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The Analysis of The Story "Totem" by Thomas King

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The Analysis of The Story "Totem" by Thomas King essay

Thomas King’s short story “Totem” is a symbolic attack on Canadian colonization and the struggles faced by the Aboriginal people. He has used symbols to narrate the story,” Totem poles” as a symbol to describe the Aboriginal community of Southern Alberta, “Museum” as land, “Director and Staffs” are the government, “Art” in the museum is considered as the Canadian culture. The characters in “Totem” by Thomas King play a special role in striking the theme of the story. “Totem” is about the land of the first nations, yet they are forced into reserves and have their very existence thought of as nothing more than a hindrance to the government and colonized people.Story begins with Beebe Hill, at the reception to make a complaint: “she thought other people were annoyed, too, but were too polite to complain about the noises the totem pole in the far corner of the room was making” (p. 13).

Mrs. Hill represents the population of the European settlers moving into Canada and finding Aboriginal people living there. Totem poles were considered as ugly, noisy and weird, wanted to remove them. People represent the majority of citizens, she represents the majority, she hears only their concerns, minority, ‘totem pole’ is considered as noisy. “Walter assures her that this show is about the contemporary Canadian arts from the Atlantic Provinces”. (p. 13)

Author states that there is no place for the totem as they are not part of the present culture and tradition. They are not supposed to be living here as they should be in the reserve. Mrs. Hill who represents the majority wants totem pole to be sent away as they start representing themselves in the museum in the form of “sculptures, paintings and photographs”, because art in the museum represent a rich culture. Thomas King is using this as, how the colonization showing racists attitude to the Aboriginal population.“It doesn’t make any sense,” he said, “because the floors are concrete. I was here when they built this building, and I don’t remember them pouring the floor around a totem pole,” “We could get the chainsaw and cut it off close to the floor”(p. 15).

Here again affirms that the totem pole were thrown out from their land, no way they could be here with the general population. They are finding an easy solution by removing the aboriginals from the rest of the population and throwing them in the reserve or in the prison. Government again taking a silent stands on the aboriginal peoples rights, giving consent to the majorityto do whatever they want but do .Here we are going to discuss about the oppression faced by the Aboriginals. Walter, the head of the museum found a quick, and easy temporary fix; his plan is to chop the totem pole down with a chainsaw and move it down to the basement. However to the surprise of Walter and his workers, “’There is a totem pole in the corner, and it’s grunting.” (p. 16).

Another totem pole appeared and it was making even more noise. Walter continued with his easy fix of cutting the totem poles down until he did not have any more room in the basement to store them. Thomas King uses satire to point how ridiculous of solution moving the Aboriginals to a place where they don’t belong to. Canadian government is not finding a real solution to the problem, but trying to live with the problem.

As a conclusion Thomas king brilliantly used symbols, irony in Totem to convey the oppression Aboriginals are experiencing from the government and colonization. King uses effectively museum and art as way to present the oppression faced by the Aboriginals. He is in every way succeeding in mocking the government, colonization and their attitude towards the Aboriginals.


  1. Thomas king (2013, Totem, retrieved from One Good Story, That One: Stories. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, Project MUSE.

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