Crow Testament Analysis
As seen throughout Sherman Alexie’s work, despair and hardship caused by European influences among Native peoples is a common issue that seems to be a reoccurring element in his work. Through the use of figurative language, Alexie is able to transcribe those issues onto paper by using metaphors and illusions to describe emotions conveyed by the Native peoples. Sherman Alexie is a Native American writer that is influenced by his experiences while growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation in the state of Washington. In many of Alexie’s works, he answers the questions “what is it like to be a Native American?
” and “what does it mean to be a Native American? ” In Sherman Alexie’s “Crow Testament”, he uses figurative language and figures of speech, such as metaphors, religious allusions, structure, and imagery to illustrate the hardships that Native Americans experienced through the crow in the last lines of each stanza. Although his different use of writing styles are not intended to be taken literally, they give the reader the emotions of despair and agony Native peoples experienced that cannot be given with the use of literal meanings of words.
Although Alexie describes the hardships that the natives went through, he adds positive notes that describe how the natives are not afraid of death. Sherman Alexie uses metaphors to help create a descriptive picture in the reader’s mind. He uses interesting characters such as the crow and other animals to describe people. As mentioned in the first line, “Cain lifts Crow, that heavy black bird…” The first metaphor, the crow, which is the main character of this poem, stands for any oppressed people, but more specifically the native peoples in the Americas.
This poem would not have the same meaning if the crow stood for a different kind of person. Throughout the poem, the crow is constantly suppressed and not given any respect from the characters that represent the white man. Religion is a prominent theme in many of Alexie’s works however, “Crow Testament” revolves around the influence of white religions on native people. In the bible, crows and ravens stand for evil and impurity. Alexie exploits this by having the crow represent natives because the white man, throughout manifest destiny, view the natives as crows.
Another metaphor that Alexie uses for the white man is a falcon. Native Americans view falcons with good qualities and respect. This is important because the falcon is symbolic to when the Europeans in general first came to the Americas with open arms to the natives. They were first viewed as harmless and friends until they savaged their lands without any consent of the natives. In “Crow Testament,” the falcon steals the salmon from the crow, which represents how the white man took advantage of the natives’ openness to them.
Alexie’s use of the pale horse is a direct reference to the book of Revelation. According to the story, the pale horse is one of the Four Horses of the Apocalypse and its rider is Death. In the poem, the crow is riding the pale horse into a powwow, but none of the natives panic. Alexie is trying to demonstrate that the natives understand where their fate will take them and are riding right into their own apocalypse. Alexie ends on a positive note by saying that the native already have embraced their pending death, and the white man cannot take their beliefs of the afterlife away from them.
If a reader were to take any of these metaphors literally, the poem would not have much meaning and many stanzas would not make any sense. The use of the characters from the Book of Genesis, Cain and Abel, set the stage of the deeper meanings of the poem with the use of religious allusions. It shows how the Bible will be a major theme in the development of the characters and the meaning of the poem as a whole. Cain striking down Abel shows how the white man and his religion are revolved around violence against each other.
The Crow questions the beliefs of the white man, by saying “The Crow God as depicted in all the reliable Crow bibles look exactly like a Crow. ” Alexie used “Crow God” instead of “Falcon God” because he is comparing their god to humans, which allows the reader to understand that Alexie is saying how the white man’s god is also in the Native’s image as well. With the use of the crow metaphor, Alexie comments how someone can worship someone who is in his exact image. Alexie also shows how it might be easy for any European American to worship someone who is man.
The God from the bible is described as an all-powerful white man who looks like human beings. Because the European Americans worship a God in their own image, it shows how the natives are not in their same image and therefore born sinners. In this stanza, “The Crow God as depicted in all the reliable Crow bibles look exactly like a Crow. Damn, says crow, this makes it so much easier to worship myself. ” Alexie mocks Christian beliefs as a whole by subtly pointing out the arrogance in the white man.
Through this stanza of the poem, it is evident that Alexie uses humor by mocking this religion with how ridiculous it is to worship a god in man’s image. Alexie uses another reference from the Bible by mentioning the Battle of Jericho from the Book of Joshua. The Battle of Jericho is described to be the first battle of the Israelites throughout their conquest of Canaan. Joshua led the Israelite army in his campaign for the long sought Arc of the Covenant, killing everyone in his path. As the poem mentions, “Among the ashes of Jericho, Crow sacrifices his firstborn son. Damn, says Crow, a million nests are soaked with blood.
” Alexie adds this to the poem because the people of Jericho represent the Native Americans and the Israelites representing the white men and their campaign for resources. The white men wiped out the majority of the Native American populations, just like the citizens of Jericho in the Book of Joshua. The “million nests soaked in blood” stands for the natives who lost their lives during the European conquest of the Americas. The structure of “Crow Testament” has a very interesting style in the way Alexie wrote it. There are a total of seven stanzas in the poem with only a few lines in each one.
This style that Alexie used improves the poem by allowing the reader to feel that there are stages in the poem, just like there were stages in depletion of the Native American dominance in the Americas. At the end of every stanza, the crow’s comments are a reassurance given by Alexie showing the despair and harsh reality of the life of a Native American. For example, the end of the second stanza where the white man disguised as a falcon steals the salmon, the crow mentions that he would have left the country years ago if he knew what was to become of his people.
The last lines of each stanza are filled with hindsight by the crow as he describes what he would do in each situation if he would of known of the outcome prior to it happening. The use of imagery is found in many works that Alexie has published. In “Crow Testament” specifically, the fifth stanza of the poem states that beaks and talons filled the air, which suggests that the reader envision a sky riddled with war. Also, the white man disguised as a falcon swoops the salmon from the crow where Alexie uses the word “swoops” to let the reader see how the disguised white man quickly came and stole the salmon using force.
This similarly happened when the first Europeans settled in the Americas. Alexie also states, “Among the ashes of Jericho” which can give the reader an image of a burnt landscape. This landscape can represent the Americas during the fall of the native people. Furthermore, as mentioned in the poem, “…they sky fills with beaks and talons. ” This imagery depicts how war will take over the land and be a common sight. Through the use of figurative language, Alexie is able to amplify the emotions of despair and hardship that can be seen through Native peoples.
Alexie uses the crow’s character as a metaphor for oppressed people while Cain resembles European influence on the Native’s traditions. Alexie uses an allusion of religion through the characters, Cain and Abel, which represent the characters in the Old Testament in the book of Genesis. With the crow, Alexie is able to show the reader of the tragic life that Native Americans lived through while living on reservations. The use of imagery is an important tool used by Alexie, which lets the reader use their imagination with words that were used.
With the last two stanzas of the poem, Alexie shows that the Native peoples have nothing left to lose, saying how they all live near the end of the world. Reading the last stanza at first will leave the reader thinking that the poem ends in a negative note however; Alexie ends on a positive note saying that there is nothing left for the white man to take away from the Native Americans. Although there are many things that left the natives in agony and despair, the white man is unable to take away their acceptance of the pale horse and its rider, Death.