Like other poems written by Louise Erdrich, “Dear John Wayne” is a reflection of the author’s Native American background and childhood in the small town filled with biased attitudes towards Native Americans. As such, the poem reflects on the racial prejudices that existed back in those times when Erdrich lived. John Wayne in the poem is the epitome of “white” superiority.
The image of John Wayne is introduced into the poem for a special reason: it is a metaphoric depiction of certain dehumanization of the Native Americans and their heritage as they were usually regarded as drunk people who were prone to stealing and raping the whites.
The setting of the poem unveils in the cinema: the speaker with another person (probably a friend or a boyfriend) are sitting in a drive-in theater and watching a Western movie. The sounds of the drum that can be heard at the beginning of the movie reminisce of Indian cries that accompanied the beginning of some battle or struggle.
The movie genre was not spontaneously chosen either: these were Westerns that demoralized the Native American population and depicted them in the worst possible way. Thus, when writing this poem, Erdrich had a specific purpose to demonstrate how exactly the Native American culture and heritage were shown on television and in movies. The image of a white cowboy, a true hero, was a symbol in many films back in those times.
As soon as the Western ends, there is a line in the poem, “We are back in ourselves.” Here one comes to contemplate its meaning: is the peace over?
In conclusion, it is evident that the actual events depicted in the poem take place both in a Western about John Wayne and in the drive-in theater and depict fighting and hostility that exists between the cowboys and Native Americans. When at the final scene the death of Wayne is mentioned, it is crucial to sum up that there should not be blood spills over the land as it actually does not belong to anyone. Another important conclusion to make: if you take something that does not belong to you, then somebody else will take something from you too.
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