Winter in the Blood, a Native American novel written by James Welch, takes place on a cattle ranch in Montana, around 1970. On the surface, this is a story of a Blackfoot Indian sleepwalking through his life, tormented by visions, in search of a connection to his heritage. Welch's language is, at once, blunt and poetic, and the pictures it conjures are dreamlike and disquieting. Furthermore, the narrator of the novel is disheartened by the loss of his brother, Mose, and his father, First Raise ? the two most cherished people in his life. After struggling with guilt, sorrow, and alcoholism, the narrator overcomes these down falls through re-identifying with himself and his culture? specifically through the help of his grandfather, Yellow Calf.
In the opening line of the novel, the narrator provides a vivid description of the his decaying surroundings:
'In the tall weeds of the borrow pit, I took a leak and watched the sorrel mare, her
colt beside her, walk through burnt grass to the shady side of the long-and-mud
cabin . . . . The roof had fallen in and the mud between the logs had fallen out in
chunks, leaving a bare gray skeleton, home only to mice and insects.
Tumbleweeds, stark as bone, rocked in a hot wind against the west wall (1).';
Welch opens the story with this line to show a relationship between the narrator's feelings of worthlessness and the worthlessness of his environment. In addition, the author melodically begins the novel in a somber manner ? so the reader may immediately adjust to the tone encompassing the story.
The narrator continues with describing his resentment towards his home life, 'Coming home was not easy anymore. It was never a cinch, but it had become a torture (2).'; This excerpt provides the reader with an understanding of the sorrow that the protagonist feels at the beginning of the novel and throughout the first half. Further narration includes the protagonists feelings of distance from the land and blame that he places upon himself, 'But the distance I felt came not from country or people; it came from within me (2).'; Thus, as the reader, we understand that the narrator has removed himself from the land and his culture.
On the narrator's journey to find his girlfriend, Welch clearly demonstrates the overabundant use of alco...
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...Yellow Calf and to ask him if he was ever acquainted with his 'grandmother'; (another twist: not old woman) (152). And, yes, Yellow Calf did know his grandmother and was able to provide the narrator with the missing pieces, of his grandmother's stories, that he longed for: that Yellow Calf is his grandfather and that he was the only one that treated his grandmother with respect after Standing Bear's death. Once the narrator realized this they,
'shared this secret in the presence of ghosts, in wind that called forth the
muttering of tepees, the blowing snow, the white air of the horses' nostril . . .
but there were others, so many others (159).';
It is then that the narrator completely absorbs the teachings from Yellow Calf, and allows his life to come full circle.
In the end, through the guidance of Yellow Calf, the protagonist discovers himself, learns to respect the natural order of the land, and overcomes the guilt and sorrow that has lived within him for many years. The physical journey may be complete, but the spiritual voyage will continue for a lifetime.
Welch, James. Winter in the Blood ,New York : Penguin Books, 1974.
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