There There

There There


Tommy Orange

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Themes and Colors
Cultural Identity vs. Personal Identity Theme Icon
Storytelling Theme Icon
Interconnectedness, Coincidence, and Chance Theme Icon
Generational Trauma Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in There There, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Generational Trauma Theme Icon

In searing nonfiction essays during There There’s prologue and interlude, Tommy Orange offers up unflinching and gruesome depictions of the violence, cruelty, and attempted genocides which have ravaged and depleted indigenous peoples all over North, Central, and South America since the 1400s. With this legacy of generational trauma to confront each day, Orange suggests, modern-day Native communities increasingly turn to substance abuse and suicide to cope with the staggering weight of inherited pain, trauma, fear, and isolation. As Orange demonstrates the ways in which generational trauma influences the cast of characters within There There, he makes a larger statement about the pain Native communities have been forced to bear over the years. Orange ultimately suggests, however bleakly, that until there is a wider reckoning with the history of colonization, extermination, and assimilation Native peoples have been forced to endure, Native communities will become trapped in a vicious cycle of more pain and suffering.

In the book’s prologue, an unnamed narrator—perhaps Orange himself—describes the ways in which Native people have been brutalized and systemically attacked throughout American history. The narrator suggests that the widespread massacres and other attempted genocidal acts, orchestrated by American settlers and later the U.S. government, is itself the “prologue” to contemporary Native life. With such terrible weight to bear, pain, anger, and isolation have become the defining hallmarks of an entire community. Through the fictional character studies that follow, Orange illustrates this thesis, and shows how many of his characters have been brought to the breaking points of their lives by the sadness, suffering, and cruelty they’ve both witnessed and endured. The ways in which generational trauma manifests throughout the characters of There There is widespread and varied. Some characters turn away from their culture, such as Opal Viola Victoria Bear Shield, while others are desperate to connect with the rituals and traditions of their ancestors, such as Blue, Edwin Black, and Orvil Red Feather. Some characters struggle with substance abuse to escape the pain of their own lives and the lives of their parents and forbears, such as Harvey, Jacquie Red Feather, and Thomas Frank, while others, such as Dene Oxendene, seek to bring even the most painful, excruciating stories to light, believing that only visibility can combat the cycle of generational trauma. All of the characters are, in their own ways, trying to find a way to understand and escape the painful legacy they’ve inherited—though few of them fully realize at first just how difficult this task will be.

In a nonfictional interlude, the narrator resurfaces to describe the desire for community and recognition that has spurred the tradition of the intertribal powwow—and to foreshadow the violence that will take place at the Big Oakland Powwow, which all of the major characters will soon attend. Just as the narrator posited the thesis of “massacre as prologue” to Native life in contemporary America, he now suggests that the bullets which will be fired at the powwow were in fact launched many miles and many years ago. The second half of the novel is focused on the ways the traumas the characters have either been ignoring or trying to abate rear their heads at the powwow, the central event around which the novel is organized. As the characters within the novel travel to the powwow for various reasons—to seek out or meet family members for the first time, to attempt to be a part of Native culture in a new way, to make or steal money, to distract themselves from the mundane, lonely nature of their lives—it becomes clear that the inevitable violence which will mark the day has its roots in the generational traumas, intercultural resentments, and desperation which form the basis of the lives of these Urban Indians living in Oakland. The violence which takes place at the powwow—and other violent events like it—are all, Orange suggests, precipitated by the ways in which Native communities internalize and replicate the violence done unto them for generations by white colonizers, oppressors, and now gentrifiers. Because America has never reckoned with the sins it has perpetrated against the Native community, there has been no healing or change. The cycles of trauma, isolation, anger, and violence which serve as a “prologue” to these acts of violence will not stop, Orange suggests, until there is a major shift in how indigenous people not just in the Americas, but around the world, are seen and treated.

The novel ends in a crescendo of violence inflicted on members of the Native community by members of the Native community. Tony Loneman, in full regalia, tries to rob members of his own community. Meanwhile, Calvin Johnson and his brother, Charles, wound or kill elders and acquaintances as they fire on their accomplices in the robbery, Octavio and Carlos. The pain that ripples through the powwow is shocking and heartbreaking, but, it is suggested, not all that surprising in the end; when Opal hears the shots ring out, she seems almost resigned to or exhausted by the fact that someone has come to kill more Native people. With violence as a “prologue” to modern-day configurations of Native communities, Orange suggests through his novel’s painful climax, only more violence—physical, emotional and psychological—will spawn until there is a shift in American culture to lend more resources, empathy, and indeed even reparations to Native people.

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Generational Trauma Quotes in There There

Below you will find the important quotes in There There related to the theme of Generational Trauma.
Prologue Quotes

There was an Indian head, the head of an Indian, the drawing of the head of a headdressed, long-haired Indian depicted, drawn by an unknown artist in 1939, broadcast until the late 1970s to American TVs everywhere after all the shows ran out. It’s called the Indian Head test pattern. It you left the T V on, you’d hear a tone at 440 hertz—the tone used to tune instruments—and you’d see that Indian, surrounded by circles that looked like sights through riflescopes. There was what looked like a bull’s-eye in the middle of the screen, with numbers like coordinates. The Indian’s head was just above the bull’s-eye, like all you’d need to do was nod up in agreement to set the sights on the tar­get. This was just a test.

Page Number: 3-4
Explanation and Analysis:

Getting us to cities was supposed to be the final, necessary step in our assimilation, absorption, erasure, the completion of a five-hundred-year-old genocidal campaign. But the city made us new, and we made it ours. We didn’t get lost amid the sprawl of tall buildings, the stream of anonymous masses, the ceaseless din of traffic. We found one another, started up Indian Cen­ters, brought out our families and powwows, our dances, our songs, our beadwork.

Page Number: 8-9
Explanation and Analysis:
Part I: Dene Oxendene (1) Quotes

“There is no there there,” [Rob] says in a kind of whisper, with this goofy openmouthed smile Dene wants to punch. Dene wants to tell him he’d looked up the quote in its original context, in her Everybody’s Autobiography, and found that she was talking about how the place where she’d grown up in Oakland had changed so much, that so much development had happened there, that the there of her childhood, the there there, was gone… […] Dene wants to tell him it’s what happened to Native people, he wants to explain that they’re not the same, that Dene is Native, born and raised in Oakland, from Oakland. Rob probably didn’t look any further into the quote because he’d gotten what he wanted from it.

Related Characters: Dene Oxendene, Rob
Page Number: 38-39
Explanation and Analysis:

[Norma] was crying. Dene […] thought about what it might have meant to her, losing her brother. How wrong it’d been that he’d left, like it was his loss alone. Norma crouched down and put her face in her hands. The camera was still running. He lifted it, pistol-gripped, pointed it at her, and looked away.

Related Characters: Dene Oxendene, Lucas, Norma
Page Number: 38-39
Explanation and Analysis:
Part I: Opal Viola Victoria Bear Shield (1) Quotes

“One of the last things Mom said to me when we were over there, she said we shouldn’t ever not tell our stories,” I said.

“What the fuck is that supposed to mean?” “I mean having the baby.”

“It’s not a story, Opal, this is real.”

“It could be both.”

“Life doesn't work out the way stories do. Mom’s dead, she’s not coming back, and we’re alone, living with a guy we don’t even know who we’re supposed to call uncle. What kind of a fucked-up story is that?”

Related Characters: Opal Viola Victoria Bear Shield (speaker), Jacquie Red Feather (speaker), Vicky, Ronald
Page Number: 60
Explanation and Analysis:
Part II: Jacquie Red Feather (1) Quotes

Jacquie kneeled in front of the minifridge. In her head she heard her mom say, “The spider's web is a home and a trap.” And even though she never really knew what her mom meant by it, she’d been making it make sense over the years, giving it more meaning than her mom probably ever intended. In this case Jacquie was the spider, and the minifridge was the web. Home was to drink. To drink was the trap. Or something like that. The point was Do not open the fridge. And she didn’t.

Related Characters: Jacquie Red Feather, Vicky
Related Symbols: Spiders
Page Number: 101
Explanation and Analysis:
Part II: Orvil Red Feather (1) Quotes

But his leg. The lump that’s been in his leg for as long as he can remember, as of late it’s been itching. He hasn’t been able to stop scratching it.

Related Characters: Orvil Red Feather
Related Symbols: Spiders
Page Number: 125
Explanation and Analysis:
Part II: Interlude Quotes

We all came to the Big Oakland Powwow for different reasons. The messy, dangling strands of our lives got pulled into a braid—tied to the back of everything we'd been doing all along to get us here. We’ve been coming from miles. And we’ve been coming for years, generations, lifetimes, layered in prayer and handwoven regalia, beaded and sewn together, feathered, braided, blessed, and cursed.

Page Number: 135
Explanation and Analysis:

Something about it will make sense. The bullets have been coming from miles. Years. Their sound will break the water in our bodies, tear sound itself, rip our lives in half. The tragedy of it all will be unspeakable, the fact we’ve been fighting for decades to be recognized as a present-tense people, modern and relevant, alive, only to die in the grass wearing feathers.

Page Number: 141
Explanation and Analysis:
Part II: Calvin Johnson (2) Quotes

Dene starts to say something about storytelling, some real heady shit, so Calvin tunes out. He doesn’t know what he’s gonna say when it comes around to him. He’d been put in charge of finding younger vendors, to support young Native artists and entrepreneurs. But he hadn’t done shit.

Related Characters: Dene Oxendene, Calvin Johnson
Page Number: 146
Explanation and Analysis:
Part III: Opal Viola Victoria Bear Shield (2) Quotes

Opal pulled three spider legs out of her leg the Sunday afternoon before she and Jacquie left the home, the house, the man they’d been left with after their mom left this world. There’d recently been blood from her first moon. Both the menstrual blood and the spider legs had made her feel the same kind of shame. Something was in her that came out, that seemed so creaturely, so grotesque yet magical, that the only readily available emotion she had for both occasions was shame, which led to secrecy in both cases.

Related Symbols: Spiders
Page Number: 165
Explanation and Analysis:
Part IV: Orvil Red Feather (2) Quotes

“Now you young men in here, listen up. Don’t get too excited out there. That dance is your prayer. So don’t rush it, and don’t dance how you practice. There’s only one way for an Indian man to express himself. It's that dance that comes from all the way back there. All the way over there.”

Related Characters: Orvil Red Feather
Page Number: 231
Explanation and Analysis:
Part IV: Tony Loneman (3) Quotes

To get to the powwow Tony Loneman catches a train. He gets dressed at home and wears his regalia all the way there. He’s used to being stared at, but this is different. He wants to laugh at them staring at him. It’s his joke to himself about them. Everyone has been staring at him his whole life. Never for any other reason than the Drome. Never for any other reason than that his face told you something bad happened to him—a car wreck you should but can’t look away from.

Related Characters: Tony Loneman
Related Symbols: Buses and BART Trains
Page Number: 234
Explanation and Analysis:
Part IV: Dene Oxendene (4) Quotes

He crawls out through the black curtains. For a second the brightness of the day blinds him. He rubs his eyes and sees across from him something that doesn’t make any sense for more than one reason. Calvin Johnson, from the powwow committee, is firing a white gun at a guy on the ground, and two other guys are shooting on his left and right. One of them is in regalia. Dene gets on his stomach. He should have stayed under his collapsed booth.

Related Characters: Dene Oxendene, Calvin Johnson
Page Number: 270
Explanation and Analysis:
Part IV: Calvin Johnson (4) Quotes

[Calvin] looks over to Tony, who’s bouncing a little—he’s light on his feet like he’s ready to dance. Tony’s supposed to do the actual robbing. The rest of them are there in case anything goes wrong. Octavio never explained why he wants Tony in regalia, and why he should be the one to take the money. Calvin assumes it’s because someone in regalia would be harder to identify, and ultimately harder to investigate.

Related Characters: Tony Loneman, Calvin Johnson, Octavio Gomez
Page Number: 272
Explanation and Analysis:
Part IV: Opal Viola Victoria Bear Shield (4) Quotes

She puts her hand over her mouth and nose, sobs into her hand. She keeps listening to see if it will clear up. She wonders, she has the thought, Did someone really come to get us here? Now?

Related Characters: Opal Viola Victoria Bear Shield
Page Number: 278
Explanation and Analysis:
Part IV: Tony Loneman (4) Quotes

Tony plays with his Transformers on the floor of his bedroom. He makes them fight in slow motion. He gets lost in the story he works out for them. It’s always the same. There is a battle, then a betrayal, then a sacrifice.

Related Characters: Tony Loneman
Page Number: 289
Explanation and Analysis: