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The Vanishing American

Updated: Mar 30


Zane Grey

1925


Grosset & Dunlap, New York


308 sad pages for some dark winter nights



Overview:

A tragic tale of one Native American's struggle with his tribe conforming to the American invasion, and his tormented love of a white woman.





Summary

Nophaie is a young shepherd boy, tending his sheep out on the lonely desert of the Southwest. He is happy and content with his task, and enjoys the solitude and the beautiful land and sky that surround him. One day, a group of white men ride upon him and, wanting meat, take the boy and his sheep with them. After two days of riding, they let him go and he is soon picked up by a group of white travelers. One of the women decides to take him back to the East and educate him. Given the name 'Lo Blandy', he excels in academics and sports. He meets Marian Warner, and they fall in love, though largely kept secret. Nophaie decides to return to his native tribe after eighteen years and asks Marian to join him as a teacher, which she does. They continue to keep their romance secret, knowing local authorities will not approve and may cause trouble. Nophaie tries to help his tribe adjust to the increasing encroachment of white men in their lives, but meets with little success. Mr. Morgan, a vile missionary, has a local ordinance passed that requires school-aged children to attend his church. Marian, suspecting his bad intentions to one particular Indian girl, Gekin Yashi, plots with Nophaie to kidnap the girl and remove her from the danger. However, Gekin Yashi is found and returned to the school and church, though eventually, she runs away. Nophaie goes into hiding to avoid being arrested after a physical assault on the missionary and the local agent of Indian Affairs. Soon after, the United States enters into WWI, prompting Nophaie to enlist. After the war, he returns to his home finding his tribe more impoverished than ever and suffering with the Spanish flu epidemic that is killing many. Gekin Yashi is discovered with a half white baby, but both die of the disease. The Indians begin a revolt, but Nophaie rides hard for many days to catch up to them to stop their intentions to kill the white men in authority. Nophaie, who had been to his sacred place and found spiritual peace, dies of exhaustion in the arms of Marian.


Review

Zane Grey is an established and popular author by the time he writes The Vanishing American. The book is a testament to his talent as a writer, though not necessarily as a story teller. The author relies heavily on eloquent prose, turning landscapes and sentiments into poetic soliloquies, yet falls short to create an engaging narrative. The story itself is nothing but the tragic tale of how the Native Americans were treated at the turn of the 20th century. Corrupt officials, wicked missionaries, and dishonest ranchers are the abusive characters that contrive to steal land and devoid Native Americans of their culture.


This book is not really a 'western'. It's a 'tragedy'. The injustice and despair of the Native Americans' situation portrayed in this story is depressing and wretched. Even the romance is tragic, as the two forlorn lovers meet infrequently and understand their forbidden love is doomed. Their despairing goodbyes are many. The hero, Nophaie, is in constant agony - he is not white, yet after eighteen years in the East, he can no longer think like an Indian. He struggles between his Christian upbringing and the God of his native people. Adding to the anguish in reading this novel is the knowing that it is based on truth.


Grey's original version was deemed too anti-Christian by some groups and he was required to make revisions, including Nophaie's spiritual resolution of the Christian god and his Native American god. This is the one light in the story - Nophaie's visit to his sacred place that leads him to spiritual peace before he dies. Perhaps also Nophaie's opinion that forced schooling for the children had more benefits than disadvantages, in particular personal hygiene as a way to combat disease.


I'm sure that Mr. Grey's intentions were to bring to light this maltreatment, and pay tribute to a people he had much respect and love for. The book is essentially one long dialogue on the state of the Native Americans and their struggle to survive and adapt to the new world of the white man. The title says a lot.


To The Author's Credit:

Mr. Grey's ability to bring out the beauty, the mystery, and the brutality of the desert is remarkable. One has to assume he spent much time there. He paints an alluring portrait over and over without redundancy. I personally feel compelled to go over there right now and check it out for myself.

Also, he gave us a heroine with great strength, courage and endurance. A nice feature in 1925, and most likely influenced by being originally written as a series in the Ladies' Home Journal.


To the Author's Discredit:

Dialogue and action are relatively sparse. In twenty pages you might get one short scene and the rest description. Also, the story is too dark. There is no humor and very little adventure to counter this pessimism, perhaps intentionally. I found myself getting depressed reading it - the truth hurts.


The story was originally published as a series for the Ladies' Home Journal. In this original version, Nophaie dies of the Spanish flu after much effort in helping his tribe members with the disease. Marian goes to view his body and discovers it has turned white instead of the usual black.


In the 1925 novel, reviewed here, Nophaie survives his bout with the flu and dies in Marian's arms apparently of exhaustion after stopping the Indians from their intentions of killing the minister and Indian Affairs agent.


In the 1982 edition, Nophaie survives and the story ends with him and Marian planning to marry. This version came to publication by the efforts of his son, Loren Grey, to restore the version his father had originally written for the 1925 novel. At the time, the editors didn't think the public was ready to accept an inter-racial marriage, so a different version was published without Zane Grey's knowledge or consent.



A Sample of Grey's writing:


The sage was a carpet of purple, fragrant and sweet, through which breathed the low and soft sigh of the wind.


The gleams of melted frost, sparkling and pure, were the teardrops of his mother...


The overcast sky broke but slightly in the west, and that only enough to send a faint rose color to the tips of the great white towers. The long slow twilight was one of the strange and beautiful features of this Canyon of Silent Walls.


And seemingly the whole quarter of the west swelled and bulged into a superb mountain, rising to a dome of black timber and white snow. Away to the northward rose the dim, faint outline of a red-walled desert chaos.


...with something liquid in its depth... (describing Nophaie's voice)


She hated the drinking and smoking of women, the unrestrained dances, the lack of courtesy, the undeniable let-down of morals. Marion felt the futility and falseness of such life - that the threshold of decadence had been crossed. (The heroine's reason for leaving the city, and the author's complaint of the [1925] modern world.)





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