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In her work, Dreamspeaker, Anne Cameron writes the story, set in 1976 British Columbia, of a young boy named Peter, who flees an institution for troubled and delinquent boys. Peter takes off on a wild adventure and ends up befriending two native men, and together they make an unbreakable bond of spiritual magic, and most importantly, friendship. Cameron uses symbols to underscore the book’s central theme of freedom and oppression. Throughout the book, spiritual symbols become apparent that illustrate the theme of freedom, such as the Sisiutl, the Stlalacum, and the magic bag.
The first symbol that is spoken about has been following Peter around since the beginning of the book; it is only given a name when he meets the Old Man, whom we later learn is the Dreamspeaker. The Sisiutl is an ancient Nootka legend about a monstrous snake-like being that preys upon those who are unfortunate enough to cross its path. In this novel, the Sisiutl plays a large role as it is the embodiment of Peter’s fears and hunts him throughout his life. Because of this, Peter has become slave to the Sisiutl, and therefore, slave to fear itself. The Sisiutl symbolizes and embodies the fear that follows Peter throughout his entire life. This fear has corrupted Peter as he is always in fear of himself and his surroundings; he never feels safe. This may be considered an act of oppression against peter because the Sisiutl causes him severe mental distress and pressure. However, on the other side, it can be seen as an act of freedom. In the end, Peter faces the Sisiutl and makes it, “shrink back on himself”. Though unfortunately, that relief of the Sisiutl’s fear did not last long for unfortunately, to be truly free, Peter needed to kill himself and die in order to escape the fear caused by his past.
A second symbol that plays a large role in the book is the Stlalacum. In contradiction to the Sisiutl, the Stlalacum is the symbolization of truth and goodness. In the novel, the Stlalacum takes the form of dancing orbs of light, almost like fireflies. Theses lights often times throughout the story warn Peter that the Sisiutl is near, and coming for Peter.
The central theme of freedom in this book is personified by the Stlalacum and its symbolism of the truth. In the end, the truth is what ultimately sets Peter free from the Sisiutl. Throughout the novel, Peter learned that in order to be free, he must face the truth; the Stlalacum helped him to do this, they “came to see him, reminding him that all the truth you ever need is right in the back of your own two eyes”.
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