Medicine River chronicles the lives of a group of contemporary Native Americans in Western Canada. The novel is divided into eighteen short chapters. The story is recounted by the protagonist, Will Sampson, in an amiable, conversational fashion, with frequent flashbacks to earlier portions of his life.
The novel begins with an encounter between Will and Harlen Bigbear. Harlen is an entrepreneur who has set Will up in his own photography business. Harlen is Will’s best friend, but there is something unpredictable about him. Harlen is much more dynamic than the stolid Will, and he lives life at a faster and more stressful pace. Beneath Will’s placid exterior, though, all sorts of psychological depths simmer. These are hinted at as Will remembers contemplating letters written long ago by his long-vanished father to his mother, Rose. Rose catches Will reading the letters and reprimands him. Will realizes that his life will remain unsettled until he comes to terms with the enigma of his father.
Harlen speaks to Will again soon after. This time, Harlen attempts to recruit Will to play on a local basketball team, the Medicine River Friendship Centre Warriors. The team’s star player, Clyde Whiteman, cannot play at the moment, and Harlen urges Will to substitute for him. Will is skeptical, doubting his own ability. His brother James, a gifted artist, seems to have all the talent in the family, whereas Will sees himself as merely an ordinary person who somehow muddles through life. Notwithstanding his fears, Will agrees to join the team. At forty, he is not exactly in championship-quality shape. Yet with the help of some coaxing from Harlen, he fits well onto the team.
Harlen also helps to activate Will’s private life. He points out that Louise Heavyman, who is the tax accountant for both men, is an attractive woman. None too subtly, Harlen urges Will to court Louise. Will is almost persuaded when, shockingly, he learns that Louise is pregnant by another man and is about to give birth. Whereas most men would be dissuaded at this point, Will takes the news in stride. He asks Louise for a date, not even mentioning her condition.
Soon, Louise calls Will to drive her to the hospital when her labor begins. There seems to be an unspoken understanding between Will and Louise that, despite the unusual circumstances of...
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Medicine River by Thomas King focuses primarily on communal life. It talks about the theme of mixed blood and how such people fit in to the society. The issues related to social life, intermarriages and the significant roles of the community. The novel follows through the experiences of Will Thomas and the trickster, Harlen Bigbear. The novel highlights the journey of the photojournalist’s integration in to the native Indian community, helped greatly by the trickster, Harlen Bigbear. With reference to Harlen’s character, it is assumed that he has a narcissistic personality.
Let us first divulge in to the interiors of narcissism. Narcissism is defined as having an exceptional love and admiration for ones self, according to the Webster’s online dictionary. (Webster, Pp1) This implies that a person having a narcissistic personality would be absorbed in himself. His priority would be self-defined; if the outcome would benefit him, he would be ready to go for lengths for it. Such people are usually hard-workers and are ready to burn midnight oil in order to achieve success. For them societal norms and values; traditions and beliefs play a very minimal role.
They believe that their thoughts and ideas are above everyone else. In fact, they try to impose them on others for they tend to believe that it is they who are correct. Due to this over confidence they are highly sensitive to criticism and often respond in excessive rage. Such people are not worried about the welfare of others. Their world consists of, I or me and not them or they. This insensitivity towards others greatly hinders with their social life. They will refrain from putting themselves in situation s where they know they will fail. In short they contemplate a great deal before involving them selves in some project.
Thus, they expect that due to their success they should be considered superior to others. (Library of the national Society, Pp1) With this explanation in view, it appears controversial to assert that Harlen Bigbear. While as a trickster, he appears to be confident and successful. As a native trickster he has been upgraded to a divine level. His dialect and his actions speak for his self-confidence. As narrated by Will Sampson, “I used to have conversations with Harlen that didn’t make much sense and didn’t seem to go anywhere” (Thomas, pp. 169).
Through this quote two narcissistic attributes come in to the spotlight: Harlen’s confidence and his feeling of himself being better than others. Since, he as the trickster, considers himself above others he tends to transfer his thoughts to others, his thoughts which he considers wise. The persistent repetition of this particular attribute of Harlen accounts for his narcissism, to which Will does not speak against. Thus, like a narcissist person, Harlen meddles in the affairs of others, trying to impose his wisdom on the society. (Siemerling, Pp 71)This is because of his belief in himself, which is left unchallenged.
Thus, as a narcissistic trickster, Harlen tends to interfere with things not related to him, In order to do good to the society. This is reflected several times in the novel, typically when Harlen interrupts Will in his studio. However, this same trait of Harlen also provides comic relief for the reader which is why the role of Harlen received so much significance. However, this particular trait of Harlen also contradicts deeply with his reference as a narcissist person. This is because there is an eminent goodwill in all that Harlen operates. This goodwill of Harlen is present at various instances throughout the novel.
Harlen’s insistence of Will residing in Medicine waters shows his inclination towards making the son of a woman who married a white man become blended in to the society. Harlen wanted to make Will a part of the native community and take him out of his life of isolation that he lived in Canada. Harlen’s goodwill is also mirrored when he uses his social contacts to provide a living for Will. Perhaps this is one reason why Will states that “Harlen Bugbear was one of the most charitable people I had ever known. No matter who it was, Harlen Big bear would go on looking for good in a person.
” (Thomas pp. 151) this trait is also reflected when Harlen, while meddling in the affairs of Louise heavy man, tries to find her a male counterpart. Partly because she is unwed and expecting a child. To do her good he coaxes Will to escort her, which leaves the community thinking that Will is the father of the child. This ultimately results in Will naming the girl as “south wing” and also looking after her, when she was in distress. Another fact that also refutes Harlen’s narcissistic personality disorder is when he encourages Will to act as a father figure for some people of the community.
(Lundquist Pp, 175) He tends to bring Will closer to the natives and the natives closer to will so that they both accept each other. He involves Will in the native basketball team, encouraging more interaction with the locals. His hard work bears fruit when ultimately Will is asked by the people to also be a part of the photograph that he is shooting. Thus he succeeds in blending Will in to the society as a part of the society and not as an outcast for he was considered one due to the fact that his mother had married a white man.
All these evidences point towards the fact that Harlen‘s interests were in working for the betterment of the society. He intervenes to make the world a better place and as his world is that of the native Indian community he tends to work for its people. As per the work of a trickster, he seeks to end conflict and maintain decorum in the society. He is the emblem of the good spirit of the community. His narcissistic attribute s is refuted by the fact that nowhere in the novel does Harlen boast about his superiority in terms of success.
Rather he falls short as well: he can not read maps and also catches flu. The only indication that Harlen’s character provides its readers is that of his good will for bringing the society together. For not letting superficial norms and values come in the way of the welfare of even one individual of the society. This is why we see that he helps not only the unwed woman who is expecting a baby, but also the ex-convict who is released from the prison and also Will, an outcast in the society. References: Thomas King ,Medicine River , Edition: reissue Published by Penguin Books, 1995.
Pp 151 and 169 Suzanne Evertsen Lundquist. Native American Literatures: An Introduction. Published by Continuum International Publishing Group, 2004. Page 175 Library of the national Society. Narcissistic personality disorder. Retrieved from http://www. medical-library. org/journals2a/narcisistic_personality_dis. htm Winfried Siemerling ,The New North American Studies: Culture, Writing and the Politics of Recognition. Published by Routledge, 2005 . Page 71. Webster Online Dictionary, Narcissism. 2009. Retrieved from: http://www. websters-online-dictionary. org/definition/Narcissism
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