Essay by Julyof5 November 2014

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Literary essay - Totem

Thomas King's extensive use of symbolism in his short story "Totem" puts a goofy and nonsensical face on the callous treatment that natives received by North American settlers. A museum director, Walter Hooton, has a problem with noisy totem poles bothering the patrons at his art gallery in Alberta. The solution he decides upon is to cut down the totem poles and move them to a more convenient location; in this case, the basement. Each time, the totem pole refuses to be displaced, and again starts bothering the museum patrons from the corner. King uses four main elements in the story to illustrate his point: the totem poles themselves, the director of the museum and his workers, the museum patrons, and the museum itself.

The choice of the totem pole to represent the natives of the Alberta area is a subtle way of re-enforcing the racial stereotypes that surround native people.

Totem poles are a tradition of natives from the west coast, and not of the plains. It shows the disregard that the author feels the natives were subjected to regarding their traditions and culture by white settlers in the area who did not care to learn anything about the indigenous people that they were supplanting. The story makes reference to four different totem poles, each of which is making a different sound. These may represent different tribes or sub-cultures of the local natives. The four totem poles are also referred to as simply "the totem pole" by the museum inhabitants, as though there is no difference between poles, as though instead of different native tribes, there were only "Indians".

The patrons of the museum, with the exception of the director and his employees, are the only characters which are portrayed as human. They represent...