Black Elk Speaks

by

John G. Neihardt

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Black Elk Speaks: Chapter 4 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Black Elk regains consciousness in his family’s tepee, surrounded by his parents. Although his body is still swollen, he’s no longer in pain. His parents tell him he’d been sick for 12 days, but that Standing Bear’s uncle, Whirlwind Chaser (who is a medicine man)  cured him. Everyone is glad that Black Elk has recovered, but he’s sad to no longer be in the world he saw in his vision. He’s also afraid to tell anyone about it because he doesn’t think they’ll believe him.
Black Elk’s homesickness for the spiritual world he encountered in his vision and his fear of telling anyone about what he saw there shows how having a higher purpose or spiritual calling can alienate the empowered from others.  Power becomes a psychologically burdensome responsibility.
Themes
Alienation Theme Icon
Unrealized Dreams  Theme Icon
Whirlwind Chaser tells Black Elk’s parents that there is something special about him. Black Elk is worried that Whirlwind Chaser knows about his visions. By the next morning, Black Elk’s swelling is gone. As he walks around his village that day, he feels like a stranger among his people.
Black Elk seems to hold his vision responsible for his physical recovery, implying that the vision gave him some kind of strength. When Black Elk says that he feels like a stranger among his people, he suggests that he can no longer relate to them after having had his vision. 
Themes
Alienation Theme Icon
Unrealized Dreams  Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Black Elk goes out one day with the bow and arrows that Refuse-To-Go made him, and he imagines that they are the bow and arrows given to him by the first Grandfather in his vision, which makes him feel foolish. Just as Black Elk is about to shoot a bird, he remembers that the Grandfathers in his vision told him he was to be relatives with the birds, so he doesn’t shoot. Black Elk walks down to a creek, shoots a green frog, and feels sad afterward. Standing Bear interjects, verifying that Black Elk was different after he recovered from his illness, that he behaved more like an old man than a boy.
When the Grandfathers tell Black Elk to be relatives with the birds, they mean that he is to treat the birds as equals, again demonstrating the respect and reverence the Lakota have for nature. Black Elk’s decision not to shoot the birds shows how seriously he takes his vision. It also shows how often he thinks about the vision and how significantly these thoughts affect the way he interacts with the world around him. Standing Bear’s observation that Black Elk behaved like an old man after recovering from his illness is further proof that the spiritual wisdom Black Elk acquired in his vision caused him to feel psychologically distant from his people.
Themes
Nature Theme Icon
Alienation Theme Icon
Unrealized Dreams  Theme Icon
Black Elk continues with his narrative, describing a hunt his people go on that distracts him and the other villagers from his strangeness. One morning, the crier alerts the village that they will break camp because there were many bison nearby. Black Elk rides near the back of the group, and they make their way up a hill. He’s reminded of walking up the red road in his vision.
That Black Elk sees the hunting party’s road as the red road of his vision is evidence of Black Elk’s propensity to project his vision onto the world around him. He is so invested in his vision and in fulfilling the duty it gave to him that he overlooks what’s in front of him in the present moment.
Themes
Alienation Theme Icon
Unrealized Dreams  Theme Icon
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Standing Bear recalls killing his first grown bison on this hunt, which occurred in the Moon of Red Cherries (July). Black Elk isn’t old enough to hunt, so he watched and cheered on the others. The people butcher the bison and head back to camp. Everyone is happy about the great hunt; they sing and dance all night, and the children play games.
The Lakota follow the bison hunt with singing and dancing, which shows how significantly ceremony and ritual factor into even comparatively mundane practices, like procuring food.
Themes
Nature Theme Icon
The Transformative Power of Ceremony  Theme Icon