“Neither Wolf Nor Dog” Literary Analysis: Bridging the Cultural Chasm

“The beauty of the world lies in the diversity of its people.” (Unknown). Attempting to really connect with people who are a part of an entirely different culture than your own is a very difficult thing to do. Whether they belong to a different religion, ethnicity, or race, connecting with people who are not the same as you can be surprisingly challenging. However, if you are able to accomplish this feat, it can be an immensely rewarding experience. In Neither Wolf Nor Dog by Kent Nerburn, Kent is ultimately successful in bridging the cultural gap between Native American and White culture. This was certainly no easy task, but Kent is able to accomplish this by hearing what Elder Dan has to say, seeing things from a Native American perspective, and participating in Native American traditions and culture.

Kent first began to close the cultural gap through talking with Elder Dan and truly coming to understand what he had to say. Elder Dan provides Kent with a very large amount of information about Native American culture. Elder Dan wishes for Kent to help him write down his thoughts and experiences into a book. In order for the book to be written, Dan needs to get Kent to understand the reasoning behind his philosophies and ideas. Elder Dan often gives speeches, and discusses with Kent many different topics, including the past and present hardship faced by Native Americans and his hopes for the future. “I’m just trying to tell you how it was for us.” (Nerburn, 42). Elder Dan informs Kent on a variety of subjects, such as Native American history, ideals, and traditions, but mainly his hopes. “I pass to you my vision, even though I cannot pass to you my knowledge.” (317). In talking with and listening to Elder Dan, Kent is given an opening into authentic Native American life, which helps Kent to learn about more about Native American culture by having him meet different Native Americans and by telling him about Native American beliefs, along with elder Dan’s personal views. Spending time with Elder Dan is the introduction to Kent learning what is essential to understanding the reality of Native American culture beyond his preconceptions.

The next way Kent is able to understand and connect to Native American culture is by learning to see things from a Native American perspective. At first, Kent is at a loss to how he can even begin to write the book, since he believes he will never be able to complete the book how Dan wants it to be written. Kent is able to overcome his uncertainty by suddenly coming to the realization that the issues he is currently facing are nothing compared to all of the hardships Native Americans have endured and have overcome. Once Kent begins to see the world from a Native American point of view, he starts to see the need for the story to be told, “…neither could I ever again look at the lives and works of my Indian brothers and sisters as object lessons for my education and edification.”(3). Kent is able to better empathize with Indian culture once he has a better perspective on their views. “Your eyes are different Nerburn. You are looking farther.”(64). Once Kent gains insight into the views of Native Americans, he able to better see their perspective on life and the world, and so is able to better connect with their culture.

The final way that Kent bridges the cultural gap is by participating in Native American traditions and culture. Many of the Native Americans that Kent meets are skeptical of him, because they believe that he is a White man who is only observing Native American culture for his own gain. Part of the way that Kent is able to overcome this distrust is by genuinely partaking in Native American traditions, such as the giving of tobacco. “When you gave Grover the tobacco, he had to stop bullshitting” (41). Doing so proves that Kent authentically wishes to unobtrusively be a part of Native American Culture not for his own benefit. This establishes trust between Kent and the Native Americans. When Kent visits the Battle of Wounded Knee gravesite with Dan, he participates in a four directions ceremony, and smoking the tobacco pipe helps him experience and express his true feelings. Doing so helps Kent to connect to Native American feelings of loss and sorrow, establishing a mutual link between the two. After this experience, Elder Dan says to Kent “Give me your hand. We are brothers” (317). The ceremony resulted in a tangible bond. Participating in the ceremony helped Kent as White connect to Native American feelings of loss. Regardless of the cultural difference, this ceremony helped Kent better understand Native Americans through taking part in their grieving.Because of the trust Kent establishes by listening to Elder Dan, regarding life and the world from a Native American perspective, and participating in Native American traditions and culture, Kent is able to bridge the gap between the two different cultures.

Slowly through trust, mutual understanding, and acceptance on both sides, Kent is able to narrow the cultural chasm between White and Native American culture. As a result, Kent Nerburn was able to complete Neither Wolf Nor Dog, a very successful and profound book which has had an extremely beneficial impact on his life and the lives of others, including his readers, both White and Native Americans, along with many others touched by his work.

Works Cited

Nerburn, Kent. Neither Wolf Nor Dog: On Forgotten Roads With an Indian Elder. Novato, CA: New World Library, 1994. Print.