme of the story. He loves the culture of his heritage but hates the drastic differences in their ways of living. "I reach Woodruff at midnight" (Whitecloud 158). His train ride has ended and it is now the end of the day and the beginning of a new day. This signifies the end of his journey from his
old ways into a new day being at his home where he has longed to be.
It is now almost Christmas. Whitecloud writes how he has the opportunity to buy gifts for his family:
Morning I spend the day [...] buying some presents for my family with what is left of my money. [...] Christmas Eve comes in on a north wind (159).
Since it is that time of year, he can buy these gifts in hope his family appreciates his return and shows some extra love for them.
In this excerpt Whitecloud writes of how even though he is alone in the wilderness, the trees, animals, and the winds are his real friends. As where at his college campus he felt alone because he didn't feel like he was where he belonged:
I take my time; I am back in a world where time does not mean so much now. I am alone; alone but not nearly so lonely as I was back on the campus at school. Those are never lonely who love the snow and the pines. [...] The North, I feel has welcomed me home (159).
Time does not mean much in the place where he was raised. There is no rush to go or be anywhere at a specific time. He is now very relaxed and unafraid. When Whitecloud comes close to the boundary there is a sudden change of atmosphere:
Just as a light snow begins to fall I cross the reservation boundary; somehow it seems as though I have stepped into another world. Deep woods in a white-and-black winter night (Whitecloud 159).
The snow begins to fall as he crosses the boundary. The snow has fallen to "greet" him. He has stepped into another world. This other world is the place of his destination; to be where he
belongs. He begins to remember how much the nature around means to him:
"You are among friends-we are your friends; we, the trees, and the snow, and the lights" (Whitecloud 160).
His "friends" are the land they live on. They live off and respect the land in a much different fashion then the American style. He is remembering its importance. They speak to him reminding him that they are alive as well.
This short story differs from all the rest in a sense that the setting plays a significant role as being a character itself. It has emotion and personality. Autumn has just ended and Winter is welcoming him back to his old life he had abandoned years ago. The setting carries along the story with its descriptions of time of day, time of year, mood, weather, and location.