When Legends Die Summary Essay Outline
Borland’s When the Legends Die is mostly a man’s story, in that the main focus of the novel is on the development of a young boy into manhood, and, in the process of his growth, the main voices heard are masculine. However, there are minor female characters. The least significant of these female roles are the flirtatious young women or prostitutes who are used mainly to indicate to Thomas that he has emerged from puberty. More noteworthy are four more prominent women who represent various aspects of mother figures. Each of these four women appears in a well-defined and separate time frame and reflects the various stages of maturity as the protagonist Thomas Black Bull progresses from youth to full adulthood.
The first chapter of When the Legends Die is titled “Bessie,” referring to the biological mother of Thomas Black Bull. Bessie is a strong woman. She is also a Native American who is familiar with the traditional ways of her tribe. Although she has adjusted to reservation life, as well as to life in a small white community, she is capable of selfsufficient living in the wilderness. Bessie raises Thomas in his earliest years in an environment that is affected by a mixture of Native American culture and white society. However, when Thomas’s father gets into trouble with the law, Bessie teaches Thomas how to live in nature without the benefit of relying on others to provide him with the rudimentary elements of physical survival, such as food and warmth, or without the more light-hearted enjoyment of psychological pleasures, such as social education and entertainment. Thus Thomas learns to hunt and gather wild berries in order to satisfy his hunger, to build a protective lodge and maintain a fire to endure the bitter cold, to memorize the ritual songs and stories of his ancestors to improve his mind, and to make friends with the animals to provide a sense of kinship.
Bessie nurtures Thomas both physically and emotionally. She creates his foundation. By teaching him to survive in nature, she has given him a home to which he can always return. Bessie has also provided Thomas with a history, a connection to the past. Through the songs and the stories that she teaches him, Bessie provides Thomas with roots that give him a sense of self. Thomas’s mother also teaches Thomas respect for life. Through her, Thomas learns to honor the plants and animals that provide him with nourishment. To waste life frivolously, Bessie shows him, is the worst crime of all. Bessie is his birth mother. She establishes in Thomas a sense of self, his first identity.
Unfortunately for Thomas, Bessie dies while he is still very young. Although he is more capable of taking care of himself than most young people his age, the elders who live in the social communities around Thomas believe that the young boy needs guidance. Whether it is because the men do not themselves know how to survive in the Frederic Forrest (front) as Tom Black Bull and Richard Widmark as Red Dillon in the 1972 film adaptation of When the Legends Die wilderness or because they want the boy to conform to the society in which they live, the men conspire to take Thomas from his wilderness home and bring him back to the enclave dominated by white society. Although Thomas is self-sufficient, he is not physically strong enough to rebel against these men, nor is he savvy enough to understand their motives. With his mother gone, Thomas has no one to explain these new developments to him. So he is cast into a world of men who want to socialize and baptize him, as well as to capitalize on him. Thomas is taken to a school organized by white people to educate, and thus control, the native population. He is tricked into coming to this school by Blue Elk, a fellow Ute tribesman, who tells Thomas that the children and other people at the school need and want to learn the traditional ways that Thomas’s mother taught him. When Thomas arrives at the school, of course he discovers that this is not true. The school is there solely to teach Native American children how to exist in white society. Thomas’s anger explodes in fistfights with anyone who comes near him. His world has been quickly transposed from one of balance and mutual respect to one of aggression and common distrust. On a symbolic level, he is taken from the feminine and forced into the masculine.
The world of the school is not devoid of women. There is one teacher, Rowena Ellis, who is Thomas’s English teacher. She is one of the few people at the school who speaks Thomas’s native language. Rowena, the narrator states, is also the supervisor of the girls’ dormitory. She is described as unmarried, gray-haired, plump, and in her forties, and she represents an “unofficial mother to every shy, homesick boy and girl in the school.” In other words, Rowena is the universal surrogate mother. Her full figure and gray hair even push her into the realm of grandmother, a sort of double-cast mother figure.
Connecting Rowena more strongly to a mother figure, Borland, in one of the first few words that Rowena and Thomas share, has Rowena encouraging Thomas to learn English by saying, “Your mother would tell you to learn these things.” A few sentences later, Rowena asks Thomas to tell her about his mother. During a conference with some of Thomas’s other teachers, Rowena is the only one who acknowledges Thomas’s emotions. While the men see a defiant child, Rowena tells them that Thomas is doing well, learning more than he lets on. She also tells them that he is an “unhappy boy and hard to reach, but he learns fast.”
Thomas rebels even more drastically, and eventually he runs away from the school. Once he...
(The entire section is 2328 words.)
Legend is told from the perspective of two leading characters: Day, a renegade from the streets, and June, an elite student at Drake University and the Republic's shining prodigy. Day is a criminal on the run for stealing from the Republic and making the government look foolish. In the beginning, he's watching his family from afar (they think he's dead) and he sees that his house has been marked with a strange cross. This signifies that they have the plague. Because of this, Day decides that he has to go steal plague medicine from the hospital for his family.
At the same time, June is attending Drake University and has completed three years even though she's only 15. Her parents are dead, so her brother, Captain Metias Iparis, raises her. He tells her that he's going to go on a mission that night to oversee the lab shipments at the hospital. While he's there, Day breaks in and doesn't find any plague medicine.
He runs into Captain Iparis and stabs him in the shoulder before escaping, leaving Iparis wounded. Meanwhile Thomas, the other soldier in Metias's regiment, appears at June's door to tell her that Metias has been killed. She goes to the hospital in a haze of grief, where Commander Jameson lets her see the body and tells her that June's going to graduate from college early and will become a part of the military immediately. Her first task will be to hunt down Day, which she readily accepts.
Day wakes up in a strange man's house. His friend Tess brought him there so that he could recover from his injuries, but they have to leave right away when they hear that someone is asking around and looking for him. The person apparently says that he has plague medicine and will give it to Day if he meets with him.
Day knows it's a trick, but he still has to ask around—just in case he can get information on how to find the cure. He asks a cute bartender named Kaede and gets details about where the mysterious person is saying the meeting spot will be.
He goes to the meeting spot and talks to June briefly, though they both hide themselves. From the brief conversation June gleans that Day is probably from the Lake sector and goes there in disguise as a street beggar. She runs into Tess and Day during a fight when she saves Tess, though Kaede stabs June. Day and Tess take June in but she doesn't tell them her name. She and Day start to get closer and closer—even getting a little romantic—though she doesn't know his name either.
One night they kiss, and after Day falls asleep she sees him grab at his neck even though there's nothing there. That's when she realizes that the boy she's just kissed is the one she's been hunting down this whole time. The next morning she follows him as he goes to visit his family—which confirms that someone in his family does need plague medicine.
She calls Thomas and they set up a raid at his family's house to capture him. When June tells Day that the soldiers are coming to get his family, he falls right into her trap and rushes to save them. He's too late though, and they surround the house. When he doesn't come out right away, Thomas shoots his mom in the head and Day rushes out screaming. He also realizes that June was the one who set him up. What a bad, um, day.
When Day comes to again, he finds that he's in custody. His brothers John and Eden are also in custody. Commander Jameson, Thomas, and June start to interrogate and even torture Day before his sentencing date—at which point he's scheduled to die by firing squad. All the while, June is starting to have doubts about whether or not it was right to take Day into custody. She feels bad about his mom, and she also believes him a little when he claims that he didn't kill Metias.
The truth eventually comes out when June reads Metias's journals. It turns out he left a secret message for her that leads her to his blog; in it he chronicles how he found out that the government engineers the plagues and that their parents were killed by the government. She realizes that Thomas was the one who killed Metias after all. It wasn't Day.
With this realization, June decides that she can't support the Republic anymore. She has to help Day escape. To do so she enlists the help of Kaede and Tess who are both wary of her but decide to join in. During the entire time that Day has been locked up, the crowds have started rioting and the Republic is nervous. June and Day are also getting closer, and Thomas is getting a little suspicious. Because of this, Day's execution date is moved up and June has to carry out her escape plan before they're fully ready.
When they bust out at the last minute, they almost get caught—but John rushes in to swap out with Day because he looks almost exactly like Day. June and Day escape, but John is executed in place of Day, and the Republic reports it that way. In the end, Day and June decide that they're going to go to the waterfront together and get Eden. After that, they'll travel into the Colonies and join the effort to fight against the Republic.