Morning Girl

Dialogues

Morning Girl is the story of a Taino girl and her brother, told in alternating first-person chapters from each of their perspectives. The setting is Hispaniola, near the time of Columbus' first landing. Michael Dorris, who received the Scott O'Dell Award for historical fiction for this book, has presented a fictionalized recreation of what life may have been like for Taino children before Columbus arrived. Though it is catalogued as children's and young adult fiction, it is enjoyed by all ages.

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Morning Girl is a young Taino girl who 'dreams too hard' at night, and therefore wakes early every morning. This early waking is why her family calls her Morning Girl; and she loves the beginning of the day, saying, 'If the day starts before you do, you never catch up.' One of the lovely things about this young girl is what she says about her approach to treading on the world: 'I try to step lightly on the path so the sounds I make will blend into the rustle of the world.' She also goes on to say, 'You'll see more if youÕre quiet.' Her interests are apparently in complete opposition to those of her younger brother, Star Boy, who lives for the black of night and loves to look at stars. Their rivalry and opposition play out as the pleasant and common sibling friction that so many children endure the world over.

Star Boy is different than his sister: he likes the night. His sister says he 'see[s] everything so upside down.' He says, 'The first night I woke up and noticed that everyone was invisible, I held perfectly still and disappeared.' When he finds out his mother is pregnant with what she believes will be a girl, Star Boy is distraught, miserable, hoping instead for a brother or, at the very least, a parrot. But his mother insists that itÕs to be a girl, to Star BoyÕs deep chagrin. He concludes,'ÔIf it's another sister, IÕll leave and go someplace else.' The story traces some of what the customs and habits of the Taino (sometimes referred to as Arawaks) might have been, and also what a hypothetical family may have been like. Star Boy and Morning Girl both are growing up, finding out things about their own personalities that they like, finding things about the other that they don't like. They vie for attention. They resent attention given to the other by the parents. In short, they are children: human children. Their families have families, and they get together as familes do.

Near the end of the story, Morning Girl sneaks down to the ocean to go for an early morning swim. There is the noise of something, which proves to be a canoe full of Europeans, whom she sees and thinks are immediately funny for their hot and cumbersome clothes. But she doesnÕt laugh, thinking to herself that it's impolite to laugh, and that she does't want the visitors to think her people are foolish because her actions are foolish. She greets them with friendliness and generosity, a sentiment echoed in Columbus' journals and in A People's History of the United States.

  Notes

The Taino in this story are portrayed as generous and friendly to strangers, just as they were said to be by Columbus and his men. Often, the natives of the West Indies were portrayed as brutal, cannabalistic savages - like the Caribs in Robinson Crusoe.

A young Spanish priest named Bartolome de las Casas was along for some of the West Indies colonization, and more specifically the conquest of Cuba. In A People's History of America, he is quoted as saying that in the year 1508, 'there were 60,000 people living on this island [Cuba], including the Indians; so that from 1494 to 1508, over three million people had perished from war, slavery, and the mines. Who in future generations will believe this?'(Zinn, 7).

Star Boy's hoping for a parrot may be an echo of Bartolome de las Casas' journal, which stated how, 'two of these so-called Christians [Spaniards] met two Indian boys one day, each carrying a parrot; they took the parrots and for fun beheaded the boys.' (Zinn, 6).

The word 'Taino' is the name the people gave themselves. In their language, it means 'good' or noble'.

In an article in College English entitled 'Native American Literature in an Ethnohistorical Context', Michael Dorris said, 'By far the greatest volume of fiction pertaining to Native Americans has been written by non-Natives.' He also went on to say that, 'White writers almost invariably portray Native American cultures as fragile, deteriorating entities, teeterting on the brink of extinction.'

The Tainoes are thought to be descended from the South American Arawak people, and are often grouped together with them in historical context.

  Links

www.anthro.mankato.msus.edu/cultural/southamerica/arawak.html - an excellent source of background information of the Arawaks

  Teaching

Do you think it is fair to fictionalize historical events like Dorris did in Morning Girl? How does this question relate to George Orwell's statement, 'Whoever controls the past controls the future'? Finally, who do you think controls the past in America, in your state, in your city, and in your classroom?

Star Boy and Morning Girl have names given to them as a result of their personalities and hobbies. What do you think of the naming system in the Taino culture?

A recurring theme in the story is change (names change, the arrival of a sibling, and the hurricane). Talk about these events as they relate to the ending of the book - about the implied and understood massive change about to sweep through the Taino society.

Compare Michael Dorris' and Columbus' portrayal of Arawaks and Tainoes with the descriptions given to West Indies natives in Robinson Crusoe. What differences do you see, and why do you think there are differences.

  Citations

Dorris, Michael. Morning Girl. New York, United States: Hyperion, 1999.

Zinn, Howard. A PeopleÕs History of the United States. New York, New York: HarperColllins Perennial, 1995.

 

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