Black Elk Speaks

by

John G. Neihardt

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Black Elk Speaks: Chapter 17 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
After the heyoka ceremony, Black Elk and some others move to the place between Wounded Knee Creek and Grass Creek, which is where Black Elk resides at the time he tells his story to Neihardt. They build log houses, even though Indians typically try to build round things. Indians place a sacred symbolic value on circles because circles, unlike squares, are unbroken and eternal. Circles are also found in nature, such as in birds’ nests or the moon’s rotation. But the Wasichus make them live in square boxes, so that is what they must do.
Neihardt conducted his interviews with Black Elk in Black Elk’s home, in Manderson, South Dakota, on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Black Elk’s digressive remarks on circles gives more insight into the importance of circles that have appeared in the story thus far, such as the sacred hoop. The Lakotas’ sacred relationship to the circle also underscores their close connection to nature. Lastly, Black Elk’s comments about circles creates a strict divide between Lakota culture, which is based in circles and nature, and Wasichu culture, which is based in squares and which rejects nature.
Themes
Nature Theme Icon
The Loss of Culture and Community  Theme Icon
One day in June, Black Elk asks One Side with help finding the four-rayed herb he saw in his great vision. The heyoka ceremony has mad Black Elk confident that they are very close to finding the herb. He sings a sacred song and they find the herb, which has blue, white, red, and yellow flowers. Black Elk decides he must cure the weakest two-leggeds with the herb.
In addition to reassuring Black Elk’s people, the heyoka ceremony also restores Black Elk’s faith in his powers, as evidenced by his newfound confidence that he will locate the four-rayed healing herb.
Themes
Nature Theme Icon
The Transformative Power of Ceremony  Theme Icon
Unrealized Dreams  Theme Icon
Black Elk is eating supper when a man named Cuts-to-Pieces approaches him, asking for help with his son, who has been gravely ill for a long time. Black Elk agrees and goes to the boy. Black Elk uses the sacred objects from his dream—the wooden cup, the pipe, and the four-rayed herb—and cures the boy, who lives to be 30. At just 19 years old, Black Elk is now known as a healer among his people.
This moment marks another important milestone for Black Elk, in which he outwardly displays his healing abilities to his people. The implication is that moment exists as a direct result of the heyoka ceremony, which helped Black Elk find the four-rayed herb and which now establishes him as a healer among his people, as his initial vision predicted.
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