Summary: Cast of Characters

The novel opens with a list of twelve key characters, each of whom is the focus of at least one chapter of the book. The entries include some basic information about the character’s age, relationships, and tribal affiliation.

Summary: Prologue

The prologue contains an essay about Native American experiences in North America, detailing the genocide and dehumanization Native Americans have received since white settlers arrived in the fifteenth century. The unnamed narrator starts with a description of the Indian Head test pattern used between television broadcasts in the twentieth century and follows with specific, historical examples of atrocities committed against Native Americans. He describes the first “thanksgiving” land-deal meals, one of which ended when 200 Native Americans “dropped dead that night from unknown poison.” He talks about the dismemberment of Natives and how white people often displayed Native American heads (and other body parts) as medals of honor.

The author discusses the portrayal of Native Americans in society and the way their culture has been appropriated for entertainment in the United States. In well-known movies, Natives have been saved by whites, killed by whites, and often even played by white actors. Native Americans are depicted on logos, mascots, flags, jerseys, and coins without consent. The narrator shifts to describe urban life and what it means to be an Urban Indian, or a Native American born in the city. Urban Indians feel more at home in large metropolises than they do in nature, and the narrator asserts that not all Native Americans are trying to return to their ancestral land.


The inclusion of a Cast of Characters at the novel’s outset helps to prepare readers for some of the challenges presented by There There’s lack of a central narrator. The chapters jump, sometimes with no connection, between narrators who have different perspectives and priorities. The list also sketches important relationships between characters, showing how substance abuse and family dislocation have fractured these connections. Orange presents tribal affiliation as a fundament feature of each character’s identity, emphasizing that the very different characters in this story are united and yet multifaceted. The suggestion that they are a cast, as in a movie or a play, foreshadows the film project Dene Oxendene undertakes to document Native experiences.

The Prologue takes a similarly multi-faceted narrative approach, using US history and culture as the subject. In a series of short historical accounts, readers learn of the violence done to Native Americans, literally through massacres and figuratively via cultural appropriation, from 1621 to the present. Where the Cast of Characters focuses on individuals, the Prologue explores the violence that generalization makes possible, using a TV test pattern that combines all Indigenous peoples as a single recognizable head as its most powerful example. This one drawing reduces many to one. The head on the TV test pattern, as well as others included in the Prologue, broadcast a unified message was broadcast: Indigenous peoples, and the lands where they lived, were available for appropriation and use. This message was both a cause and a result of the systematic massacre and displacement of Indigenous persons.

The Prologue notes, too, that historical events are open to multiple interpretations, some with deadly consequences. The Sand Creek massacre, which decimated Native women, children, and elders, caused the residents of Denver, CO to celebrate. Such genocidal campaigns either confined people to reservations or displaced them to urban environments, where new ways of being Indigenous developed. Both places offered forms of survival, although only life on the reservation came to be understood as an authentic Indigenous experience because of the tendency of reducing complex ideas to a single representation. The brief history of America’s treatment of indigenous people helps explain how and why many of the book’s characters arrived at their present state.