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Analysis of the Short Story a Man Called Horse

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This research project takes a closer look at one of the works of American contemporary author Dorothy Marie Johnson. Her novel A Man Called Horse would go on to draw international attention and takes Johnson’s career to the next level. This research comes from multiple databases within GFHS Bison Library including biographies, critical reviews, the adaptation to film, and some videos/movies. To better my understanding of my writers’ motivation, her purpose, and how her unique style emerged over time, I also compared it to other stories that she has written. The focus of my research was gathered by those internal and external forces of influence. That guides johnsons choice of style of characterization, theme, and tone.

Dorothy Marie Johnson was an American author born December 19, 1905, in McGregor, Iowa. Johnson started her writing career as young as age of six years old, she wrote a short story titled “Jacks Lily.” Her briefest story ever, was only a few sentences long, mainly because “it was just too hard to spell” according to Johnson. By the time she was ten she had mastered her spelling challenges and was writing poetry. By 1920, she was a high school sophomore in Whitefish, Montana, Her writing skills had developed so well that she was made the “personal editor” of the school yearbook. Some of Johnson’s biggest influences were her mother and father because both of her parents were trained as teachers, her father Lester Eugene Johnson was born in 1870 in Albion, New York, and raised in McGregor on his parent’s farm. Her mother Louisa Barlow Johnson, born in 1879 in North McGregor, sailed through school with honors and, although too young to receive a teacher’s certificate, was awarded one anyway because of her outstanding record. Her father was a very ill man with many different conditions that led him to quit his job and homeschool his daughter and after his death in 1915, Dorothy began a series of odd jobs to support her family and most importantly for a college education. She became an English major at the University Of Missoula. Johnson worked closely with professor Harold G. Herriam, recognizing that she was very talented, Merriam encouraged Johnson to write and publish her poetry to the campus literary magazine, The Frontier. After a nervous breakdown, it caused johnson to leave college for a year and a half. She eventually graduated in 1928.

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In her story, A Man Called Horse the literary devices used is sensory language, imagery, and indirect characterization. The literary devices she uses further improved the quality of the story. During the story, Johnson uses indirect characterization in many places for example she says” He was a young man of good family, as the phrase went in the new England of a hundred-odd years ago, and the reason for his bitter discontent were unclear, even to himself, He grew up in the gracious old Boston home under his grandmother’s care, for his mother had died in giving him birth, and for all his life he had known every comfort and privilege his father’s wealth could provide. But there was still the discontent which puzzled him because he could not even define it.” (cite). This improves the story because it gives it more detail and more descriptive about the man in the story and truly shows his beforelife. Another literary device that johnson uses is sensory language, for example, she says “two girls lived in the tepee with the old Hag and her warrior son.” this just makes the story more intense and more meaningful about how the man felt about the people he got stuck with. The last literary device used was imagery, johnson was very descriptive in her writings and was very detailed as well. An example of this is “ his captor let him go, at last, let him run. Then the lot of them rode him down for sport, striking him with their coup sticks. They carried the dripping scalps of his companions, and one had skinned off Babtistes black beard as well.” this adds a whole lot of graphic details to the story that shows how unique Johnson’s writings were and how her connection with the native American culture made her writing that much more special.

Johnson’s writing had lots of critical reviews, there was a lot of hate but also a lot of people who enjoyed it. One critic from New York Times says,” A Man Called Horse is conventionally absurd.” (cite) The critic is wrong, the story is very detailed and has a moving message towards the readers. The story may be fictional but contains lots of historical facts and informed the readers of the native American culture during these times. Another critic Lisa Fry Dresdner says “This is the west, Sir. when the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” (Cite). The critic is right about the fact Johnson’s literature is well praised and deserving of attention. She captures the true picture of life in the West. In my opinion, I would say that Johnson wrote a very good story. She really showed how the Native Americans and the white people differed and her writing style has the ability to entertain the reader. Dorothy johnson did everything on her own and was not influenced by the critics which are what made her a great author. 

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