Braiding Sweetgrass

by

Robin Wall Kimmerer

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Themes and Colors
Reciprocity and Communalism Theme Icon
Indigenous Wisdom and Scientific Knowledge Theme Icon
Gifts, Gratitude, and Responsibility Theme Icon
Motherhood and Teaching Theme Icon
Animacy and Value Theme Icon
The Indigenous Past and Future Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Braiding Sweetgrass, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Reciprocity and Communalism

In Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer portrays the natural world—which includes human beings—as a living network of reciprocity, of constant giving and receiving. She begins with the Haudenosaunee creation story of Skywoman, who fell to earth and was then helped by the animals to create a land for all to share, immediately illustrating the Indigenous worldview in which people and nature are part of the same communal system. The primary message introduced here…

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Indigenous Wisdom and Scientific Knowledge

Robin Wall Kimmerer is both a member of the Potawatomi nation and a distinguished professor of botany and biology. Throughout the chapters of Braiding Sweetgrass, she tries to unite these two sides of herself: her Indigenous heritage and its traditional culture, and the expectations of scientific objectivity that she finds in academia. She realizes the potential conflict between these two when she first goes to college to study botany, only to find that her…

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Gifts, Gratitude, and Responsibility

If the best way of interacting with the natural world is through a lens of reciprocity, as Braiding Sweetgrass asserts, then this is best exhibited through the way that Kimmerer thinks about gifts, gratitude for those gifts, and the responsibilities and relationships that accompany the giving and receiving of gifts. Kimmerer explains how the earth gifts people with food, shelter, and beauty, and each individual being offers its own gifts as part of this. Our…

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Motherhood and Teaching

Braiding Sweetgrass contains many autobiographical details about Robin Wall Kimmerer’s own life, particularly as they pertain to her work as a mother and teacher. She first introduces the idea of motherhood with the creation story of Skywoman, who was pregnant when she first fell to earth. She also often references her own daughters, Linden and Larkin, and her struggles to be a good mother to them. Throughout the book, Kimmerer connects the…

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Animacy and Value

As part of its project to present humans as just one aspect of a living community of reciprocity, Braiding Sweetgrass also attempts to reframe readers’ perspectives of what has animacy and value. Animacy, or the idea of sentience and aliveness, is given only to humans in most Western languages—for example, capitalizing the names of people but not of animals (unless the animal is named after a person). This inherently sets humans as separate and above…

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The Indigenous Past and Future

Robin Wall Kimmerer is a member of the Potawatomi Nation. Throughout Braiding Sweetgrass, she references the history of Indigenous Americans while also considering what it means to be indigenous at all, and how such ideas can help us build a better future. She doesn’t shy away from the tragic history of Indigenous Americans once European colonizers arrived, but she also emphasizes their resilience and strength despite exploitation and genocide. Braiding Sweetgrass suggests that while…

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