The Native American Women’s Reflections in Johnson’s Poem “Quill Worker”

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The question relates to the representation of Native American women’s reflections as expressed in Johnson’s poem titled “Quill Worker.” The author pays tribute to the women of the Sioux tribe and the work they perform on a regular basis, including traditional textile embellishment techniques (Johnson 122). While engaging in meticulous work, Neykia, the daughter of the chief, asks herself multiple questions about the broader world and the future. Specifically, she wonders “what is beyond the border of the prairie and the sky” (Johnson 122). In your opinion, given the author’s partially indigenous heritage, what might this passage reveal about Sioux women’s position in the late 19th century?

In the said context, Brown describes freedom as the state that exceeds the scope of being physically free and incorporates the resolution of mental suffering. From his perspective, the physical side of slavery, such as the “the whip” and “the perversion of the stomach,” fades when compared to “the internal pangs of the soul” (Brown 42). Therefore, from the author’s viewpoint, fugitive freedom is, first of all, the freedom of will and something that should belong to a person by the right.

The author also theorizes on fugitive freedom as a self-reinforcing concept that increases the slave’s inner strength even before tangible changes, and he enacts the concept by relating it to the higher laws. His theory of freedom for fleeing slaves rests on “the hope of future freedom” as something that uplifts the slave’s spirit and fills his/her life with meaning and a sense of purpose (Brown 60). Being urged to consider the existing laws and escape secretly rather than voicing his right to independent decision-making explicitly, Brown enacts the concept by proclaiming the superiority of “the law of heaven” (79). However, traveling in a wooden box to reach safer places for fleeing slaves and hiding his true identity and history become a price of freedom (Brown 49). The enactment of the long-awaited freedom also takes risky cooperation with like-minded individuals intimidated by the regime.

Works Cited

Brown, Henry. Narrative of the Life of Henry Box Brown, Written by Himself. Edited by John Ernest, University of North Carolina Press, 2008.

Johnson, Pauline E. “The Quill Worker.” In E. Pauline Johnson, Tekahionwake: Collected Poems and Selected Prose, edited by Carole Gerson and Veronica Strong-Boag, University of Toronto Press, 2002, pp. 122-123.