Experiencing Literature

Terms and Concepts

Students of literature read and notice things.  They also need a working vocabulary of literary terms. Luckily (for me), you already know a few dozen literary terms. I’ll expect you to use these. In addition, I want to introduce you to a few less- familiar topics (e.g., subversion, irony, and stereotyping). You can find out about these terms–and more–in the following lectures.

As we go on, you’ll become more familiar with how different authors use irony, subversion, etc., in order to achieve certain effects.


No, it’s not a pair of ducks! Paradox is a seeming contradiction. It is an intricate device that gets readers to think. Paradox is often linked with irony.

Native American authors often deal with the paradoxes of white treatment of Indians. There’s a lot of history there. What I want you to do is to notice when paradoxes appear, and alert us to them. We can interpret them after the class notices them. Check out the list below for just some of the paradoxical issues in Native American writers treat:


Binaries are pairs of choices, like the “ones” and “zeros” making up the information on cds. They offer a way of reducing things. Think about the either/or choices consumers are faced with. Authors can’t leave these binaries alone. . . they like to play with easy choices, showing how artificial they are. As I’ll say elsewhere, we don’t live in a simple world. It’s not all “Pepsi or Coke,” and authors like to challenge binaries.

Think about other examples of paradox you encounter. Be willing to share these.

General Stuff

If you get stuck interpreting, look for setting and conflict. You can always talk about those, and then get into more complex areas of the piece from these.

Binaries (otherwise known as polar oppositions or polar opposites) can be found in Native American literature. Here are some that I thought of quickly. What ones can you find?


Past Present
Victimization Triumph
Richness (spiritual, physical) Poverty
Being “a Mohawk,” “a Paiute,” “a Lakota,” etc. “Indian” in general

Paradoxical Binaries Treated by Native American Authors

Now look at what some Native authors do with seemingly simple binaries. You might find stories in which characters are:

  • living in two cultural worlds simultaneously
  • both rich and poor–ways of seeing wealth are confused, downplayed, or overwhelming
  • Native Americans who act as “super patriots”

or in which

  • past, present and future are seamlessly intermixed
  • Christianity and Native roots get mixed without one winning out over the other
  • Victimization and triumph exist simultaneously, defining the same character
  • tradition vs. modernity never gets solved or resolved for a character
  • personal identity and communal identity cannot be separated
  • Native identity exists–independent of white culture
  • mixed blood identity is the most important aspect of life for a character

This list probably makes little sense to you right now. It’s meant to get you thinking about the many “moves” you will see Indian writers make. Be active as a reader, and as a questioner! Let me know what sorts of things you see happening in our readings. Critical thinking is just that: critical. I am curious to see what you’ll find in this semester’s literature.

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