Waterlily Book Summary - Waterlily Book explained in key points

Waterlily summary

Ella Cara Deloria

Brief summary

Waterlily is a novel by Ella Cara Deloria that explores the life of a young Dakota woman as she navigates the complexities of love, family, and cultural traditions in early 20th-century America.

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    Summary of key ideas

    Initiation into the Dakota Culture

    In Waterlily, Ella Cara Deloria immerses us in the Dakota culture of the nineteenth century, showing us the world through the eyes of Waterlily, a young Dakota woman. The story begins with Waterlily's mother, Blue Bird, who finds herself abandoned by her own tribe and married to the wrong man after a misunderstanding. Trapped in an unwanted marriage, she gives birth to Waterlily amidst adversity. Despite her initial hardships, Blue Bird is lovingly adopted into a new clan known as the Deer Hunter's Camp, where she raises Waterlily.

    As Waterlily grows, Deloria provides vivid details of her protagonist's rites of passage, illuminating the intricate cultural practices of the Dakota people. Waterlily is lovingly raised and educated within her community, learning about their religious beliefs, traditions, and the importance of familial ties. These initial stages of the book depict a society deeply rooted in honor, respect, and communal life.

    The Value of Kinship and Honor

    One of the major themes that Deloria explores in Waterlily is the significance of kinship. In Dakota society, kinship is greatly esteemed, and being part of a kinship network means being an integral part of a mutually supportive community. Waterlily, raised within these social norms, grows to deeply value her bonds with her family and the members of the Deer Hunter's Camp. She learns to navigate her world keeping these relationships in mind, embodying the virtue of generosity seen as essential in her society.

    This sense of community is also tied to a strong sense of honor. In this matriarchal society, honor is earned, not inherited, and Waterlily strives to bring honor not only to herself but to her entire kinship group. Deloria demonstrates through Waterlily's life that in Dakota society, a person's true worth is determined by their conduct and contribution to the community.

    Love, Loss, and Resilience

    As Waterlily reaches womanhood, she falls in love with a brave warrior named Little Chief. Despite facing opposition and issues of honor, they eventually marry, reflecting the underlying theme of resilience in the face of adversity. However, their union is cut short when Little Chief is tragically killed in a feud, leaving Waterlily devastated and a widow at a young age.

    Through her hardship, we gain a deeper understanding of the strength and resilience of Dakota women. Despite her pain, Waterlily continues to fulfill her responsibilities to her kinship group, drawing upon the lessons of love, honor, and duty instilled in her from a young age. Her spirit and determination make her a compelling emblem of the endurance of Dakota traditions and values.

    Preservation of a Culture

    Towards the end, Waterlily explores the profound impact of cultural intrusion on the Dakota people. As settlers start to invade their territories, their way of life gradually begins to vanish. However, Waterlily and her family, along with their kin, continue to uphold their traditions fiercely and with dignity.

    In conclusion, through the richly woven narrative of Waterlily, Deloria paints a vivid picture of the Dakota society that was on the verge of disruption. It poignantly illustrates the traditions, values, and gender roles within the community, teaching us much about their devotion to kinship and honor. Above all, it is a remarkable preservation of a culture, a tribute to Dakota customs and lifestyle, and a testament to the strength and integrity of its women.

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    What is Waterlily about?

    Waterlily is a novel written by Ella Cara Deloria that tells the story of a young Dakota girl named Waterlily who must navigate the challenges and changes of her rapidly changing world. Set in the late 19th century, the book explores themes of love, family, and identity as Waterlily learns to navigate the complex dynamics of both her Dakota tribe and the encroaching white settlers.

    Who should read Waterlily?

    • Readers interested in Native American culture and history
    • Those who enjoy coming-of-age stories
    • Individuals looking for diverse and authentic perspectives in literature

    About the Author

    Ella Cara Deloria was a Sioux writer and ethnologist who dedicated her life to preserving and studying Native American culture. She wrote extensively about the spiritual beliefs, traditions, and language of the Lakota people. Her most notable work, Waterlily, is a novel that provides an intimate look into the life of a young woman of the Oceti Sakowin tribe. Through her books, Deloria made significant contributions to the understanding and appreciation of Native American heritage.

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