Black Elk Speaks By John Neihardt

1392 Words6 Pages
Black Elk Speaks is a devised work some have debated to be a work of literature, a biography, an autobiography, and even an ethnography that has remained practiced in multiple academic disciplines. Black Elk Speaks was written by John Neihardt and published in 1932; Neihardt was not a literary or an anthropologist, but a poet and short story writer who wrote a multi-layered interpretation of a holy man’s life while failing to include portions of the story in order to advance the interest of his readers, ultimately making the meaning of the story his own. When the intended story was that of a holy man whose job was to hold the circle together through the power of a vision given to him and despite feeling as though he failed his people he…show more content…
In order to receive such sacred information Neihardt had to become a tribal member; predictably Neihardt returned in the spring and through a series of rituals became adopted as Black Elk’s spiritual son (Holler, 1984). On May 10th 1931 Neihardt began to learn Black Elk’s story, over a period of 18 days he sat with Black Elk while Black Elk’s son Ben interpreted the language between the two and Neihardt’s daughter Enid documented the conversation in short hand; forming the first few layers of possible bias in the work.
Black Elk was a member of the Oglala Sioux and grew up during the beginning of the production of the Transcontinental Railroad. Black Elk first remembered hearing voices around the age of five, but did not have his first vision until he was 9 years old when he befell very ill. His vision constitutes for one of the longest chapters of the book; Black Elk describes being taken on a cloud to cloud world to meet with his six grandfathers. Each grandfather gives Black Elk an object that holds a specific power that will save his people: a cup, a bow, a pipe, and a red stick. He is told that he must remember what has been bestowed upon him for his people will face difficulties and great change. He is given visions of fighting, war, starvation, and people fleeing (Neihardt, 1972). Many have argued that Black Elk’s vision could also contain bias due to the fact that the story was told sixty years after the account and Black Elk’s story could
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