“An Evening’s Curiosity”: Image and Indianness in James Welch’s The Heartsong of Charging Elk

Tammy Wahpeconiah


In James Welch’s The Heartsong of Charging Elk, being Indian is defined as both a matter of birth and a myth imposed on the characters by society.  Charging Elk engages in performance, essentially playing Indian before white audiences, because it provides him temporary approval, financial gain, an opportunity to showcase the old ways, and a degree of control over the myth.  Welch’s novel illustrates that within the confines of the Wild West show, the audience accepts and values Indianess.  However, once Charging Elk steps outside the performance arena, his Indianess is the subject of, among many things, suspicion, scorn, and ridicule.  In this essay, I will argue how Welch’s text illustrates the repercussions of the mythical representation of the “Indian” and how the protagonist must negotiate the fictional and historical truths of “Indianness.”


Native American; James Welch; Indianness; Identity; Authenticity; The Heartsong of Charging Elk

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