Black Elk Speaks

by

John G. Neihardt

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Black Elk Speaks: Chapter 20 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Black Elk performs in shows for the next few months in Manchester, but he and some others get left behind. They find another Lakota who can speak the Wasichu language and who tells them that they can earn the money to go home by participating in a different show run by “Mexican Joe.” It’s a small show, but they travel throughout Europe. In Paris, Black Elk meets a girl who likes him and invites him to spend some time at her family’s home. Black Elk continues to perform for Mexican Joe, but he grows increasingly homesick, to the point where he is too ill to perform. When Mexican Joe’s show returns to Paris, Black Elk goes with the girl to her home.
Mexican Joe (Captain Mexican Joe Shelly) started a show to compete with Buffalo Bill’s. Black Elk’s homesickness marks the development of a new kind of alienation: whereas before Black Elk’s vision alienated him from his people, now literal distance (an ocean’s worth), as well as the culture shock of being surrounded by Wasichus, contributes to Black Elk’s sense of loneliness and social isolation.
Themes
Alienation Theme Icon
One morning, while Black Elk is sitting with the girl and her family, the roof appears to move. A cloud appears, sweeps Black Elk up into it, and carries him over the ocean, back to his homeland. He sees the Missouri River and the Black Hills, where he’d had his first vision so many years before. The cloud stops at Pine Ridge, where Black Elk sees all the different bands of his people gathered together in a big camp. He sees his parents; Black Elk’s mother looks up, and Black Elk is sure that she saw him. The cloud takes Black Elk back over the big water and back to the big town. When Black Elk regains consciousness, the girl’s family and their doctor tell him he’s been lying near death for three days. He doesn’t tell the family where he’d been, because he thinks they won’t believe him.
Black Elk’s sickness mirrors the physical illness he suffered as a child the first time he received a vision. This parallel implies that Black Elk has undergone a renewed call to action: being transported back to the physical and mental states that he experienced during his first vision restores his faith in his higher calling. So far, Black Elk’s mother has been a relatively underdeveloped character, but her seeing him during this vision gives the reader the sense that she and Black Elk have a close, meaningful relationship.
Themes
The Loss of Culture and Community  Theme Icon
Unrealized Dreams  Theme Icon
A few days later, the family hears that Buffalo Bill is back in town, and they all go to his show. Buffalo Bill, or Pahuska, as Black Elk calls him, is glad to see Black Elk, but Black Elk decides it’s time to go home. Buffalo Bill gives Black a ticket home and some money, and the next morning, Black Elk is on a boat on his way home. He has been away for three years. When Black Elk arrives at Pine Ridge, everything appears as it did in his vision. Black Elk’s parents are excited to see him, and Black Elk’s mother tells him that she dreamed that he visited them on a cloud but could not stay.
Black Elk calls both Buffalo Bill and General Custer Pahuska, which means “Long Hair” in Lakota. Both men had noticeably long, lustrous locks of hair, and using the name Pahuska draws a line of separation between these men (and the Wasichu culture they represent) and the Lakota. Black Elk’s decision to return home is fueled by the renewed sense of purpose he gained in his most recent vision. Black Elk’s mother’s comment affirms the closeness of their relationship, further emphasizing how important a sense of unity and familial intimacy is to the Lakota people.
Themes
The Loss of Culture and Community  Theme Icon
Unrealized Dreams  Theme Icon