Black Elk Speaks

by

John G. Neihardt

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Thunder Symbol Icon

The prevalence of thunder and other weather events in Black Elk’s visions and daily life reflects the significant role that nature plays in Lakota culture and spirituality. Thunder’s spiritual associations—particularly as they pertain to Black Elk’s initial vision—also highlight the book’s themes of unrealized dreams and alienation. For Black Elk, thunder is both a comfort and a source of immense anguish and frustration. On the one hand, thunder comforts Black Elk because it brings him back to his vision and reminds him that the spiritual world’s “thunder beings” are looking over his people; in this way, thunder affirms his faith in the spiritual world and validates him as a holy man and visionary. On the other hand, thunder’s association with his vision and the spiritual world frustrates him, because it is a constant reminder of his failure to enact the powers granted to him in his vision. When Black Elk hears thunder, he is overwhelmed by feelings of fear and unworthiness because it reminds him that he has done little to improve his people’s situation, despite his spiritual obligation to do so. Eventually, Black Elk’s fear of thunder and, by extension, the fear of failing his people, leads Black Elk to feel lonely, depressed, and alienated from his people. In this way, thunder symbolizes Black Elk’s higher calling as well as the psychological burden that this calling places on him.

Thunder Quotes in Black Elk Speaks

The Black Elk Speaks quotes below all refer to the symbol of Thunder. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Nature Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the University of Nebraska Press edition of Black Elk Speaks published in 2014.
Chapter 13 Quotes

I could not get along with my people now, and I would take my horse and go far out from camp alone and compare everything on earth and in the sky with my vision. Crows would see me and shout to each other as though they were making fun of me: “Behold him! Behold him!”

When the frosts began I was glad, because there would not be any more thunder storms for a long while, and I was more and more afraid of them all the time, for always there would be the voices crying “Oo oohey! It is time! It is time!”

Related Characters: Black Elk (speaker)
Related Symbols: Thunder
Page Number: 99
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 14 Quotes

The fear that was on me so long was gone, and when thunder clouds appeared I was always glad to see them, for they came as relatives now to visit me. Everything seemed good and beautiful now, and kind. Before this, the medicine men would not talk to me, but now they would come to me to talk about my vision. From that time on, I always got up very early to see the rising of the daybreak star. People knew that I did this, and many would get up to see it with me, and when it came we said: “Behold the star of understanding!”

Related Characters: Black Elk (speaker)
Related Symbols: Thunder
Page Number: 109
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Black Elk Speaks LitChart as a printable PDF.
Black Elk Speaks PDF

Thunder Symbol Timeline in Black Elk Speaks

The timeline below shows where the symbol Thunder appears in Black Elk Speaks. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1: The Offering of the Pipe
Nature Theme Icon
...which symbolize the four quarters of the universe. Black is for the west, where the “thunder beings” live. White for the north and the “cleaning wind.” Red for the east, where... (full context)
Chapter 3: The Great Vision
Nature Theme Icon
The Transformative Power of Ceremony  Theme Icon
...turns to the west and neighs, and the other horses respond with a storm of thunderous neighing. After this, the bay horse turns to the north, east, and south, and the... (full context)
Nature Theme Icon
The Loss of Culture and Community  Theme Icon
Unrealized Dreams  Theme Icon
...to south, is a good road. The black road goes from the west, where the thunder beings live, to the east, where the sun shines—this road is one of war. Black... (full context)
Chapter 7: Wasichus in the Hills
Nature Theme Icon
Unrealized Dreams  Theme Icon
...11 years old. His people have been camping in the Black Hills. One evening, a thunder cloud approaches from the west. The cloud reminds Black Elk of his vision, which upsets... (full context)
Chapter 9: The Rubbing Out of Long Hair
Nature Theme Icon
...woods and thinks about his vision, which makes him strong: he imagines his people are thunder beings and that they will defeat the Wasichus. (full context)
Chapter 13: The Compelling Fear
Nature Theme Icon
Unrealized Dreams  Theme Icon
...even pausing to take down their tepees. Black Elk hears a voice and sees a thunder cloud form, and he knows it is the spirits protecting them. As Black Elk and... (full context)
Nature Theme Icon
The Loss of Culture and Community  Theme Icon
Alienation Theme Icon
Unrealized Dreams  Theme Icon
...the Grandfathers in his vision wanted him to do; he feels bad every time a thunder cloud approaches, and he hears the thunder calling on him to “make haste.” The coyotes... (full context)
Chapter 14: The Horse Dance
The Transformative Power of Ceremony  Theme Icon
Unrealized Dreams  Theme Icon
...Grandfathers before him in the cloud, as well as himself on the bay horse. A thunder cloud emerges and it begins to storm in the distance, but only a “little sprinkle”... (full context)
Chapter 15: The Dog Vision
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
...when he turns 18 years old. The winter is hard for Black Elk because the thunder beings, who have become “like relatives to [him],” won’t return until the spring. He feels... (full context)
Nature Theme Icon
The Transformative Power of Ceremony  Theme Icon
The Loss of Culture and Community  Theme Icon
Unrealized Dreams  Theme Icon
...riding sorrel horses and shooting arrows at dogs that have appeared from the dust while thunder beings cheer. Suddenly, the dogs’ heads turn into Wasichu heads. The vision ends, and a... (full context)
Chapter 16: Heyoka Ceremony
The Transformative Power of Ceremony  Theme Icon
...Elk to perform the heyoka ceremony. Black Elk compares the heyoka ceremony’s function to a thunder storm: Thunder storms are terrifying when they occur, but after they’ve passed, “the world is... (full context)
Chapter 26: Author’s Postscript
The Loss of Culture and Community  Theme Icon
...the midst of a drought. Black Elk tells his son Ben that if there is thunder, it will be proof that he still has some remaining power. (full context)
Nature Theme Icon
The Loss of Culture and Community  Theme Icon
Unrealized Dreams  Theme Icon
...opportunity to help his people. Suddenly, clouds form in the sky and it begins to thunder and rain. Black Elk cries silently, and the sky clears. (full context)