Anna Lee Walters wrote “Buffalo Wallow Woman” to show that it is easier to label a woman representing traditional cultures as insane rather than try to understand her. This woman is trapped in a mental ward because she is different from the doctors and nurses, but the only thing she wants is to escape. Tommy Pico presents a slightly different issue with the way Native Americans are viewed in “Nature Poem.” As a Native American, he is expected to cherish nature and write about it. Instead, he prefers to write poems about what inspires him, for example, city life. A common theme in “Buffalo Wallow Woman” by Lee Walters and “Nature Poem” by Pico is misconceiving the identity of people from traditional cultures.
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Buffalo Wallow Woman
In “Buffalo Wallow Woman,” Lee Walters tells a story of an elderly woman who is locked in a mental ward. There is an apparent inconsistency in the way this woman views herself and the way the society, which is represented by the hospital staff, sees her. In the beginning, this woman shares her plans to leave the hospital because she does not like this place. She sees and hears wild animals and looks for her clothes (Lee Walters 104). As this is a mental ward, the medical personnel does care for what this woman is saying. For instance, when she shares her intentions to leave, one nurse replies, “Mrs. Smith, you don’t want to hurt our feelings, do you?” (Lee Walters 104). In spite doctor declaring that the woman has a bad heart and no one to care for her, which is why she has to stay at the hospital, he fails to recognize that she is not insane and behaves in a normal way for indigenous culture.
The woman’s name reflects the difference in the way she perceives her identity and the way others see her. The woman refers to herself as the “Buffalo Wallow Woman,” while the hospital staff calls her “Mrs. Smith” (Lee Walters 104). Lee Walters contrasts a common surname with the name of a Native American. Although “Buffalo Wallow Woman” describes a person trapped in a mental ward, the story shows the inconsistencies in how the Anglo society views the indigenous people. A good symbol representing these differences is the woman’s moccasins, which are old and in patches, yet they take her to the places where she wants to be (104). She cannot find these shoes as she searches her ward and the floor, which shows that this symbol of her identity does not belong in the hospital, it is not welcomed there.
One can see the differences between the two cultures even in the way the Buffalo Wallow Woman speaks. She greats people by asking, “do you come with prayers?” (Lee Walters 106). Although this may appear strange to the doctors, she merely acknowledges their presence with these words, and they fail to recognize this by thinking that this greeting is a part of her illness. Another example is this woman talking about people’s souls rather than their physical presence. For instance, she meets a man in a hall, and they “stare into each other’s souls” (Lee Walters 107). Hence, the language that Lee Walters uses is another element showing the issue with the way traditional cultures are perceived.
In this story by Ann Lee Walters, the woman of traditional culture is viewed as mentally ill because of her desire to reunite with nature and her appreciation for it, which others do not understand. If one were to abandon the thinking patterns and try to understand this woman, they would see that she is not insane. What makes her look insane are the parts of Native American culture, which the doctors and nurses do not understand. Due to this, the Buffalo Woman feels as if she is a ghost, which symbolizes her being present but unnoticed by others. The main idea of this work is reflected in the woman’s words: “I am the one suspended here, but he acts trapped too” (Lee Walters 106). Unlike the word that this woman describes, the doctor is a strange creature for her, who makes her feel unsettled. The only person who recognizes the woman’s struggles and wants to hear her instead of dismissing her is Tina. Notably, Tina and the Buffalo Wallow Woman share culture, which is why Tina can recognize the things that the woman talks about instead of labeling the latter as insane.
Tony Pico’s “Nature Poem” is a story about stereotypes and perceptions of traditional cultures that people use to misjudged others. Unlike the story by Ann Lee Walters, “Nature Poem” was published relatively recently, in 2017. Similarly, “Nature Poem” shows the issue of identity and stereotypes that are used in this society to judge people from traditional cultures. Pico writes about being tired of the association between the Native American culture and nature, and he does not want to write about it. When viewing this work in contrast to Ann Water’s short story, one can see the evolution of the traditional culture and the misconceptions about it. Pico is a modern individual, but because he is Native American, he is expected to write about nature, although he prefers the city. He writes: “Ugh, I swore to myself that I would never write a nature poem” (Pico 1). Thus, Pico recognizes society’s expectations linked to his descent and wants to show the flaws of labeling people’s identity based on their descent.
The writer confesses that he cannot write about nature, and this should not be an issue because Pico should be free to choose a theme and inspiration for his work. Pico states, “I can’t write a nature poem,” and “I wd slap a tree across the face” (2). Then, he proceeds to describe a scenario with a man Pico meets at a bar, which is the type of nature the author wants to write about. Hence, there is a clear parallel between what is expected from a Native Indian author—being close to nature and writing about it, and what Pico truly is inspired to write about. Although he is a Native Indian, his identity goes beyond that label. With this poem, he declares that a writer, or any other person, should not be bound to one thing that society recognizes as a symbol of this community.
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Nature represents Pico’s identity since he is expected to write about forests and beaches. Yet, he is fascinated by cities and people and chooses to write poems about things that are a part of his identity. Moreover, Pico uses slang in his writing, making language an essential element that supports the theme of his work. For example, Pico writes, “bc,” “ppl,” and “NDN” instead of “because,” “people,” and “Native American” (2). This choice of words supports the theme of Pico being a modern individual with his distinct character and preferences that should not be constrained by his Native American heritage.
Common Theme in “Buffalo Wallow Woman” and “Nature Poem”
The failure to recognize the traditional culture’s differences when compared to the culture accepted by a broader society causes suffering to the representatives of these communities. The woman in Ann Lee Walter’s story does not want to be trapped in a mental ward. Her identity is lost and unrecognized by the hospital staff. Similarly, Pico does not want to be constrained by an image of a Native American author.
In summary, the “Buffalo Wallow Woman” depicts the misconceptions and failure to recognize the difference between the Ango and traditional cultures. The woman is trapped in a mental ward because she behaves in a normal way for the Native American culture. This is shown through the symbols, such as her shoes or her referring to herself as a ghost, and the use of language, such as how this woman greets others and talks about their souls. Pico’s “Nature Poem,” published years after “Buffalo Wallow Woman,” shows how misconceptions and stereotypes do not allow Native American people to explore and establish their identities. They are labeled as individuals who love nature and are connected to it deeply, although they may have different interests and desires.
Lee Walters, Anna. Buffalo Wallow Woman. Firebrand Books, 1992.
Pico, Tommy. Nature Poem. Tin House, 2017.