Garden in the Dunes Essay

With the use of exciting narrative and interesting characters Leslie Silko creates a compelling story. Silko brings up many thought-provoking controversies and theories through-out her novel such as greed, religion, and one’s relationship to our planet Earth. In her novel, Garden in the Dunes, the Sand Lizard people live a more content and satisfied life because of the giving and receiving relationship they have with Earth, as well as their ability to adapt physically and emotionally to the people, the environments, and the situations that surround them. Because of the giving and receiving relationship the Sand Lizards have with the earth they are never greedy with money and are always satisfied with what they have, unlike American Society.

                As children, Sister Salt and Indigo learned the ways of the Sand Lizard people from their mother and their grandmother. Nearly each lesson stemmed from one thing: respecting Mother Earth and the animals that lived on it. One of the many lessons they learned was that of the grandfather snake. Not disturbing it or its habitat was important. “Grandmother Fleet talked about the snake many times because he was almost as old as she was, and the spring belonged to him. All desert springs have resident snakes. If people killed the snakes, the precious water disappeared. Grandma Fleet said whatever you do, don’t offend the old snake who lives at the spring” (Silko 36). Grandmother Fleet teaches the sisters that the land near the spring belongs to snake, not to the people, but to the snake. The lesson of the snake is mentioned again later in the novel when Indigo remembers how her grandmother would thank the snakes. “At the spring above the dunes lived the biggest snake, very old—the water was his” (Silko 299). Again it is mentioned that the land and the water at which the snake lives belongs to the snake. This is one of the many lessons we see that shows the give and receive relationship they have with the earth.

The Sand Lizards know that they can’t have everything and that they must share with the Earth and its creatures. This is a much a different approach than many Americans characters demonstrate in the novel. Susan, Edward’s sister is a good example of this. Her relationship to the land and its gardens are much different than that of the Sand Lizards. Instead of having a garden that provides food, Susan’s garden is merely for looks, attention, and a good reputation. The garden is grown purely for selfish causes, and because of this Susan is never truly satisfied. “She wanted a natural garden filled with color—an English landscape garden with swaths of flowers in all colors from the bright to the shade.” The irony is that even though Susan wants a natural garden it is totally unnatural and man-made to suit her desires. Although Susan isn’t necessarily destroying anything, she is trying to recreate something that cannot be re-created.

Destruction to the land is commonly found throughout the novel. Later in the novel Indigo and Sister Salt journey to an old friend of their grandmother’s, but when they get to their destination no one is there. All of the peach and apricot trees that were once there have been chopped down. Sister Salt finds a shriveled apricot on the ground and a feeling of grief overwhelms her.

“…she was overwhelmed by the loss of something that fed so many hungry beings as the orchard had—at the destruction of something as beautiful as the peach and apricot blossoms in the spring. If this was what the white people did to one another, then truly she and the Sand Lizard people and all other Indians were lucky to survive at all.” (Silko 61)

Sister Salt mourns over the trees as though they were people she once knew. She associates the destruction with trees with what the white people could just as easily do to her people or even their own people.

                Another scene of destruction takes place much later in the novel when Sister Salt goes with Big Candy, her lover, to the construction site where he works. “Sister was shocked at the destruction she saw below: the earth was blasted open, the soil moist and red as flesh…The river had been forced from her bed into deep diversion ditches, where her water ran angry red” (Silko 211). In this passage the earth is personified. This makes it sound as though it is a war scene and a man has been shot or blown up and is bleeding. The vivid imagery of the soil being like flesh and the water being angry and red connects the reader to the land in a similar way that the Sister Salt connects to the land through seeing the shriveled apricot.

Later, the greedy and selfish people at the construction site suffer from their behavior. When they are drunk and break out into a large fight, Delena, a friend of Sister’s, sneaks in and robs them of all their money. Big Candy seems the most affected by his lost money. Sister Salt lost all of her money as well, but when she points this out to Candy he refuses to sympathize for her.

“Sister could tell by the expression in his eyes he blamed her and the twins because they were friendly with the woman. She pointed out she had lost everything too, but Big Candy’s face was rigid with anger…At that moment he wasn’t the man she knew; he was someone different. He wanted to know what she knew about the dog circus woman and where she might have gone from here. When she shrugged, he looked as if he wanted to strike her but managed to hold his temper.” (Silko 385)

In that moment, Sister Salt’s lover and friend is totally transformed because of money. A man who was once loving and fun has now turned angry and greedy. Big Candy leaves Sister Salt and his son without a good-bye preoccupied by his desires to find the woman with dog circus who stole his money. His choices come with a price, as later he realizes his faults and feels terrible for leaving Sister Salt and his child. “He woke crying but he had no tears; he failed the Sand Lizard girl when the baby was born…Poor Sister! He let her down when the baby was born and now all the money she’d saved was gone too” (Silko 420).

                Sister Salt and Indigo make-do with what they have while the Americans prove to be the exact opposite. Americans view that they never have enough and always want more. Delena proves this difference on page 352, “If money was what interested Delena, then she came to the right place because money was all anyone here ever thought of except for her.” Nearly everyone at the campsite except for her and her twin friends are greedy. Sister Salt has been around Americans long enough to realize that is all the Americans seem to care about is money. In contrast, Sister Salt stays satisfied with what she has. She takes joy out of the simple things that don’t cost her any money, like exploring sex and her body as a young woman or making friends with other young women at the camp.

For Edward, the husband of Hattie, Indigo’s care taker at the time, nature is his route to making money. When Edward comes across a rare plant, fame and money are the first things that come to mind. “They’d be just the orchid to win over the public…Flowers of the gods! He could imagine the ads in magazines now” (Silko 371). Edward has a take, take, take relationship with the earth, along with other American characters in the book. This prevents him from understanding Sister Salt and Indigo’s ecological view about Earth.

When Laura, a host for Hattie, her husband Edward, and the Sand Lizard girl during their travels, gives Indigo seeds Edward thinks, “It seemed a bit ludicrous for Laura to pretend the Indian child would ever plant the corm or seeds, much less perform the pollination process for hybrids, even if she did take notes on all the necessary steps” (Silko 303). He automatically assumes that Laura is ignorant and knows nothing of the Indians. He also assumes Indigo is ignorant and won’t know how to take care of the plants. He is ignorant of Indigo’s intimate knowledge of the seeds and the land. Throughout the book Indigo shows her enthusiasm about the seeds. For the Sand Lizards seeds, are sustenance and have real-world value, not just profit value. Because of their precious value Indigo is excited to show Sister Salt all the seeds she gathered and the instructions she wrote for them (Silko 285).

Even though botany is a hobby of Edward’s, his greed gradually causes him to stray away from his original work that he enjoys. His constant want for money leaves him unhappy and unsatisfied, although he most likely does not notice it. Being totally disconnected from the people and world around him, all he can think about his work and what his next plan is. This makes it hard for Hattie, his wife, to reach him.

“Later, after the lights were out, they lay awake side by side in the bed, careful not to touch each other, and talked in low voices so the child did not awaken. The marriage was over, she said. He gave a loud sigh, but did not reply. That was a sigh of relief, she thought angrily, but had to admit she felt a great deal of relief herself. Still, she cried when she recalled their engagement and the high hopes they’d both had.” (Silko 330)

The path Edward takes in his life leads him to the end of his marriage, and lead him to an unexpected death at a fairly young age.  “When the priest left, they allowed her to stay alone with him; his breathing was in slow labored gasps and she reached down to take his hand in hers …Moments later his breath left him in three loud snores” (Silko 427).

Sister Salt and Indigo get separated in the novel and are tossed into many different situations they have to handle on their own. The two Sand Lizard girls are good at adapting to people, environments around them, and difficult situations well, while never straying away from the traditional ways of the Sand Lizard people.

Because they are strong and stay true to their values they never find themselves following in the footsteps of the Americans. For example, once Indigo has been living with Hattie and Edward for some time, she realizes that she is starting to look like a white girl. “As she washed her face and brushed her teeth, Indigo studied her dark face in the oval mirror of the washstand and laughed at herself because she realized she was forgetting how dark she was because all around her she saw only lighter faces. Grandma Fleet would really laugh and Sister Salt probably would pinch her and tease her for becoming a white girl, not a Sand Lizard girl. She didn’t care” (Silko 285). Instantly afterwards, she thinks of the seeds and how excited she is to bring them home with her. Indigo may be dressing like a white girl, but she will always be a Sand Lizard.

Shortly after Indigo goes with Hattie and Edward she leaves the house they are staying into get some fresh air and be outside. Indigo never stays inside for long. While she is outside she gets mistaken for a different Indian girl and gets taken to an Indian family by a white man. Although Indigo struggles to escape once she realizes it’s no use she gives up. She accepts the state the situation that she is in. Once she is brought to the family and the family tells him that she’s not theirs, the white man doesn’t know what to do with her. The family tells him she can stay there until the people she was with find her. Indigo adapts to her setting right away and almost acts as though she is willing to stay there if she must (166-170 Silko).

When Sister Salt first becomes sexually active she considers people’s opinion on sex before marriage. She worries what the religious people might think of her. Sister knows they don’t approve of sex more before marriage. After a little thought, she decides their opinions don’t matter to her.

“Sister Salt never cared much what other people thought; she never minded the taunts of the churchgoers—Indian or white—who pursed their lips anuslike to spit insults at her…churchgoers…forgot Jesus loved the prostitute Mary Magdalene and called her sister. Jesus knew there could be no peace without love-why didn’t the churchgoers remember that?” (220 Silko)

Sister is strong and confident with herself; she wouldn’t be able to adapt so well if she wasn’t. When she realizes that she is pregnant she is not afraid. She shows her independent spirit and bravery. When it is time to have her baby, she gives birth on her own, even biting the umbilical cord, and lies their courageously accepting death if it may come to her.  “She smelled blood as she cradled the dark sticky mass in her arms before she bit through the cord that connected them…She was still bleeding, and the cramping did not stop, and she thought, My Sand Lizard grandfather has come to take me home” (341 Silko). She accepts situations in her life as they come to her, never worrying much about the past or the future, knowing what she must do in that moment to live, be happy, and hopefully someday find her sister and her mother.

In conclusion, Silko teaches us to live simply and be grateful for what we have. Indigo and Sister salt set a good example for us to follow. She also communicates to us as readers that are important to discover who we truly are and want to be. She emphasizes how important is to stay to true to who we are and want we want in life. There are many paths in life, we must choose wisely.

Works Cited

Silko, Leslie. Garden in the Dunes. New York: Simon & Schuster, Inc., 1999. Print.



I’ll post more when I’m done with finals I swear! I’ll actually blog stuff over winter break. I won’t be so busy with school and I’ll have some time. I’ve just been too busy lately to do much with my blog…