In her book American Indian Stories, Zitkala-Sa’s central role as both an activist and writer surfaces, which uniquely combines autobiography and fiction and represents an attempt to merge cultural critique with aesthetic form, especially surrounding such fundamental matters as religion. In the tradition of sentimental, autobiographical fiction, this work addresses keen issues for American Indians’ dilemmas with assimilation. In Parts IV and V of ‘School Days,’ for example, she vividly describes a little girl’s nightmares of paleface devils and delineates her bitterness when her classmate died with an open Bible on her bed. In this groundbreaking scene, she inverts the allegation of Indian religion as superstition by labeling Christianity. Also, the book as a whole reflects her empowerment, but also speaks eloquently in a conquering culture’s language of what it is to have no power over your destiny or selfhood. Her integration of several competing selves led her to write this, in ‘The Great Spirit’: ‘The racial lines, which once were bitterly real, now serve nothing more than marking out a living mosaic of human beings.’ In ‘The Great Spirit’s he demonstrates her rhetorical savvy in embedding palatably her critique of oppressive hierarchy.
She evokes this theme again in ‘Sun Dance Opera,’ which she composed later in life. Here and elsewhere, she illustrates that the question of cultural and spiritual identity goes deeper than notions of civil rights. Zitkala-Sa’s insistence on the dignity of Indian religion and exposure of Christian hypocrisy manifests itself in her activist life, as well. While she and her husband denounced the Peyote religion due to their first-hand observation of peyote’s destructive — often deadly — effects, they asserted the superiority of Indian spirituality over the disregard for nature, disrespect of other cultures, and depredation of people which accompanied alleged Christian practices such as stripping children from their language, culture, religion, family, and environment, the blatant injustice and trauma of which the reader poignantly feels in her fiction during the hair-cutting scene and in the mother’s desperate cry to her departed warrior brothers. This collection of stories and the autobiographical account of her school days at White’s Manual Institute in Wabash, Indiana, and later at Earlham College provide insight into the struggle of Indian peoples in the early twentieth century to protect their heritage while developing a modern Indian identity. Zitkala-Sa makes the reader feel how shocking and horrifying our comfortable culture was to children who grew up in a different culture, beginning with the cutting of her hair.
... , from time to time and integated them into itself. Indeed few cultures in the world have such variety as the Indian culture ... Indian culture, over the last three mellenia, has successfully, but quietly, observed the best assimilable parts from other religions and cultures ... are its characteristics.. 2. 1 CHARACTERISTICS OF INDIAN CULTURE Indian culture is as many sided as life. It ...
There are the ‘loud, metallic voice’ of the bell and the ‘annoying clatter of shoes on bare floors.’ There is always a ‘clash of harsh noises’ but mostly there is the ‘murmuring of an unknown tongue.’ Zitkala-Sa and others are lured to the school by the promise of ‘red apples,’ a clear reference to Genesis. She refers to her own culture for her revenge on the devil.