The American Indian Wilderness In the essay, “ The American Indian Wilderness”, Louis Owens presents a personal story to show a dramatic change in his point of view. His story revolves around a mind-altering experience in which he uses himself as the straw figure, allowing us to effectively see how he came to choose his new view and why it is better than the European view he once had. He successfully gains our trust and persuades his audience with three different personas: the unthinking, cocky businessman, the thoughtful and ashamed persona, and, at the end, the lecturingteacher.
In the beginning, Owens uses the persona of the unthinking, cocky businessman. He is in the mountains to support and carry out “ a plan of which [he] heartily approves. ” (para. 2) He is at the extreme end of his way of thinking, believing thatthe ForestService is right in their idea about wilderness. “ At the end of those five days, not a trace of the shelter remained, and I felt good, very smug in fact, about returning the White Pass meadow to it’s “ original” state. ” (para. 3) He shows us that he has no doubts and completely agrees that in order to restore the wilderness, he must carry out the plan.
As he heads back down the trail, he says that his, “ mind was on the winter [he] was going to spend in sunny Arizona,” (para. 3) showing that there was no internal struggle over the burning of the shelter and that he truly felt that he had done his job to better the wilderness. This persona is effective because right off the bat, Owens draws us in by showing us that he has a story to tell. He doesn’t begin his story with a lecture about what the point of his essay is, as that would cause some of us to reject his theory right away.
He successfully draws us into the story and slowly makes his point known while we’re all listening. By using himself as the straw figure, we are able to see how he arrived at his conclusion and we find ourselves more willing to listen to what he has to say. We can see that this is a man with experience. We’re able to relate to him and see how his thoughts begin. Most of us can relate because, like him, we go about our day without analytically thinking about what we’re doing. If society says it’s right, then most likely we will feel good that we are doing what society ells us is good, just like what Owens does and feels. Once he gains our trust and understanding, he’s ready to lead us into the next part of his story. He now assumes his ashamed and thoughtful persona. As the women approach, he feels, “ growing amazement that, by the time [they] were face-to-face, had become awe. ” (para. 4) From the beginning, he has a suddenrespectfor these two women. We can already see that when they speak to him, he will listen, that he will be open and trusting of what they have to say.
Upon hearing that they are on their way to White Pass, Owens completely changes his persona. Now, instead of showing the confidence and smugness he did with his original persona, he now shows that he is ashamed and calls himself ignorant. “ I wanted to excuse myself, to edge around these elders and flee to the trailhead and my car, drive back to the district station and keep going south. ” (para. 9) He shows us the inner conflict he is experiencing and his reaction to the news he has heard.
At the moment, he hasn’t quite come to grips with his new point of view. He begins to feel ashamed, not because he realizes his view on the wilderness is wrong, but because he feels guilt about the shelter. He shows us that at this point, he feels guilty because he has betrayed hisculture. In paragraph nine, he feels as if he ought to justify what he has done when he wants to say, “ I’m Indian too.. ” This is the beginning of his thinking process to change his point of view. Adding to his guilt is the sister’s reactions. I expected outrage, anger, sadness, but instead the sisters continued to smile at me, their smiles changing only slightly. ” (para. 10) Now, he realizes that he has broken the connection between part of his heritage and his way of life. This opens the doors for his careful reconsideration of his way of thinking. This works to persuade us because Owens has already gained our trust with his first persona. When he goes through an experience that calls for his change in thought, we accept that perhaps our thought out to be reevaluated as well.
Owens disregards his cockiness towards his feelings of righteousness when he sees that perhaps his ideas are wrong. We can see that Owens is not out to gain points for himself, or else he wouldn’t have thought twice about his experience. He is open to reconsideration and change. Owens is willing to change all of his ways of doing things because he realizes that they are wrong. A man that is willing to admit to his own mistakes and make changes to a way of life that he had grown to believe in has no ulterior motives. We can see that Owens only interest is in what’s best for the wilderness.
Thus, we are able trust his judgments and are more willing to hear him out, to trust whatever his new conceptions may be. Now that we realize our way of thinking is wrong, we are ready to hear how we should be thinking. Effectively, Owens now changes to his lecturing teacher persona, telling us of a better way to think, “ In embracing aphilosophythat saw the White Pass Shelter – and all traces of humanity – as a shameful stain upon their “ pure” wilderness, I had succumbed to a five-hundred-year-old pattern of deadly thinking that separates us from the natural world. (para. 11) This statement is incredibly strong and convincing. Owens has already provided us with an emotional connection to him and has shown that he is more knowledgeable because of his experience. We are willing to trust in his judgment and his knowledge, so we readily accept his interpretation of what is right for the wilderness. In his final statements, he influences us with a bang by stating at what extremes the European way of thinking will lead us to:
Unless Americans, and all human beings, can learn to imagine themselves as intimately and inextricably related to every aspect of the world they inhabit, with the extraordinary responsibilities such relationship entails – unless they can learn what the indigenous peoples of the Americas knew and often still know – the earth simply will not survive (para. 12). We know that Owens best interest is in caring for and preserving the wilderness. Throughout the entire story, he vividly describes to us how he sees nature’s beauty.
In the first paragraph, he opens with, “ In the center of the Glacier Peak Wilderness in northern Washington, a magnificent, fully glaciated white volcano rises over a stunningly beautiful region of the North cascades. ” His entire essay is filled with small details that show us how observant he is of nature and how much he enjoys it. Later on, after he changes his view on what wilderness is, he compares how natural the shelters are to the ecosystem, “ as the burrows of marmots in the steep scree slopes. ” (para. 2) Even though his view changes, he doesn’t change his mind about how much he cares about nature. He expresses so much respect and awe at nature’s beauty, that we know he cares about it and it’s best interest is his. Because of this, we know that his best interest is in doing what’s best for nature. We are ab! le to trust his judgment and assume that he knows better than us from his experiences. It’s easy for us to adopt his way of thinking because of his knowledge and honest concern in doing what’s best. In conclusion, Owens effectively uses persona’s to gain the readers trust.
His cocky, businessman persona shows us that he does have faults, while his ashamed and thoughtful persona shows us that he is willing to admit and change his faults if it betters the initial job he set out to do: protect the wilderness. His final persona, the lecturing teacher points out the right way of thinking about humans and their relationship to the wilderness. He convinces us that it’s time to think about our actions and their effect. With this, Owens has effectively used three different personas to persuade his audience.
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