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Chapter 31: Hen Apples
Alice, Taylor, and Turtle are driving to Annawake's office. Taylor and Turtle just arrived to the Cherokee Nation. Taylor drops off Alice and Turtle at a fast food restaurant, so that she can talk to Annawake alone for a few minutes. When Taylor finds the office, Cash is there with Annawake, who explains that Turtle's adoption was conducted illegally and that the fate of her custody must be decided by tribal jurisdiction.
Cash and Taylor begin to talk about Turtle. He tells a story about a day when he was playing with her and she said "hen apple" referring to an egg. He has a picture of his daughter Alma as a little girl and it looks just like Turtle. Taylor then tells the other two that Turtle was badly abused when she found her, and Cash admits that he thinks it was his other daughter's boyfriend who was abusing her. Taylor responds by saying that she has let Turtle down, too. To Annawake's disbelief, she lists all the ways she believes she has not been a good mother. Turtle and Alice arrive then, and when Turtle sees Cash, she reaches out her arms to him, recognizing him immediately.
Chapter 32: The Snake Uk'ten
Taylor and Turtle meet with Andy Rainbelt, the social worker in the Child Welfare office. When questioned about her family, Turtle tells him she does not have one. Many more of Taylor and Turtle's struggles come out in the interview. Taylor feels awful, but Andy reassures her that he can tell by Turtle's mannerisms that they love each other deeply.
Later that day, Alice and Taylor go for a walk. Alice has told Taylor that she broke up with Cash. Taylor guiltily tells her that she and Jax have talked and that she feels ready to be committed to him for the long-term. Naming people as "family" is important, since otherwise people are free to walk away whenever they want.
In just a half hour, Annawake has to give her recommendation regarding Turtle's case to the tribal council. Her Uncle Ledger, when asked for advice, tells the story of King Solomon from the Bible, with Native American characters: A child long ago was claimed by mothers from two different tribes. When the spirits above suggested that they send the snake Uk'ten to cut the child in two, they knew that the mother who gives up the child before seeing it split in half, loves the child most. Annawake throws her shoe at Ledger when she realizes he told her a story from the white man's Bible. He tells her that she has a good heart, and will do the right thing.
Chapter 33: The Gambling Agenda
The tribe and the Greers are meeting to decide Turtle's case. In the front of the room, the agenda from the last meeting, which concerned gambling on tribal lands, is still on the blackboard. The tribe, on one side of the room, is full of gossip and chitchat. When Annawake speaks, she tells everyone that Turtle's adoption was illegal, and that Turtle has been recognized as Cash's granddaughter. She talks about how Cherokee people have to think of the interest of their community in addition to the interest of an individual. She and Andy are recommending that Cash be Turtle's legal guardian, but the Taylor maintains joint custody of the child. Turtle would have to visit the Nation at least three months out of the year.
When Annawake is finished, Cash gets up and suggests that he marry Alice, so that Turtle could visit her grandmother during her visits to the Nation. The crowd goes berserk, and finally Alice gets up and says she will never marry someone in love with his television. Cash suggests they all go over to his house to "witness something."
On the way, Taylor begins to feel all she has lost, but also is curious to see what will happen next. In front of the whole community, Cash swings his rifle up over his head, and breaks his T.V. Alice gets ready to extend her family of women to include a man.
Taylor's humble concession in Annawake's office demonstrates the way in which her character has changed, and anticipates the story that Uncle Ledger tells Annawake before the tribal council meeting. Taylor loves Turtle enough that she is willing to do whatever she can to give her the best life possible. Although it is clear that Taylor believes the choice is to have Turtle stay with her, Taylor also realizes that she could use a larger support structure. While Taylor is hard on herself, the novel itself does not condemn her, does not judge her as an inadequate mother. Telling a good portion of the story from Taylor's vantage point reveals to us that all of her actions are unselfish—she is working as hard as she can to provide for Turtle, and their hardship is mostly a result of the custody battle.
Andy Rainbelt's kind persona foreshadows a fulfilling end to the novel. His character can be thought of as a softer version of Annawake's. Although he too considers the interest of the tribe, his job is to address the needs of children, and he immediately makes Turtle feel comfortable and cared for. The meeting in his office foreshadows a decision that will leave Turtle feeling secure and happy.
The King Solomon story adds an interesting element to the final events in the novel. Although Ledger does not have any advice to give Annawake, he tells a story that is not Cherokee in origin, but was borne out of Western culture. This story should be thought of as a counterpart to the Cherokee's "Pigs in Heaven" story. In the end it is just another way of telling parents to be good to their children. More than anything, the story focuses Annawake's attention on the great display of love that her case involves. Both sides want Turtle, but neither wants to sacrifice the child's welfare for a favorable outcome. The story also encourages Annawake to be able to see both sides of the custody issue, as it is a story that does not belong to the Cherokee people. Ledger's choice suggests that he wants Annawake to think about her situation from someone else's vantage point.
The T.V. is an important symbol in this final section. The television is a manufacturer of loneliness in many ways. For Alice, it is the object that hinders her relationship with men. Perhaps more importantly, the T.V. makes promises that it can never fulfill. It was a T.V. culture—a culture of glitzy marketing—that led Cash to Wyoming, to work for the tourist trade. The reader remembers also the T.V. in Angie Buster's hotel room, where Taylor and Turtle watched representations of Indians that had nothing to do with real life. This false image is symbolically destroyed, now that Taylor and Turtle are included in the real life of the Cherokee Nation for good. Harland's comment at the beginning of the book that anything you want to see or do, you can watch on T.V. is totally unraveled by what Alice has found in the Cherokee Nation.
The decision made at the tribal council was in a way a victory and a loss for each party. The novel refuses to choose one over the other. The novel concludes inside Alice's consciousness, as she thinks about her upcoming marriage to Cash and the way her family is transforming. Interestingly, the novel also began inside Alice's head. Her consciousness frames the book—she has the first and last word. The reader should think about this authorial decision in terms of the book's moral scheme. Alice found her place in the world when she began to experience Cherokee life and culture. At the same time, she was true to her daughter till the end. She never would have claimed that anyone else could provide Turtle a better life.
Alice is thus the ideal mediator between both worlds. Even in the first chapter, when she wallows in her loneliness, she imagines Taylor and Sugar both—two women who make her feel less alone, one her Caucasian daughter, the other her Cherokee cousin. Alice's character is thus consistent with the book's decision to value both lifestyles equally. Although white America has been the perpetrator of horrific atrocities against the Cherokee people, Taylor is not guilty by association; her goodness cannot be undermined because her race has caused so much suffering. At the same time, Taylor has to concede something to the tribe that has already lost so many of its members to a world more tyrannical and more powerful. The novel, therefore, does not allow Annawake or Taylor the last word. Instead, it ends in the Alice's thoughts, where a new kind of family configuration is possible.