Pushing the Bear by Diane Glancy

pushing the bear book cover

In an author’s note, Diane Glancy tells of attending a performance of The Trail of Tears in Tahlequah in the late 1970s.  She later traveled along the route that thirteen thousand Cherokee followed in 1838 after being forced to abandon their farms in several Southeastern states.  These encounters with her father’s heritage set Glancy on an eighteen-year process of researching and writing this novel.

The sight of an old Cherokee pot, partially reconstructed from fragments, suggested a structure for the novel.  How else to tell the story than through the imagined voices and real documents of some who marched?  The march proceeds, state by state, from North Carolina to the Indian Territory, with maps to indicate the way taken.  While a large number of characters speak, the narrative centers on one North Carolina couple, Maritole and Knobowtee, and their families.  Through the wife, we are drawn into both the weaknesses and the resources of strength that hardship and deprivation can stimulate.  Through Knobowtee, we learn much about the political history, the trail of broken treaties and agreements that led to this awful journey.  The bear bein g”pushed” is a force which resists and even kills the travelers.  At the same time, some of them survive by becoming more like the solitary bear.

As they trudge toward the Indian Territory, beset by cold and sickness, the Cherokee debate whether they should or could have done something else at some point and why they suffer so unjustly.  Such questions, along with the anxieties about the future, stimulate a dialogue setting white man’s Christian-based answers and self-serving actions against the Cherokees’ own traditional stories and beliefs.

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