Bearheart Characters

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: Darkness in Saint Louis Bearheart, 1978; 2d edition titled Bearheart: The Heirship Chronicles, 1990

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Dystopian

Time of work: Future

Locale: The central and western United States

Characters DiscussedProude Cedarfair

Proude BearheartCedarfair, the fourth of the Proude Cedarfairs, a shaman of mixed white and Chippewa (anishinaabe) blood. the nation’s economy has been destroyed, and the reservation agents and corrupt tribal officials are cutting the last of the Cedar Circus Reservation cedar trees. Proude leads a group of unusual pilgrims on a trek toward the vision window at Pueblo Bonito, where he believes he can lead his troupe into the fourth world.

Rosina

Rosina, Proude’s wife. At the end of the journey, she comes over the desert with the sun and is identified with Changing Woman. She is one of three people who enter the fourth world.

Benito Saint Plumero

Benito Saint Plumero, or Bigfoot, one of the pilgrims. He is a mixed-blood clown/trickster whose major source of pride is a gigantic and very active penis, dubbed President Jackson. He is canonized and made a “double saint” on the journey.

Pio Wissakodewinini

Pio Wissakodewinini, another pilgrim, who has been charged erroneously with rape and was sentenced to a sex change, which was not entirely successful. He/she shifts identities and gender often during the journey.

Inawa Biwide

Inawa Biwide, a sixteen-year-old pilgrim rescued by the church from federal reservation housing. Inawa quickly becomes an apprentice shaman and eventually will follow Proude Cedarfair into the fourth world.

Bishop Omax Parasimo

Bishop Omax Parasimo, who rescued Inawa. He wears metamasks that allow him to become Sister Eternal Flame and other characters of all genders. He is obsessed with the romantic image of Indianness of the type propagated by Hollywood.

Belladonna Darwin-Winter Catcher

Belladonna Darwin-Winter Catcher, a pilgrim, the daughter of a Lakota shaman and a white anthropologist. She was conceived and born at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, and has very rigid views. She holds what the author calls “terminal creeds.” In the walled city of Orion, inhabited by the descendants of hunters and bucking horse breeders, she is asked about Indian values. She responds to a hunter’s question about what an Indian “is” with a diatribe that reinforces all the clichés about Indian culture and behavior. She is identified as an “invented Indian,” and as a result, she gets her “just desserts,” a cookie laced with poison.

Little Big Mouse

Little Big Mouse, a “small whitewoman with fresh water blue eyes” who rides in foot holsters at the waist of the giant Sun Bear Sun. She is attacked and torn apart by a mob of victims of chemical and cosmetic poisons because she insists on seeing them as victims.

Sun Bear Sun

Sun Bear Sun, the largest pilgrim, weighing three hundred pounds and standing seven feet tall. He is the son of a utopian tribal organizer by the name of Sun Bear.

Lillith Mae Farrier

Lillith Mae Farrier, a white woman and pilgrim who travels with her two boxers. She began her sexual ménage with the two dogs while teaching on an Indian reservation. She is the first to gamble with the Evil Gambler, and because she does not know the rituals of balance and power, she loses and destroys herself.

Bearheart

Bearheart, a mixed-blood shaman who, as a child, achieved a vision of a bear while imprisoned in a Bureau of Indian Affairs closet while the offices were being ransacked by radical members of the American Indian Movement (AIM). He is ill-tempered, especially toward “terminal creeds” and American culture. He tells a young AIM member wearing “chicken feathers and plastic beads” to read the novel in the closet, a novel of “tribal futures, futures without oil and governments to blame for personal failures.” She asks what it is about, and he responds, “Sex and violence. . . . Travels through terminal creeds and social deeds escaping from evil into the fourth world where bears speak the secret languages of saints.” the novel she finds is Bearheart: The Heirship Chronicles.

Sir Cecil Staples

Sir Cecil Staples, called The Evil Gambler, the proprietor of the What Cheer Trailer Ruins. He gambles with passersby. He bets gasoline, a necessity for the pilgrims’ purloined postal truck, against the life of the bettor. He believes in chance, which Proude does not, and when Proude plays with him and wins, the Evil Gambler is destroyed. Kidnapped from a shopping mall and reared in a big-rig trailer on the road, he is pale and hairless as the result of prolonged exposure to insecticides.

Justice Pardone Cozener

Justice Pardone Cozener, a pilgrim and illiterate law school graduate, one of the “bigbellies” who are fleecing the tribes and the government. He is in love with Doctor Wilde Coxwaine.

Doctor Wilde Coxwaine

Doctor Wilde Coxwaine, a pilgrim and bisexual tribal historian. He and Justice Pardone Cozener are entranced by the Bioavaricious Word Hospital and leave the remaining pilgrims to remain there.

Matchi Makwa

Matchi Makwa, a minor pilgrim who complains about the loss of Indian racial purity.

BibliographyArmstrong, Meg. “ Buried in Fine White Ash’: Violence and the Reimagination of Ceremonial Bodies in Winter in the Blood and Bearheart.The American Indian Quarterly 21 (Spring, 1997): 265-298. Armstrong explores the themes of power, transformation, and identity. She argues that the texts must be read with the understanding of ceremony and the body.Blair, Elizabeth. “Text as Trickster: Postmodern Language Games in Gerald Vizenor’s Bearheart.MELUS 20 (Winter, 1995): 75-90. Blair focuses on Vizenor’s use of the trickster text in Bearheart to link the written word with the mythic aspects of the story. She demonstrates that the trickster is part of the satirical language in storytelling that tribal people use to understand themselves, as well as the truth.Bruchac, Joseph. Survival This Way: Interviews with American Indian Poets. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1987. Contains “Follow the Trickroutes: An Interview with Gerald Vizenor,” in which the author discusses his career and his use of history in his writing.Hochbruck, Wolfgang. “Breaking Away: The Novels of Gerald Vizenor.” World Literature Today 66, no. 2 (Spring, 1992): 274-278. An overview of Vizenor’s fiction, focusing on its unorthodox and disruptive elements.Martin, Calvin, ed. The American Indian and the Problem of History. New York: Oxford University Press, 1987. Discusses historical revisionism and its central place in Native American literature. Views Vizenor as a skilled practitioner of revisionism.Pasquaretta, Paul. “Sacred Chance: Gambling and the Contemporary Native American Indian Novel.” MELUS 21 (Summer, 1996): 21-33. Pasquaretta discusses the gambling motif in works by Louise Erdrich, Leslie Marmon Silko, and Vizenor. He views the scenario of good gamblers pitted against evil ones as a metaphor representing the relationship between European Americans and Native Americans.Ruoff, A. LaVonne Brown. “Woodland Word Warrior: An Introduction to the Works of Gerald Vizenor.” MELUS 13, no. 1-2 (Spring/Summer, 1986): 13-43. Comprehensive review of major works by Vizenor, with a useful bibliography.Velie, Alan R. “Gerald Vizenor’s Indian Gothic.” MELUS 17 (Spring, 1991): 75-85. Explores Vizenor’s futuristic novel Darkness in Saint Louis Bearheart as a tale that reverses the traditional Western genre format, showing Indians terrorized as they venture into the savage wilderness of white civilization in decline. Discusses the mythic roles of Proude in the role of Trickster and Sir Cecil Staples as the Evil Gambler.Vizenor, Gerald, ed. Narrative Chance: Postmodern Discourse on Native American Indian Literature. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1989. Contains several relevant essays, including “ Ecstatic Strategies’: Gerald Vizenor’s Darkness in Saint Louis Bearheart,” by Louis Owen, “The Trickster Novel,” by Alan Velie, and “Trickster Discourse: Comic Holotropes and Language Games,” by Vizenor.
Categories: Characters