Black Elk Speaks

by

John G. Neihardt

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Black Elk Speaks: Chapter 15 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Black Elk’s people stay at the foot of the Tongue River through June, when a soldier says the land has been sold to the U.S. government. The soldiers take the Indians’ horses and send them to Fort Yates, a new reservation for the Lakota people. Black Elk doesn’t think they were ever repaid for their stolen horses. Gall and Sitting Bull remain in the Grandmother’s Land. Black Elk decides that it’s time to return to his people, the Ogalalas, and fulfill the destiny given to him in his vision. Black Elk and the Brules he is camping with set out.   
Because he has performed his vision publicly through the horse dance, Black Elk is able to replace the fear and anxiety he previously attached to his vision with confidence and a renewed sense of purpose: he is ready to return to the Ogalalas and fulfill his destiny. The Fort Yates reservation is located in Standing Rock, North Dakota. In 1881, the U.S. government sent Lakota prisoners of war to this reservation; individuals who were part of other agencies (like Black Elk) were allowed to return to those agencies. 
Themes
The Transformative Power of Ceremony  Theme Icon
The Loss of Culture and Community  Theme Icon
Alienation Theme Icon
Unrealized Dreams  Theme Icon
On their journey, Black Elk goes off alone and sings a song from his vision. He sees the two men in the cloud and knows that the men want him to help his people. Black Elk reaches the Pine Ridge Agency that the soldiers have built for the Ogalalas, and he stays there through the winter of 1881, when he turns 18 years old. The winter is hard for Black Elk because the thunder beings, who have become “like relatives to [him],” won’t return until the spring. He feels alienated without them. Black Elk is grateful for his powers, though he sometimes wishes they’d been given to someone “more worthy.”
The thunder beings are now “like relatives” to Black Elk because the horse dance has brought him closer to his vision. Whereas before the thunder frightened Black Elk, now it comforts him and keeps him focused on his purpose. Black Elk’s wish that the spirits had selected someone “more worthy” to save his people reinforces his tendency to ascribe his people’s decline to his own failure rather than to circumstances that are beyond his control, such as the relocation of American Indians to agencies.
Themes
Nature Theme Icon
The Transformative Power of Ceremony  Theme Icon
The Loss of Culture and Community  Theme Icon
Alienation Theme Icon
Unrealized Dreams  Theme Icon
Related Quotes
When spring arrives, Black Elk goes lamenting with the help of a medicine man named Few Tails. Few Tails tells Black Elk to fast, smoke from the sacred pipe, and purify himself in a sweat lodge before the lamentation ceremony beings. The ceremony takes place on a hill outside the Agency, by Grass Creek. They make the ground sacred with sage and place sacred offerings to the spirits. Few Tails leaves Black Elk to lament. As Black Elk faces west, an eagle flies overheard and whistles; as he faces north, a chicken hawk flies; as he faces east, a swallow flies over him. As he faces south, he thinks of all his dead relatives, like Crazy Horse, and weeps. Suddenly, a cloud of butterflies appears in the sky.
The lamentation ceremony is another instance in which Black Elk engages in a ritual to better understand his vision and to perform his duty. The lamentation ceremony is a vision quest in which the lamenter “cries out” to the spirits for a vision. The birds that Black Elk sees during the lamentation ceremony connect with the Grandfathers’ earlier message that Black Elk is to treat the birds as relatives. The appearance of bids implies that the vision quest is working, and that Black Elk is getting back in touch with his initial great vision. 
Themes
Nature Theme Icon
The Transformative Power of Ceremony  Theme Icon
The Loss of Culture and Community  Theme Icon
Unrealized Dreams  Theme Icon
The chicken hawk tells Black Elk that his Grandfathers will speak to him now. The dust rises around Black Elk, and he sees the two men from before, who are now riding sorrel horses and shooting arrows at dogs that have appeared from the dust while thunder beings cheer. Suddenly, the dogs’ heads turn into Wasichu heads. The vision ends, and a storm grows closer to Black Elk, who continues to cry. He asks the Grandfathers for forgiveness and tells them that he now knows what it is they want him to do. The storm beats around Black Elk, but no hail can penetrate the sacred circle.
This vision contains many features of Black Elk’s initial vision, namely the sorrel horses, the two messenger men, the birds, and the sacred circle, or hoop. The purpose of this vision quest is for Black Elk to gain a better understanding of his initial vision, and this purpose is fulfilled when Black Elk sees the pierced dog heads transform into Wasichu heads, which imply that his purpose is to defeat the Wasichus.
Themes
Nature Theme Icon
The Transformative Power of Ceremony  Theme Icon
The Loss of Culture and Community  Theme Icon
Unrealized Dreams  Theme Icon
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Black Elk falls asleep and dreams of his people sitting sadly around a sacred tepee. As he weeps for them, a colorful light appears and disappears; in its place rests a growing herb. Black Elk hears a voice telling him to help his people. He awakens and sees that the sky is just beginning to grow lighter. There are still bright stars all around him, and in between the stars he sees the faces of the unborn, men’s and women’s faces, and happy horses. Black Elk falls asleep again and is awakened by Few Tails. They head home, and Black Elk tells the village’s old men about his vision. The old men say that he must perform the dog vision in 20 days. Further, because his people are so distraught, Black Elk must perform it with heyokas so that the people will laugh. 
The herb is also a symbol from Black Elk’s initial vision: it previously restored the black horse to health. The symbolic purpose of the herb’s reappearance in this vision is to show Black Elk that he is to use the herb to heal his people. As was the case with the horse dance, Black Elk must now perform the dog vision he witnessed during the lamentation ritual to convey its wisdom to himself and to his people.
Themes
Nature Theme Icon
The Transformative Power of Ceremony  Theme Icon
The Loss of Culture and Community  Theme Icon