Academia

Post-Colonial Colloquialisms: On Annie Proulx’s “The Half-Skinned Steer”

It is the uneducated utterance of “them Indan drawrings” that first suggests a cultural divide within the otherwise idyllic “stony landscape” and “stiff-branched mountain mahogany” of Annie Proulx’s Wyoming ranges. That the “old man” – Mero’s father – cannot be less concerned with learning the correct pronunciation of the word ‘Indian’ implies a possible apathy, or outright disdain, for the native race overall. Certainly, this attitude has imprinted on Mero, who initially regards the anthropologist – that the anthropologist is said to have “resembled an unfinished drawing himself” clarifies that he himself is of Native American lineage – as “the stranger,” of a race Mero has never formally encountered, the ‘unknown’. Mero’s naive blindness, through which the short story is told, thus renders him unable to decipher the “symbol[s]” inherent in the “red and black drawings”, not only in the vulvas, but in the “turkey stepping into a snare” – being a native animal of America, the turkey similarly represents the Native Americans, whereas the contrastingly unnatural snare is emblematic of the Pilgrims. Hence, this primitive portrayal is an allegory of the colonisation of America, depicting the Pilgrims’ quite literal capture of the country and its natives. That the image is solely observed in passing by Mero suggests Proulx’s contention that there is a lack of cultural awareness within America; a divide. “Blunt ochre tracing on stone” seems nothing if not stains of America’s “violent” past, ignored by those aware of it – such as Mero’s father – and overlooked by the younger generations, ironically being told they will have “a great future” though it is later evident that they have everything but.

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