Louise Erdrich’s poem “Dear John Wayne,” like much of her work, reflects her Native American heritage and upbringing in small towns in Minnesota and North . Louise Erdrich(Chippewa) August and the drive-in picture is packed. We lounge on the hood of the Pontiac surrounded by the slow-burning spirals they. charlotte jarman dear john wayne by louise by louise erdrich the poem is set in drive in movie theatre, the narrator (who we can assume is erdrich herself) and.
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I n Thomas King’s novel, Green Grass, Running Waterthe characters gathered at Buffalo Bill Bursum’s electronics store find that the John Wayne movie with which they are all familiar, and are now watching on Bill’s monstrous wall of t. Where the cavalry has in the past always appeared on the hilltop to trap and kill the Indians in the river, in the “fixed” version of the movie, the cavalry suddenly disappears halfway down the hill. Having gained an unprecedented upper hand, the Indians blow John Wayne and Richard Widmark to bits, to the bewildered frustration of Buffalo Bill and the delight of his employees and patrons, particularly Charlie.
Charlie’s father, known in Hollywood by his ridiculous pseudonym Iron Eyes Screeching Eagle and distinguished by a fake nose intended to make him look more Indian, plays the lead Indian role in this movie. On screen, the Indians are spotted by the lookout; they attack the settlers:. With this invocation of a common history–as represented by the trials of white settlers braving the savagery of Hollywood Indians–a properly Fanonian problem emerges.
Central to Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks is the dilemma of a racially marked colonial subject who identifies with the heroes in films and magazines, as the audience is intended to. The problem, though, is that he is not intended to be part of the audience.
Where he may think of himself as John Wayne to stick with the present exampleall of the white people in the audience see him as the villain. In King’s novel, it is Lionel who louiwe most caught xear this trap: Sometimes ashamed by lohise father’s fame, Charlie resists Lionel’s full-fledged allegiance to country western ideology.
And while the lines quoted above may show the audience at Louise Erdrich’s drive-in rather taken in by the pseudo-history presumed by the movie, the poem goes on to articulate the former’s generic ideology in all its inconsistency.
The following stanza is dominated by the larger-than-life, larger-than-horizon projection of John Wayne:. The sky fills, acres of blue squint and eye that the crowd cheers. His face moves over us, a thick cloud of vengeance, pitted like the land that was once flesh.
Each rut, each scar makes a promise: It is not over, this fight, as long as you resist. Everything we see belongs to us.
On “Dear John Wayne”
The clouds and sky around and on the screen give way to a close-up of John Wayne’s facial features, the land-like ruts and scars of which silently make traumatic promises: The poem does not reach waune statement before audience members climb off the hood of the Pontiac and Wayne’s huge close-up yields to credits and the movie is over. Erdrcih in the car, “We are back in our skins” l. This return to everyday existence suggests an end to the brief community imagined in lines and lpuise above: Regardless of which history one prefers, it seems that, “back in [their] skins,” audience members are less likely to be duped into identifying with John Wayne and more capable of clearly hearing the movie’s actual political message.
This is just what happens in the last stanza; the second person plural continues to hear Wayne’s voice, “the flip side of the soundtrack still playing”:.
Come on, boys, we got them where we want them, drunk, running. They’ll give us what we want, what we need. John Wayne’s “disease,” it turns out waye the next line, is this obsession with his boys’ wants and needs; the ludicrous but serious implicit conviction that “Everything we see belongs to us”; “the idea of taking everything” l.
The Summary of “Dear John Wayne” by Louise Erdrich
This disease was an epidemic. Unlike King’s novel, Erdrich’s poem does not revise the movie so that the Indians beat the cowboys.
But the audience in Erdrich’s poem hears what John Wayne actually says: Taking Wayne not at his word but at his word’s political effect turns out to produce an effect as subversive as King’s: Ultimately, it is the narrator who strikes the last, and most powerful, blow. From its first lines, the poem sets up a scene suggestive of battle. In stanza one, the audience composed of Native Americans in cars at the drive-in movie can do nothing “to vanquish the hordes of mosquitoes” who “break through the smoke screen for blood.
The film screen is, like “the smoke screen,” easily ruptured, suggesting the possibility of that the textual violence of the film can produce material effects. This conflation of on-screen space with ‘real’ space points to the power of popular representation to supply distorted cultural narratives about the history of colonization.
Qayne end of this third stanza reminds us again of the presence of the screen, and acknowledges how the present moment is informed by “the history” portrayed there. As the narrator watches Indians in the crowd laughing perhaps at the camp quality of the film?
In this sense, John Wayne’s assertion of ownership is accurate, as the narrator goes on to suspect in the final stanza, imagining Wayne’s voice again: Come on, boys, we got them where we want them, drunk, running: The last two lines of the poem, however, offer a surprising evaluation of Wayne’s philosophy, and act as the battle’s final blow to the now-deceased actor and what his films represent: Even his disease was the idea of taking everything.
Those cells, burning, doubling, splitting out of their skins.
The lines are open to multiple simultaneous readings. At the most basic level, they assert that what takes everything destroys everything even itselfjust as that cancer that killed Wayne in real life died along with his body. The philosophy of domination and imperialism, Erdrich suggests, destroys both the owner and what is owned.
Imperialism is figured as a self-defeating enterprise. On another level, this ending can also lend agency to the Indians watching the film, highlighting their active resistance to imperialist domination. The repetition of “skin” — the poem’s final word — echoes the earlier line that depicts the film’s audience being “back in [their] skins.
Cancer acts here as a literal punishment to John Wayne and a metaphorical outcome of colonization.