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Displaced, Defiant, Defined: Zit Kala Sa’s Girlhood Memories, Essay Example

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Essay

Introduction

Upon reading Zit Kala Sa’s “Impressions of an Indian Girlhood”, there is an overwhelming sense of wonder at the inability of people to fully respect cultural differences, combined with an apparent and blatant disregard  for what any child experiences when removed from a home.   This effect is vastly reinforced by the author’s skill as a writer and her complete lack of self pity, even as she documents extremely traumatic occurrences of her youth.  Zit Kala Sa moves through her own narration as a child again, yet as one with a powerful sense of identity no foreign culture could erase.   Even the unintentional cruelties of the missionaries who took her from her Native American home in the Dakotas are not expressed in an especially angry way, and this also emphasizes the force of spirit within the girl that she was.   This spirit stands apart from the story itself, ultimately.   Zit Kala Sa’s story stands as a bitter reminiscence of a displaced and defiant childhood, and as a testimony to a disregard for what is different, as well as for the concerns of all children taken from their homes.  Most importantly, however,  “Impressions of an Indian Girlhood”  conveys how strong a young child’s sense of self may be, and how it can stand up to even the greatest foreign influences.

Story and Interpretation

If Zit Kala Sa’s early girlhood among her Sioux tribe was not idyllic, it was nonetheless the foundation for her essential character, as it forged in her an understanding of how the world worked.  This is, of course, true of most children; their impressions are taken in as absolutes, and all the ways life is conducted around them become, until experience reveals other ways, the order of nature and living: “The primary effect of childhood experiences…creates a profound and lasting imprint upon our psychic structure and self-image” (Cortright  41).  Every episode and memory Zit Kala Sa conveys potently emphasizes this truth.

The story itself is basic, in that the young Sioux girl, excited about the idea of going to an Eastern school and living in the alien world of the white man, is exposed to a less than happy reality.  What is striking is how, even while greatly frightened by the strange people and ways of the new environment, the girl nonetheless clings to a belief system as strong as that of any adult.  The new world is, at times, terrifying, and this is not helped by an utter failure on the part of the missionaries to account for a Native American’s ignorance of the white culture.  Even within the casual handling of a young child are vast cultural differences seen, as the author remembers being tossed in the air by a large white woman, upon first entering the missionary school.   This is, from the white woman, a gesture meant to comfort and amuse the little girl, but the author’s rearing renders it an insult; her own mother would never toss her around as though she were a doll (Zit Kala Sa  67).   Very young and unsure of anything, the author/girl still manifests a deeply held conviction as to her rights as an individual, and this is further evidence of how the actual, formed character of a child may be too often underestimated, or dismissed.

Later, there is an almost comic episode which actually, and tragically, reveals how the most elementary failures to understand can lead to torment for children.   The author and her peers, playing in the snow, are aware that this action has consequences of a severe kind at the hands of the white woman in charge of them.  One child does what a child will; he takes an overheard fragment and builds from it a strategy, and instructs the others to reply with the word, “no”, to the woman.   The questions, however, are phrased in such a ways as to make this reply unacceptable, and a girl is beaten because of this simple misunderstanding (Zit Kala Sa  69).   Again, cultural differences bring about, not better efforts to reach understandings, but a greater defiance on the part of a child so misunderstood.   The author recounts the experience almost as a confrontation in a war because, in her young eyes, alien powers were unjustly being wielded.

Later on, as the author moves into her adolescence, there is further turmoil because she begins to sense that she fits into neither plane of existence.   She is no longer as one with her Native American past, yet nor is she comfortable with, or even desirous of entering into, the white man’s world.   It seems that this dilemma must have existed for many Native Americans of this period of the early 20th century, and they were invariably conflicted as the circumstances of white expansion altered everything they know.   N. Scott Momaday, considered a premier Native American  writer, said, “I grew up in two worlds and straddle between both worlds even now” (Otfinoski  7), and this very much appears to be the artistic legacy thrust upon Zit Kala Sa.   In her story, this sense of her being spiritually and emotionally torn recurs in every episode and memory.

More dominant than this, however, is the strength of will evinced by the young girl undergoing these changes.  The author tells a tale of hardship and an almost criminal ignoring of cultural rights, but what is most extraordinary is how resilient the victim is.  Even in the throes of disillusionment, she relies on the sense of what is right as instilled in her by her own people.  Faced with mockery and ignorance, she does not, as a child is often expected to, struggle to fit in and please the new adults.   All she does is try to make sense of what is new, even as it defies what she, young girl or not, knows to be true.

Conclusion

Zit Kala Sa’s impressions are unique, and not merely because they relate Sioux experience from a bygone age.  They express a sad element of a great deal of historical displacement, as a dominant culture disregards the worth and essence of that it overtakes.  The most striking aspect of  “Impressions of an Indian Girlhood”, however, lies in its ability to convey how strong a young child’s sense of self may be, and how it can stand up to even the greatest foreign influences.

Works Cited

Cortright, B.  Integral Psychology: Yoga, Growth, and Opening the Heart. Albany, NY: State of New York University Press, 2007.  Print.

Otfinoski, S.  Native American Writers.  New York, NY: Infobase Publishing, 2010. Print.

Zit Kala Sa. “Impressions of an Indian Childhood.” American Philosophies: An Anthology.

Harris, L., Pratt, S. L., & Waters, A., (Eds).  Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, Inc., pp. 65-73, 2002.  Print.

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