Monday, September 8, 2014

Storyteller: Connecting Family and Feminism

In Storyteller, Leslie Marmon Silko uses images throughout her stories to give the reader a direct look into her childhood experiences. The photograph on page 78 is included in a specific location of the collection for many reasons. It is a family picture of the author and her two sisters in traditional Laguna female clothing. Each is carrying a traditional pot used to transport water, a typical task of women in an Indian society. Following the picture is a story told by Silko’s aunt describing a strong female hunter, beginning with the words, “Aunt Alice told my sisters and me this story one time.” The photograph shows the traditional expectations and dress of the Indian culture, while the poem breaks almost all of the “subservient” stereotypes of the past. The photograph also provides a reference to the traditional clothing described in the poem as the warrior removes her clothes. The two are interrelated with a deep sense of family that is evident in both pieces. In the Laguna society, family is the most important symbol of one’s self, in all meanings of the word.
            While the picture depicts traditional female roles, the poem takes on a more feminist tone within the first few lines. Kochininako, the protagonist, is described as one “who hunted deer and rabbits/just like the boys and men did./You know there have been Laguna women/who were good hunters/who could hunt as well as any of the men.” The recurring theme of women’s power can be seen throughout many of Silko’s poems, as she often reflects on the strength of women even though her society is traditionally male-dominant. By its placement immediately following the picture, the story implies that these young girls could be as strong as the hunter Kochininako, despite typical gender roles. Another reference to female power is seen in the line, “she’d bring them home to her mother and her sisters,” clearly indicating all women and in contrast, not men. Finally, many of the poem’s lines begin with the word “she,” emphasizing the power of women and all that “she,” representing any woman, can do. The “man,” represented as the giant, Estrucuyu, wants to take everything that is Kochininako’s, symbolizing the objectification of women in society. She gives him everything he asks and he just wants more: “and he just swallowed them like they were little crumbs.” Kochininako outsmarts the giant by going into the cave as she gives him her clothes, knowing that “his big head” will not be able to fit. The photograph shows similar feminist ideas in the powerful positioning of the girls. Their strong, confident facial expressions demonstrate why their aunt told them this particular story when the older men were out hunting, to encourage them in their pursuit of powerful womanhood.
The picture of the sisters wearing traditional Laguna clothing is designed to give the reader a literal representation of the outfit worn in the story. When Kochininako runs out of weapons to give the giant, she removes her traditional clothing, “First she took off/her buckskin leggings”, “then she took off her moccasins”, “she untied her belt”, and last “she took off her manta.” These pieces of clothing are clearly illustrated in the picture. The girls’ confidence also reflects a sense that their dress protects them over the giants (men) who might hurt them in the future. Their attire gives them a sense of belonging and collective protection with the other women in their culture.
            Finally and possibly most importantly, the picture depicts family bonds in the Laguna society, which are also described in the poem. Silko often refers to how close she and her family are and the many stories she heard passed down through the generations. In the picture, she kneels in front of her sisters, and they stand above her in a supportive manner. The caption states that the clothing and jewelry is loaned from their cousins, placing an even greater emphasis on family. The relationship between the sisters in the picture and the “Twin Brothers” upon whom Kochininako calls for help further links them together. The story ends with the slaying of the giant and the subsequent naming of a locale called Yash’ka, meaning heart. It is as if to say that the bond of family will always be most important, despite the conflicts between men and women. The brothers come to help in her time of need, and therefore the family conquers all. In a universal sense, the picture of the sisters carrying traditional water pots purposely draws on the well-known adage: blood is thicker than water, or the family triumphs over all.


  1. I really enjoyed your perspective on Storyteller, and I really think you did a great job using examples from the stories to support your ideas! However, I would like to suggest a few things that could improve your piece.
    First, you may want to consider making the thesis or argument statement more predominant in the first paragraph. The end of the first paragraph includes some great points about the importance of family in the Laguna culture. However, I felt that ending with the idea of family confuses readers as to what the argument of the piece is. Is the paper going to be about feminism, or family, or will it try to tie both together? Making the argument less foggy would set a better foundation for your paper.
    One thing I would consider expanding on is the idea of Kochininako having to remove her clothing. Your perspective on the three girls wearing the traditional garments is unique, and I would further expand on the idea and how that connects with Kochininako. Does their clothing make them seem more united? If this is the case, what does it mean when Kochininako removes all of her traditional clothing?
    I liked your interpretation of the twin brothers, but because your paper is about feminism you may want to explore the twin brother characters from another angle as well. In the story, Kochininako was a damsel in distress in a way; she had removed all of her clothing and she was stuck in a cave where a monster was about to get her. Does the fact that she was rescued by two male characters say anything about feminism in the story?
    One thing I might consider editing out would be certain parts regarding the strength of family. This is a very important topic, and you use examples to make solid points, but I am not sure it fits cohesively with the idea of feminism. If you can find a stronger way to tie the two topics together then go for it. Otherwise, I would remove some of the family sections and expand on various points in your feminism article instead.

  2. I like what you're doing at the beginning. I think the introduction could have been less wordy and more focused, but the point that Silko is creating a set of expectations or even stereotypes in the photograph and then undermining them in the text is insightful and important. The one thing I'd like to see clarified is the meaning of feminism - I think (you may disagree - I don't have tremendous confidence here) that Silko is trying to show that both female subservience *and* "feminism" have a place in *traditional* Laguna culture.

    What follows remains interesting and well-conceived, and the idea that this poem is in some sense about objectification and overcoming objectification is great. But what do you do with the fact that Kochininako needs to call on the brothers for help? If this is a feminist poem, doesn't that muddle the message? Or, to be more subtle, are you arguing that Silko is trying to do something messier, like discover whatever implicit feminism exists within the traditional stories, without actually changing them too much?

    This is a good idea and you articulate it well, but if you revise you should not only get involved in some research (into the roles of women in Pueblo cultures or Laguna culture in particular) but you should also consider the difficulties you raise for yourself, beginning with the Twin Brothers and their role in the poem. You are on a good path to figuring out what Silko's form of feminism amounts to, but there are many more complexities of the text to consider.