Analysis Of Gertrude Bonnin's The School Days Of An Indian Girl

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When it comes to determining the identity of an individual, there are a few simple things that typically influence that assumption. The way one may speak or where they’re from, the types of things they like to do or hear or eat. While grander choices and decisions play into this identity, it is truly who one chooses to be on an average day that forms this mold. Gertrude Bonnin’s memoir The School Days of an Indian Girl focuses on her changing sense of self after being placed in a boarding school. No longer was she allowed to keep all of the little things that created her identity, the simple day-to-day habits that made her who she was up to that point. The schools fundamentally changed many Native American youths and anything that would have…show more content…
The nature of these boarding schools was to assimilate young Native Americans into American culture, doing away with any “savageness” that they’re supposedly predisposed to have. As Bonnin remembers the first night of her stay at the school, she says “I was tucked into bed with one of the tall girls, because she talked to me in my mother tongue and seemed to soothe me” (Bonnin 325). Even at the beginning of such a traumatic journey, the author is signaling to the audience the conditioning that she was already under. Bonnin instinctively sought out something familiar, a girl who merely spoke in the same “tongue” as her. There are already so few things that she has in her immediate surroundings that help her identify who and what she is, that she must cling to the simple familiarities to bring any semblance of comfort. Furthermore, many children like Bonnin had to say goodbye to their language, their religion, their traditional clothing, even things as trivial as their long hair. These elements were markers of a different culture that was not the predominant culture they were expected to be a part of now. Recalling an early incident in which her hair was sheared off abruptly, Bonnin remarks “and now my long hair was shingled like a coward’s…. now I was only one of many little animals driven by a herder” (Bonnin 326-327). In her upbringing, long hair was a symbol of bravery and power. Someone with short hair was considered a coward and had deserved to lose this symbol of respect. With this in mind, one can see how despicable this event was for Bonnin. Instead of being able to identify herself with something as simple as her community’s hair traditions, now Bonnin is unrecognizable. Bonnin speaks to this loss of self when she mentions being a part of a group of animals led by the herder. There is no individuality in a
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