Black Elk Speaks

by

John G. Neihardt

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Black Elk Speaks: Chapter 22 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Black Elk dresses for the sacred dance. He thinks of his dead family, cries, and hopes that the Ghost Dance will bring them back to the red road. Black Elk shivers and knows that the power of the Great Spirit is within him. Good Thunder, Kicking Bear, and Black Elk link arms and begin to dance and sing a sacred song. Black Elk doesn’t have a vision on the first day, but he feels more confident that his first vision was already coming true.
Just as the Ghost Dance will supposedly bring Black Elk’s people back to the red road, Black Elk hopes that participating in the Ghost Dance will bring him back to a place where he can confidently enact his vision. 
Themes
The Transformative Power of Ceremony  Theme Icon
The Loss of Culture and Community  Theme Icon
Unrealized Dreams  Theme Icon
The next day, the people cry and laugh as they dance, holding hands in a circle. Black Elk dances with his eyes shut and begins to feel strange, as though he is no longer touching the ground. He collapses and sees an eagle in front of him. His physical body doesn’t move, but he is able to float wherever he looks. He floats beyond a ridge and sees a beautiful land full of happy people who have plenty of food to eat. Then, he floats over the tepees and lands in the center of the hoop, in the middle of which stands a tree in full bloom.
The Ghost Dance causes Black Elk to have another vision, which supports the book’s larger claim that ceremonies are transformative. Black Elk’s vision reaffirms the importance of sacred objects present in his first dream, such as the sacred hoop and the blooming tree. In particular, the presence of hoop and tree—objects that represent unity and that the Grandfathers mention explicitly in their instructions to Black Elk—proves to Black Elk that dancing in the Ghost Dance is how he will perform his duty to his people.
Themes
The Transformative Power of Ceremony  Theme Icon
The Loss of Culture and Community  Theme Icon
Unrealized Dreams  Theme Icon
Two men wearing holy shirts approach Black Elk and tell him that he has work to do before he can see Black Elk’s father. Black Elk knows that the men must want him to return to his people bearing knowledge of the men’s holy shirts. Black Elk returns to his body. He expects to see the tree blooming in the hoop, like in his vision, but it is dead.
That the tree is dead once Black Elk returns from his vision suggests that he is mistaken in his optimistic belief that the Ghost Dance will save his people. The dead tree also creates a barrier between the spiritual world of Black Elk’s visions and the physical world he physically must live in. As spiritually wise as Black Elk might be, his visions are no match for the oppressive forces that threaten his people and their old way of life.
Themes
The Transformative Power of Ceremony  Theme Icon
The Loss of Culture and Community  Theme Icon
Unrealized Dreams  Theme Icon
The next day, Black Elk makes the shirts like the ones he saw in his vision. Next, he makes a sacred stick, which he paints with the Wanekia’s paint. Because of his vision the day before, Black Elk is asked to lead the day’s dance. During the dance, Black Elk has another vision in which he flies through the air and revisits sees the ridge from the day before. He sees six villages beneath him and lands on the sixth. 
Black Elk’s latest vision resembles his initial vision in a number of ways, namely through the way he flies through the air (in the initial vision, he was transported into a cloud world, and he became an eagle flying over his people), as well in the appearance of the number six.
Themes
The Transformative Power of Ceremony  Theme Icon
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Black Elk touches the ground. Twelve men approach Black Elk and tell him it’s time for him to see “the two-legged chief” before taking him to the village’s center, where the blooming holy tree stands. A good-looking man who is neither Indian nor Wasichu stands against the tree. The man is painted red and wears an eagle feather in his long hair. The man tells Black Elk that all things belong to him, and then he disappears.
The number 12, the red man, the eagle feather, and the sacred stick are all elements of Black Elk’s initial vision. These similarities between the vision that the Ghost Dance inspires and Black Elk’s earlier visions again show how ceremony can have a spiritually transformative effect.
Themes
The Transformative Power of Ceremony  Theme Icon
One of the 12 men who surround Black Elk gives him a white painted stick and a red painted stick, urging Black Elk to return to his people with the sticks.  Black Elk then sees that the people around him are beautiful, and neither old nor young. The 12 men tell him that his nation’s life will be this way. Twelve women tell Black Elk to return to Earth to tell his people about this beautiful way of life.
These people and their beautiful way of life represent Black Elk’s people as they will live in the afterlife, where they will be reunited with their deceased relatives and where their culture will be allowed to flourish.
Themes
The Loss of Culture and Community  Theme Icon
Unrealized Dreams  Theme Icon
Black Elk is swept up into the air. He crosses over a river and sees people beneath it begging for his help to cross, but the wind sweeps him forward and he is unable to stop. Black Elk sees his “earthly people” dancing and returns to his body. Black Elk tells his people about his vision through songs, and they weep. Black Elk thinks about his vision and realizes that the six villages must represent the Six Grandfathers from his initial vision. He wonders if Wanekia might be the red man from this same vision.
Black Elk’s inability to help the people cross the river beneath him seems to reflect the disconnect between his visions (the spiritual world) and reality (the physical world). As fiercely as he believes in his visions, Black Elk’s power has yet to help his people in a lasting way—they are still starving, displaced, and persecuted. Black Elk’s remark that the red man from his initial great vision might be the Wanekia draws a line between this initial vision and the present, which he takes as proof that he is on the correct path toward fulfill the higher purpose of saving his people.
Themes
The Transformative Power of Ceremony  Theme Icon
The Loss of Culture and Community  Theme Icon
Unrealized Dreams  Theme Icon
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