Black Elk Speaks

by

John G. Neihardt

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Black Elk Speaks: Chapter 5 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
After the meat from the hunt is dried, the bands of Lakota that had come together around the time Black Elk had his vision disperse. In the Moon When the Cherries are Ripe (July), Black Elk’s band moves toward the Soldiers’ Town on the Smoky Earth River, because they have relatives there. They have a big feast on the night of their arrival at War Bonnet Creek. Black Elk’s people spend that winter by White Butte, near the soldiers’ town. It’s during this winter, when Black Elk turns 10, that he sees his first Wasichu
Until this point, the Wasichus have been nothing but a bogeyman to Black Elk. The moment that Black Elk sees his first Wasichu seems to be a turning point in his narrative, in which his world transforms from one defined by cultural richness and harmony to one consumed by the presence of enemies and conflict.
Themes
The Loss of Culture and Community  Theme Icon
One day, a boy in Black Elk’s band climbs a flagpole in the Soldiers’ Village and chop off the top of it. The Wasichu soldiers surround the pole and want to fight the Ogalalas in retaliation, but their chief at the time, Red Cloud, tells the soldiers that grown men shouldn’t fight over a child’s foolishness, so nothing comes of it. Red Cloud was a great chief, Black Elk recalls, but after he signed the treaty with the Wasichu five years prior, in 1868, he didn’t want to fight anymore.
This scene establishes Red Cloud as a chief who cooperates with the Wasichus and actively strives to dispel conflict in order to ensure the safety of his people. The treaty to which Black Elk refers is the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868, which exempted the Black Hills from white settlement.
Themes
The Loss of Culture and Community  Theme Icon
In the Moon of the Red Grass Appearing (April), Black Elk’s band breaks camp and goes to the Black Hills to cut poles for tepees. One night, Black Elk wanders off on his own and sees an eagle flying above him. For a moment, he feels like he is back in his vision. When they pass by Buffalo Gap near the Hills, Black Elk and Black Elk’s father go hunting. When they get to the top of a hill, Black Elk’s father tells him to stay back while he goes ahead. Without thinking, Black Elk tells his father to stay, as “they are bringing them to us.” Black Elk and his father are both confused by his words, but soon after, the deer come to them.
Seeing the eagle reminds Black Elk that he is supposed to see birds as his relatives. The hunting scene with Black Elk’s father demonstrates the capability of Black Elk’s visionary powers: they allow Black Elk to know where the deer are. Seeing visible proof of his spiritual power validates Black Elk’s vision and gives him hope that he will eventually be able to fulfill the biggest responsibility his vision assigned to him: saving his people.
Themes
Nature Theme Icon
The Loss of Culture and Community  Theme Icon
Alienation Theme Icon
Unrealized Dreams  Theme Icon
Black Elk feels sorry as they butcher and eat the animals, so he asks Black Elk’s father if they should offer one of them to the earth, and they do so. This is another happy summer for Black Elk. His people cut their new tepee poles and had plenty to eat. While Black Elk’s people are living at the Soldiers’ Town, a man named Watanye teaches Black Elk how to spearfish. Watanye also tells Black Elk stories, one of which was a funny tale about a Lakota boy named High Horse who had trouble winning over the girl in whom he was interested. 
Black Elk’s vision seems to heighten his sympathy toward the natural world around him, as evidenced by his desire to offer one of the deer to the earth. When Black Elk’s father agrees to his son’s requests, it proves that he accepts his son’s visionary power or affinity toward nature, even if he doesn’t completely understand Black Elk or his extreme reaction to butchering the deer.
Themes
Nature Theme Icon
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