Monday, September 15, 2014

Aunt Susie: A Laguna Woman

           In Storyteller, Silko uses pictures, poems, and stories to explain her childhood and life among the Laguna Pueblo people. Throughout the book she includes many different personal family photos as well other pictures that specifically pertain to her stories. Weaved in between mythical tales and historical passages, are stories of Silko’s own personal experiences. In these poems she talks about interactions with her various family members and the influence they have on her and her childhood. There is something to be learned about the Laguna people from each of Silko’s poems because each provides a unique portrait of the poem's subject. Specifically, the picture on page four portrays Aunt Susie, and explains why she acts the way she does as depicted in the poem on page three; through Aunt Susie, the picture emphasizes that family and tradition are considered to be of the utmost importance in Laguna culture.
            The poem on page three provides readers with specific details about Aunt Susie. One of the first things readers learn about Aunt Susie is that she was born in the village north of Old Laguna. From this, readers can assume she is familiar with the Laguna culture, and that she is a native to the land. Silko then goes on to explain how her aunt was taken to Carlisle Indian School and eventually went on to graduate with a college degree. Overall, readers see Aunt Susie as a well-educated, very intelligent, turn of the century woman.  She takes her studies very seriously and is extremely passionate about them. However, Silko explains that no matter what her Aunt was doing, she would always set aside her laborious work to answer any question Silko may have had.  
            Why does Aunt Susie devote so much of her time to the endless queries of a young child? The answer to this question can be seen in the photograph on page four of Storyteller. At first glance the picture is much like any other family photo. It depicts an elderly woman looking down on a small child. These types of photos are generally cherished because they capture multiple generations in one shot. The youth of the small child emphasizes the age of the older woman, and it hints at the fact that one day the young child will also grow old. In Silko’s picture the elderly woman is her Aunt Susie and Silko herself is the little girl. Her aunt is looking down on her and a slight smile can be seen in the corner of Aunt Susie’s mouth. Aunt Susie’s dress is blowing in the breeze so perhaps it is windy. However, she does not seem to notice the light wind, while a young Silko has her face scrunched into a slight grimace. What this tells readers is that Aunt Susie is a woman accustomed to the weather of Laguna. She is part of Laguna and she knows the ways of the land; her young niece has much to learn. In the photograph Aunt Susie appears very comfortable and peaceful. It is also worth noting that nothing about her physical appearance would suggest she is a woman of such high scholastic levels; her clothes are very plain and semi traditional. Despite being very well educated, she chooses to stay and participate in the Laguna community and their traditions.
            A close look at the picture reveals that Aunt Susie is not facing the camera. Instead she is facing Silko, even though Silko’s attention is directed elsewhere. Her Aunt’s positioning suggests that she may feel protective of Silko, and her disregard for the camera and complete attention on Silko suggests just how strongly she loves her niece. From reading the preceding poem, one can infer that Aunt Susie is a very patient woman. However, patience is not the only reason she sets aside her school work or whatever she is doing to attend to Silko. Another reason she does this is because she finds the traditions of the Laguna people and the essence of family to be the most important things in her life.
The picture further explains the character of Aunt Susie as depicted through the poem via the caption under the picture. This caption includes a sentence stating, “Aunt Susie used to cook all morning long for the big meal at noontime” (Silko 4). Aunt Susie is an educated woman and a school teacher, yet she spends hours of her day preparing meals for her family. It seems as though nothing will come before her loved ones. This is precisely why she pays close attention to Silko as a young girl, patiently providing her with answers, stories, and histories of the Laguna people.
From the poem, readers know Aunt Susie as being a woman devoted to telling and capturing the history and stories of the Laguna people. The picture shows her as being dedicated to her family and enthusiastic about passing down the stories of her people to the younger generations. She wants her niece to be immersed in the same culture she has grown up in, and through the poem and the picture, readers can tell she does her part in making sure the culture is known. In Storyteller, Silko uses the picture as a sort of supplement for the poem; the poem provides facts about Aunt Susie by explaining the things she actually did, while analysis of the picture provides reasons why.



  1. I liked your interpretation of the photograph and how Aunt Susie is a well-educated woman that always had time to tell her niece stories that she learned as a child. The way she dressed and the story telling show how important it was for her to have combination of outside influence as well as keeping true to her heritage. Also, Aunt Susie seemed to think it was good to have some outside schooling as well as education only learned by her people in that area. I also believe that your argument about her being protective of Silko is correct, but I believe she could also be looking that way at Silko to try to instill the importance of the stories to her. She wants to protect Silko as well as protect the history of her people by passing the stories on to her. I think there could be some specific passages from the poem included in the argument to add some more detail and direct correlations between the picture and the poem. Overall I like the essay and thought it was well written, but I think it would be hard to add enough on to this to make it into a full revision.

  2. The first half of your introduction is far too general; the second half is better, but imprecise. The 2nd paragraph is almost a second introduction; the two paragraphs could/should have been combined into one short paragraph.

    The third paragraph is long-winded for what it accomplishes, but it gets better as it goes. The contrast you draw between Aunt Susie's appearance and her intellect is good; your interpretation of the weather is interesting. Still, this is a set of interesting observations - there's no argument to speak of yet.

    Maybe the point that Aunt Susie is looking at Silko rather than the camera is the most important thing here - I feel like that's the beginning of a substantive argument, but that you then retreat a little. The last three paragraphs are wordy, and there's no real argument here. Maybe the best way of illustrating that is to point out that you never really explain even how the poem and photograph each help interpret the other differently - despite your passing focus on important elements of the photograph in particular, I'm not really sure how you want us to read this material differently than we did before reading your essay. You spend too much effort repeating the obvious, and not enough figuring out your unique argument.