“Deer Dancer” is about a man in a bar dealing with the beauty of a woman who comes into the bar. She seems to bring about a reminder of a different or “older world.” The love relationship with nature before civilization built up and desensitized people to most of its beauty is a prominent message in this piece. Everyone in the bar recognizes this woman as something out of place there and important in some way or another.
“She was the deer who crossed through knots of a curse to find us.”
This piece relies heavily on tone to progress the story and express its meaning. Tone deals with the attitude towards a subject and reader in the piece. It creates an atmosphere and establishes a particular mood. The author, Harjo, creates a sense of magic in her piece. Her writing has a poetic quality to it that allows the readers to really soak in the beauty of her words. This sense of magic and the mystical woman caries the piece and its meaning. Not only is she expressing a thirst for this return to a more natural world, but her writing allows us to feel and thirst for it as well. Her words become an example of the beauty that the woman brings into the bar and out of our protagonist.
“So, I look at the stars in this strange city, frozen to the back of the sky, the only promises that ever make sense.”
This line illustrates how Harjo uses tone to establish meaning in the piece. She allows the reader room to breathe and grow. She lets the reader use their own imagination to filter and take meaning out of her words. Rather than tell us that the new world is polluted and the magic is being sucked out of it and we as humans are becoming numb to it, she allows our minds to suck in the natural beauty of her images and make our own judgments as to the actual meaning to her words. In fact, my interpretation may not be what she intended to be taken from it at all. The way that tone is established makes me feel comfortable in my interpretation though, because she is allowing us to take whatever meaning we find and go from it. She uses abstract language rather than more of a concrete style, which gives us our room to grow as her readers. The protagonist realizes that maybe he shouldn’t be in this dive bar, maybe there are better things he could be doing with himself. He realizes that the world is becoming unimaginative and void of magic and this understanding of our desensitization of the world is made even more heavy because of its location. It hits him in a dive bar with a bunch of people who are desensitized each in their own way and all with alcohol in their systems. One night for some at the bar is a lifetime for our world.
Harjo says “This is the bar of broken survivors, the club of shotgun, knife wound, of poison by culture.” He is desperate for some real life in this world and this woman expresses something the others in the bar do not. This line shows the drunks in the bar “poisoning” themselves with alcohol but also their world is being poisoned on a grand scale and so many do not even see it. “She was the myth slipping through dreamtime.” This sentence is a perfect description of the tone she established with her words. I can feel this protagonist’s desperate longing. Although he is cynical there is such a hopeful way he says everything. One sentence that shows this is “How do I say it? In this language there are no words for how the real world collapses.” His voice is lost in this civilized world, but the hope of nature and the collapse of this new “real world” is not something he dismisses as impossible.
“That’s what I would like to know, what are we all doing in a place like this?”
This sentence is vivid among the rest. Where Harjo uses beautiful descriptions to set the tone, this sentence is straight forward and non descriptive. It stands out boldly compared to the rest of the piece. This sentence resonates. What are we all doing in a place like this? Not just this bar, but this way of the world, this earth.
“The way back is deer breath on icy windows.”
Harjo uses beautiful imagery but more than that that she uses a beautiful and magical tone like the ones above to paint a picture in your mind. This piece would not carry its meaning and the weight that it does if Harjo did not give us this freedom.