Summary: Growing up in the 1950s near Vancouver, Stacey lives in a Native community with her family but attends high school in town with the white teens. Her last semester and summer before leaving for university are eye-opening as a classmate of Stacey commits suicide and a ‘flu epidemic strikes Stacey’s community. She grows to learn the white community she is trying to be a part of has its’ own problems, including a complete lack of respect for their Native neighbours. Stacey can see how white culture is invading her community and changing things in a bad way, giving her a renewed appreciation for the way things are. Her plans to do something about it are noble, but unfortunately not realistic.
Number of Pages: 199
Age Range: 17-18
Review: In a heart-breaking, gut-wrenching tale, Lee Maracle explores the effects of European culture on a Native community in the 1950s.
Stacey is a seventeen year-old with a dream of becoming a teacher and returning to start a day school for her Native community. Though her relatives attended residential school, Stacey chooses to attend school in the local town. As the only Native in the school, Maracle pinpoints the many communication and culture differences Stacey experiences, but it isn’t until Polly, a fellow classmate, commits suicide that Stacey really begins looking at the messages she is getting from her environment.
And once she starts looking, what she finds can’t be unseen. When a ‘flu epidemic hits, it is up to Stacey and her mother to help others get through it. Doctors from town claim they are overworked and unable to help the Native community, so their losses are higher than expected. Stacey’s own father is one of the casualties, and watching her mother find love again with someone close to the family is hard.
Stacey’s awareness of the disparity between white and Native culture grows, and there is immense grief involved as she can see white culture and beliefs tainting their Native community. Change is coming, and although Stacey wants to be a part of that change in a way, she also knows not all change is good. By the end of the book Stacey is starting university with her eyes open, knowing exactly what she is giving up with the choices she is making.
Ravensong is a powerful, layered read that works as a teen/adult crossover and is an excellent choice for a Canadian English literature class.
“To all those women who fought the epidemic when this country was not concerned with our health.” – Dedication from Ravensong by Lee Maracle
“Death is strange. It begs change. It lurks about the heart, stubbornly straining memory. It conjures up images of whatever joy the deceased managed to bequeath the bereaved. When the body is finally laid to rest, the deceased’s truth has been stretched to an image of virtue invented by the mourners. Death conjures these memories between tears. The conversation of the mourners always manages to wend its way toward these invented virtues of the dead.” – from Ravensong by Lee Maracle, page 18
“Stacey took care to leave her heart out of her final examination of Polly’s death. Polly had perished under the dome of arrogant insecurity her people had erected for her. They set up morals no human could possibly follow, then established a judgement system based not on whether or not you actually lived within the moral code, but whether or not you could deceive people into thinking you lived by this code. ‘Discretion,’ they called it. In Dominic’s mind morality was irrelevant. What lived inside was a set of laws which were to be obeyed at all time regardless of the circumstances. His belief in their ways kept him on a trail of gentle social affection. He would not believe that anyone could consider that committing an indiscretion was worse than committing a crime. Lawlessness, over-indulgence and deception were just other words for thievery – only what you stole was the sacred right of others to choose based on clear knowledge. Deception robbed the hearts of others. Now Polly’s life lay stilled in some graveyard because she had dared to be indiscrete. They weren’t very likable people, Stacey decided.” – Stacey from Ravensong by Lee Maracle, page 64
“Under the shabby arguments about hospitals being fully and doctors already overworked lay an unspoken assumption: white folks were more deserving of medical care. There is a hierarchy to care. In some odd way Stacey could not figure out how this assumption was connected to their very view of the nature of their authority. It continued to baffle her. Something was not being said here.” – Stacey from Ravensong by Lee Maracle, page 69
“If Stacey had no idea how to take her father’s death, Dominic’s confused her more. After the double funeral she took herself over to her house. The village felt empty – oddly freed of an intangible hold Dominic had had on it. The freedom did not feel right; an augustness had died with him. Nora’s cynical sentiments grew large between the gaps created by Dominic’s absence. Both Stacey’s father and Dominic had had a kind of invisibility in life that became obvious only in death. Their presence, the hugeness of them, only presented itself in their absence.
In the house during the evening after the funeral Stacey realized how much her father had filled the home with surety. He had referred to everything as ‘Your mother’s’ . . . ‘your mother’s home,’ ‘your mother’s meat,’ ‘your mother’s children,’ but his presence owned every nook and cranny, filing it with an uncanny comfort. In his absence the house became large and empty, dark and cold. Her mother, usually raucous and cheeky, was now small, dangerously fragile, subdued and lacking in courage. Stacey feared she too would sicken and die.” – Stacey from Ravensong by Lee Maracle, page 84
“Stacey stopped herself from getting too close to sympathizing. Carol after all had done nothing to alleviate her countrymen’s ostracism. White people learn nothing from their stupid merry-go-round of pretentious and fake morality rooted in deception.” – Stacey from Ravensong by Lee Maracle, page 131
“The old snake had brought a piece of white town with him to the village. Stacey knew Shelly had been abused and discarded by a white man. It’s how they are, she thought. They don’t really like us. It was almost to be expected, but this man had been one of their own at the time. Now the old snake was just like them and he had influenced this young man to emulate him. Stacey decided he was dangerous. She couldn’t know then that some of the families were already changed. She couldn’t know that her own clan was the last of the families to cling to their ancient sense of family and that this was going to break down steadily as white town invaded their village. She had no idea how innocent she was. The departure of two of her women relatives was the beginning of a huge cultural shift that would wreak havoc in her village much later.” – from Ravensong by Lee Maracle, pages 149-150
“Words are sacred, once spoken they cannot be retrieved. Sometimes they fall out of the mouth in moments of thoughtlessness when the speaker focusses on images which don’t include the one spoken to, and burn holes in the lives of the listener.” – from Ravensong by Lee Maracle, page 167
“They could go everywhere all at once now; through books they could see the world and they felt the power of this new kind of vision.” – Momma and Madeline learn to read from Ravensong by Lee Maracle, page 176
Ravensong by Lee Maracle is published by Press Gang Publishers, (1993).