The Role of Stories in Human Experience
Walk Two Moons is in fact a collection of individual stories told from a number of different perspectives woven into a coherent narrative: we read not only Sal and Phoebe's stories, but Greek myths, Native American myths, old family stories, and snippets from students' journals. Each story fits into the main narratives and also resonates and amplifies the meaning and substance of other stories. At the same time, each story plays a distinct role in the narrative, demonstrating the power stories have to affect human experience and consciousness. Phoebe uses her story about the lunatic to ward off other, more threatening, explanations of Mrs. Winterbottom's disappearance. Sal uses Phoebe's story as a way to relive her own story and come to a better understanding of it. Gram and Gramp's stories provide Sal with a sense of her own family history and with a model for her own life and loves. The myths interspersed throughout the novel offer both the characters and the readers a means of understanding the origins, state, and implications of the human condition. Sal tells her own story as a means of reflecting on it and coming to accept it.
The Past's Intrusion into the Present
Sal incorporates stories of the past into the present moment of her narrative, sometimes stopping to add a story as a means of explanation, or actually embedding them into the narrative as a journal entry or a memory triggered during the course of the narrative. She tells the story of her mother, which precedes both the primary (the trip across the States) and secondary (the story of Phoebe) narratives of the novel, through these spontaneous or embedded flashes of memory. For example, she writes in her journal about her mother's tree kissing, a tree in the parking lot in South Dakota reminds her of the singing tree in her backyard, and Phoebe's family triggers her memory of the morning her father left flowers on the table for Sal and her mother. Sal's narration of her memories demonstrates that the past will not stay put. The narration bubbles up into the present and drives events and emotions. In fact, as Sal's long journey across the country shows, the present is often nothing more than attempt to relive and understand the past.
Empathy as a Source of Understanding
Both the epigraph of the book and the first message that appears on Phoebe's doorstep read "don't judge a man until you've walked two moons in his moccasins." Sal takes this advice to heart throughout the book, using her visualizations of other people's lives both to inform her own experience and to increase her compassion for others. By placing herself in Mrs. Winterbottom's shoes, Sal generates ideas about how her own mother may have felt at moments in her life. When Sal grows angry with Phoebe, she finds herself wondering if her father feels the same way toward her at times. Sal's ability to envision the stories of others allows her to empathize with Margaret Cadaver, who lost her husband in a car accident, and consequently to put her childish resentment of her aside. At the end of the book, Sal and Gramps actively practice empathy, regularly verbalizing and envisioning what others are experiencing. This practice allows Sal to treat others with greater kindness and understanding and gives her a way to measure and understand her own behavior and past.
Nature as a Source of Comfort and Strength
While the novel centers on a journey of loss and acceptance, it grounds this journey in a series of beautiful natural objects and places. Sal's understanding of her past is inextricably bound to trees, fields, wildberries, and lakes, and during her journey, she passes by Lake Michigan, the Wisconsin Dells, Pipestone National Monument, the Missouri River, the Badlands, the Black Hills, Old Faithful, and the mountains of Montana and Idaho. Both Sal and her grandparents experience moments of companionship, great emotion, and even rapture in the face of these natural phenomena. Sal and all her family members clearly harbor a deep respect and appreciation for nature and understand it as one of the many priceless blessings that life, often cruel and unpredictable, bestows upon us.
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