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As the history of the world continues, gaps between the generations of all nationalities will continue to be made. We get a first hand example of this everyday, right here in the U.S. In today’s society, it is very difficult to find a child that shares the same interests as their parents. Whether it is taste in music and fashion, religious understanding, or positions on our country’s issues, parents and children do not share many common beliefs. The same goes for the tribal elders and the tribal youth in Margaret Craven’s novel, I Heard The Owl Call My Name. The cultural differences between the elders and the youth increased in many ways. Unlike the elders, the children no longer have a grasp on the tribal language, are branching away from the tribe by going to white schools and marrying into white families, and have a poor understanding of the tribes customs and culture as a whole.
As time has gone on, English has become a universal language. This fact does not exclude the Indian tribe in Craven’s novel and is one example of the cultural differences between the children and the elders of the tribe. Everyone in the tribe speaks English, but it is only the elders who still have a knowledge of the tribes native tongue. “It is always so when the young come back from the school. My people are proud of them, and resent them. They come from a far country. The speak English all the time and forget the language of Kwkwala..” (Craven, 61) This is also shown when the elders begin the ancient burial ceremony after Mark finishes the Christian portion of the funeral. The elders began an ancient prayer and when Mark asks about it Jim explains that the young did not know the meaning of the prayer. The elders fear the day that their language will no longer be a part of life within the tribe.
Another cultural differences between the young and old of the tribe in I Heard The Owl Call My Name is the view of whites. The elders of the tribe have accepted the whites and some of their beliefs, but are still somewhat weary about most of their actions. Unlike the elders, the children of the tribe are not only open to white heritage and customs, but are taking opportunities to pull away from the tribe in Kingcome and join whites in the outside world, and the elders resent this. “They say to their parents, ‘Don’t do it that way. The white man does it this way.'”(62) Examples of this are when Keetah’s sister marries into a white family and also when the children of the tribe decided they want to leave the tribe to attend a white school. When Keetah’s sister brings her white husband to Kingcome to meet her family and the other tribe members, the weary elders find their view of the white man to hold true. Keetah’s husband manipulated the drunken tribe members into selling the tribes sacred mask for fifty dollars. Soon after news of the failure of Keetah’s sister’s marriage gets out, further backing the elders position on whites.
Finally, the children of the tribe have a poor understanding of the tribe’s customs and traditions. They no longer understand the meaning of the totems and also have only a small grasp on the important tribal stories and poems recited throughout the novel. An example of this is when Mark has to explain to Keetah the story of the swimmer and its meaning. The elders understand the changing times and they fear it. “They do not remember the myths, and the meaning of the totems. They want to chose their own wives and husbands.”(62) It is because of this that the elders can see the end of the tribe in the future. “Yes, but in the end it will be deserted, the totems will fall, and the greens will cover them. And when I think of it, I am glad I will not be here to see.” (62)
As generic and clich as it may sound, times really do change It is obvious in the generation gaps of all nationalities, especially those of the “live off the land” variety. The Kwkwala tribe in I Heard The Owl Call My Name fits into that category. The children of the tribe are using English as their primary language, not the language of the tribe. Also, they have entirely different views of the white man. While the elders are weary, the young are open and willing to take on many white customs and beliefs. Finally, the young no longer understand the myths of the tribe and the meanings of the totems. The Kwkwalan children do not understand the lives of their elders for the same reason that today’s youth can’t grasp how their elders lived without the technology we now possess.
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