Tuesday, September 16, 2014

If We Were the Billy Goat

The images Leslie Marmon Silko use in her book Storyteller accompanies many of the stories and poems. They accentuate and communicate with each other harmoniously. In the photograph on page 167, Silko's sisters were dressed in clothing that the rest of the society commonly wears instead of the traditional Indian customs. They are posing with the hunted deer on their father’s pick up truck. This photograph shows us that her family has been heavily influenced by the European settlers and has accepted and adopted their way of living.  The goats signify the Native Americans in a world dominated by white people and the Billy goat is the spirit of the Indians. It represents will, individuality, and freedom.
In many ways, the goats are Indians and the Indians are European settlers. When Silko and her siblings build bows and go to shoot at the goats, “the Billy goat was lying down…watching us closely like he already knew about little kids. His yellow goat eyes didn’t blink, and he stared with a wide, hostile look.”(p. 163) The scene is as I imagine, how the Indians responded when European settlers first came to Laguna. The white people who came with guns and weapons are just like Silko’s friends with their bows and arrows. European settlers trying to civilize Indians by teaching them English, dressing them in Levi’s and giving them jobs of the modern society resembles how Indians try to domesticate the Billy goat. Everyone wants to tame the wild.
European settlers despise the Indians’ way of life but in the mean time, recognize the value of Indians. They have ranching, hunting and riding skills far superior than white men. Just like how goats provide milk and meat, white people exploit Indians’ skills to work for them. How uncle Tony treats the black goat can be compared to how white people treated Indians: “‘get up, big goat! You’ve slept long enough,’ or ‘Move over, big goat, and let the others have something to eat.’” (p 164) When European settlers expanded to the west, they forced thousands of Native Americans to leave their home where they had lived for generations to the reservation. The reservation lands are not as fruitful and bountiful and many died on the gruesome journey. There was no representation or consultation, Indians had to comply or be killed. Similarly, when billy the goat refuses to come out of the pen, Silko is simply told to “‘get in there and get him out’” (p 165).
The billy goat refuses to comply with Silko because he holds grudges from her shooting arrows at goats and knocked down the little girl when provoked. He is the one that holds on to traditions and memories. In the picture follows this story, we observe that the cloths the girls are wearing, the pick up truck and the rifle are all modern inventions used by European settlers. The girls do not possess the spirit of the black goat. Because they may be too young to choose, we can conclude that their parents also let go of tradition and adopted the new and “right” way of living. This is due to the success of European colonization and suppression of Native American culture. Silko’s family got rid of the black goat because “‘we can’t have that goat knocking people down for no good reason’” (p 165) but as we remember uncle Tony always say about animals: “they won’t bother you unless you bother them first” (p 165).
In the history of Native American, there were many billy goats. They were the leaders of resistance and holders of traditions. European colonists eradicated these individuals so that they can control the rest.  Uncle Tony’s black goat could jump out of his cage. But the Indians’ pen is too high.

Clarification: I use the kindle so the page numbers may not be exact. The quotes usually can be found within a 2-page margin.


  1. I think that this is an interesting argument! However, I don't think it follows the given prompt. You mention that the image shows how Silko's family is heavily influenced by European settlers but you fail to mention the fact that the act of hunting isn't really European at all, as the Indians hunted before the settlers. Your essay is primarily about how the billy goats symbolize the Indians and the Indians symbolize Europeans but there is no connection between the image and goats. If possible, I would try to connect the image with the text and create a new argument that states that even though Silko and her family were heavily influenced by Europeans, traditional customs and practices still play an important part in their lives as demonstrated by the hunting in the picture. You can expand this with the text and use the bow making experience as a form of support. If you want to stick with an argument more similar to what you have already written, I would move the last real paragraph to the beginning so the reader immediately sees the connection between the visual and the story and then directly relate the picture to the text and use it to reveal a theme, like the prompt instructs.

  2. One issue with your reading: goats were imported into America by europeans. I have a feeling that this is a significant fact when looking at the conjunction between this story & this photograph. It doesn't mean that you are guaranteed to be wrong, but it is a problematic detail.

    The notion that indian childrens with toy bows represent white settlers with guns, while a domestic (but unpleasant) goat represents Indian freedom, is really not intuitive. That doesn't mean that you're wrong - it just means that you need to focus more on evidence, and less on repeatedly stating your idea.

    Your third paragraph certainly incorporates some details, but it bothers me that you are only relying on generalizations, rather than on the specific history of the Laguna or of pueblos in general. Take this line: "When European settlers expanded to the west..." is problematic when the Southwest was invadied by Spaniards first, and by the U.S. much, much later - the fact that you don't think through any of those details at all is a problem, especially since you're trying to prove something so counterintuitive.

    Re: the paragraph on the photograph. Isn't the very fact that deerhunting is important evidence that tradition does, in fact, play a role here? You need to at least address the most obvious problems with your position.

    Overall: It's not just that your position is too counterintuitive, and that you skim over lots of difficult details - it's that you are making too big of a claim too quickly. I'm not that this story and this photograph can't be about the overall Indian experience in a big, general way. But you should get to that point through the details. This reads more like you're making lots of big, counterintuitive assumptions rather than coming to them naturally through the careful analysis of, among other things, a live goat and a dead deer.

    Kellyn's feedback seems very useful, both where it parallels mine and where it goes in different directions.