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Diane Glancy's Sacajawea Character Analysis, or Two Interpretations of Stone Heart

Interpretation by Ann McKenzie

“They call you Bird Woman… You listen to their voices” (Glancy 32). With words such as these from the novel Stone Heart: A Novel of Sacajawea, '''Diane Glancy''' recreates the voice of Sacajawea, the Shoshoni woman who traveled with the Lewis and Clark expedition of 1804. Throughout the novel, Glancy includes excerpts from the Lewis and Clark diaries alongside her fictional narration of Sacajawea during the cross- continental journey from Fort Mandan, in present day North Dakota, to the Pacific Ocean and back. Sacajawea's otherwise barely documented role in the historical journey is brought to life through Glancy's interpretation of what a journal by Sacajawea would look like. Like winding roads that curve and so expand distances, the elements of Sacajawea's words through song and speech are as important as her silence and listening. When these two kinds of expression cross paths, they form Sacajawea's character.

It is not obvious throughout the novel that Sacajawea spoke with Lewis and Clark often during the journey. However, when she does speak, a power is pushed through her voice that other people respond to. Early in the journey, Sacajawea asserts to herself, “A song comes to you, but you do not sing it for them. You know the song has medicine” (Glancy 33). Glancy implies that Sacajawea recognizes that vocalizing thoughts and feelings is a form of giving away part of herself; at this point of the novel, however, it is not apparent that Sacajawea trusts the explorers to share in the power of her song. Perhaps Sacajawea is figuring out her role on the expedition, wondering if any of these white men would even listen to her song. Miles of river later, after translating with her native Shoshoni to obtain horses for the mountainous portion of the journey, Sacajawea realizes how much the exploration party needed the horses to cross the mountains and so needed her. When the party reaches the Pacific Ocean, Sacajawea's attitude towards the explorers changes: “You think you are something the explorers need. You sing to Jean Baptiste. You know the men listen. The song is for them also” (Glancy 107). Sacajawea was not only needed by the explorers for horses, but Glancy also shows the comfort and morale that a female presence brought to the expedition. The phrase, “the men listen,” is important in that throughout the novel the men are busy writing, observing, working, but for this moment Sacajawea is not the one listening. Instead, the men pause to listen to her.

Throughout the novel, Sacajawea's voice is a force with impact, which grows stronger as her character gains experiences. Sacajawea's voice is anticipated when Lewis and Clark find the Shoshoni tribe, and Sacajawea must translate at the council meeting: “You have not spoken in council before. Women are not allowed. Lewis tells you what to say” (Glancy 71). How unnerving an entrance to her old tribe, to return as one able to speak in council. However, it is Lewis who knows what questions need to be asked, not Sacajawea; she finds herself as simply a translator speaking someone else's words, lessening her influence on the tribe. Later, at the Pacific Ocean, the men find a beached whale. Even though Sacajawea has traveled for some time with the explorers, they do not ask if she would come with to see the whale. Enraged, Sacajawea states, “You insist you go with them” (Glancy 101). Using her own words, erupting from intense feelings, Sacajawea shows that she is capable of making her demand. Rarely does Lewis mention the native woman with his party, yet Lewis comments in his journal on the determination Sacajawea had to see the whale (Glancy 101). Like the changing of the seasons, Lewis notes the change in Sacajawea as she realizes her vocal presence on the journey.

Just as Sacajawea's character forms through her voice, Glancy also portrays the Shoshoni woman through her thoughts on silence. A power is felt in the early morning fog: “The earth is a presence. A place that has breath” (Glancy 53). The image of a living earth commands respect. Recognizing the fog in the early morning, Sacajawea understands the soft sighs are also capable of becoming a raging storm. Sacajawea not only hears her surroundings; but during the silences, she listens. Often Sacajawea is aware of the pawing and stomping “ghost horses” that allude to death possibly nearby. During a dust storm, the party takes cover in tents. Surrounded by these white explorers, Sacajawea listens to the storm: “It is dust from the feet of the ghost horses. Sometimes you know they are stirring the land. There is a change you do not want, but there is nothing you can do” (Glancy 30). Perhaps Sacajawea realizes that because of Napoleon's sale of the Louisiana Territory to the United States, and the explorers' insistence that, “With their language they say it is theirs,” that the land will be measured, mapped, and staked (Glancy 13). Sacajawea has seen by this point the influence the explorers have on the native tribes. The ghost horses of the dust storm allude to the uproar and shake up the land will go through when Native and European cultures clash. Sacajawea listens to the storm from inside the tents and understands what is to come.

In recreating Sacajawea's voice, Glancy makes her character become more powerful throughout her journey. Glancy says that she herself found this multidimensional character by traveling: in the Afterword, she explains, “If there is something that could be called the creative consciousness of a continent, it is in the land, which is a containment of the voices that have crossed it. It is where I picked up Sacajawea's voice” (Glancy 152).

Sacajawea's voice was in the moving water and towering mountains. Glancy creates a partnership of verbal and silent cues that flow freely together to form Sacajawea's personality and spirit; they are beautiful on their own, but link together to complete her character.

Interpretation by Sarah King

The novel Stone Heart, by Diane Glancy, creatively examines the role of Sacajawea in the Northwest exploration headed by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. Glancy imagines Sacajawea from the historical documents, primarily using the personal journals of Lewis and Clark. Sacajawea is a strong willed and loyal yet somber woman who struggles to find her identity in a changing environment. Sacajawea recounts the path she has traveled: “Once you were Shoshoni, then Hidatsa, then Charbonneau. Now you'll speak horse in Shoshoni for the white man” (13). Stating that she was Shoshoni, she was Hidatsa, now she will travel with the white men. Sacajawea does not have a strong bond with any of the groups she has lived with. The brief time spent with each group leaves her unable to establish an identity with any one. It becomes evident that she identifies herself by who she lives with, rather than where she is from.

Sacajawea misses her Shoshoni family and resents the Hidatsa for kidnapping her. The trauma of being ripped from her home and the knowledge that her tribe did not fight for her has scarred Sacajawea. The experience stays with her: “At night when Toussaint sleeps, you cry as you feed Jean Baptiste. You remember how the Hidatsa ripped you from the stream” (74). By losing her family, she has lost the first connection to her identity. Her only connection to her original family is Otter Woman, another of Toussaint Charbonneau's wives, through whom she clings to her past—as a Shoshoni.

Upon returning to the Shoshoni village, Sacajawea relives the trauma of her childhood: “You dream your legs are oars. You are rowing, running from the Hidatsa. It's the ghost horses you see again. They take you from the Shoshoni. You cry in a place the men cannot see.” (66) Sacajawea's dream evokes fear and sadness. This is the first place in the novel that the reader sees emotion from Sacajawea. Lewis's account of Sacajawea's reaction upon returning to the Shoshoni village verifies that she did not openly show emotion:

“Sah-cah-gar-we-ah o[u]r Indian woman was one of the female prisoners taken at that time; tho' I cannot discover that she shews any immotion of sorrow in recollecting this event, or of joy in being again restored to her native country; if she has enough to eat and a few trinkets to wear I believe she would be perfectly content anywhere.” (66)

Sacajawea reasons that the incident served a greater purpose: “You see how the Maker might have allowed you to be taken. Something larger was coming. The white men who would take your land. They are here now. You choose to go with them. You choose to follow” (74). Sacajawea was taken from her first home, but she chose to leave the Hidatsa and become Charbonneau's wife so she could retain her ties to Shoshoni through Otter Woman.

The desire to stay with Otter Woman shows Sacajawea's loyalty, but also her dependence on others. Her changing identity is linked to her provider. While recognizing that her husband is not the most respected or intelligent man, she asks herself “What would Jean Baptiste and you do without Toussaint?” (65) She does not appear to be in love with Charbonneau, but she is loyal to him for being her provider.

“You come upon another tribe who are afraid of the explorers. The women and children cry. They are inconsolable because they have never seen white men. Then they see the Shoshoni men and women and you pass with them. They see Jean Baptiste.” (75)

Sacajawea has assimilated with the group for the sake of survival. She does not recognize that she is one of them, but she is a part of their group. Sacajawea does not include herself with the white men or “the Shoshoni men and women” (75). This further illustrates the identity crisis she is having. Jean Baptiste is presented separate from the other groups too.

Many of Sacajawea's identity issues are present in her concern for her son and his personal identity. Sacajawea questions: “Will Jean Baptiste be cut away from his people too? Jean Baptiste is as much of them as he is of you. Who are his people? He is Shoshoni and French. He lives-among-others-not-of-his-kind. He has become all of them” (133). Sacajawea sees an imminent identity crisis in her son, similar to that which she faces now. Just as she contemplates what it means to be out of her native community and traveling with white men, she worries that “Jean Baptiste does not know what it is to hear the voices of women and children. How will he know-to-be-with-others-of-himself?” (61) Sacajawea has her past, her origin in the Shoshoni village. Jean Baptiste is born into a different situation; his parents are of different ethnicities. Sacajawea predicts that his identity will be harder to define. However, Sacajawea wishes for “Jean Baptiste to be like Clark…to have patience. Fortitude. Resolve” (134). Unlike her French husband, Clark is educated and respected. She sets a standard for her son; she desires for him, who is half Native American and half French-Canadian, to be American.

A large part of identity is derived from the name something or someone is given. The white men rename the area where the Mandan live: “With their language they say it is theirs” (13). Not only do they name places they rename Sacajawea “Bird Woman. The strands of your hair move like feathers, they say” (29). The Americans not only name the land, they rename people thus changing their identity. Sacajawea states that “the men call Jean Baptiste Pompey. You are not sure what that means, but they tell you he was a warrior in another land. You hear the men say his name, Pomp. Pomp” (38). Their affection toward the child is a way of embracing him as one of their own. However, by taking away Jean Baptiste's first given name the explorers are changing his identity. Sacajawea recognizes this as a parallel to the identity change imposed on her when she was taken from the Shoshoni.

Throughout the adventure with the explorers, Sacajawea struggles with her own identity. A pivotal point in her journey occurs when she returns to the Shoshoni village. Her brother calls her by her first given name and “Something inside you breaks; you cry. He says your name in Shoshoni, Boat Pusher” (71). She is Boat Pusher and the name rings truer upon her return than it did before she left. That moment is when she realizes that she will always be Shoshoni, no matter with whom she lives or to where she travels.