In a recent public radio interview I was asked about the depiction of Anah, the villain of Widow Walk and whether his actions were representative of any specific ethnic group and in particular, whether the behavior manifest by him and his clan was an accurate depiction of the mores of aboriginal cultures. My response was that Anah, who is an invented monster composed of many historical figures culled from various Pacific Northwest historical accounts, is a sociopathic personality…the unique malevolent storm of a soul created in the stew of painful experience and an impaired nurturance.
The deep motivations that drove Anah’s insanity certainly were fueled by the debilitation of his people’s existence, intentionally or by happenstance, by another powerful tribe’s (Caucasion Civilization) appearance and their competition for the same terrain and its resources. But Anah is depicted as having a predisposition for violence that simply needed triggers for release, and his elders pulled them on him repeatedly. How often do we see the easy peaceful assimilation of any culture’s values by another? Blood spills in the interface. Always. The interesting thing about the Anah character, however, is that his predation was as vicious against his own people as it was against the white invaders. As depicted, he would be a sociopath in any culture. The cultural clash in this setting is simply a backdrop and excuse.
I believe an even greater challenge to a society, one that often defines the evolutionary refinement and civility of a culture, is how it addresses its own members’ sociopathic behaviors that are so often given rein during those cultural clashes. Does a community accommodate, condone and co-opt such behavior for militant purposes as did Little Raven and Klixuatan with Anah? Does the community acknowledge the irrational nature of such violence but ignore or rationalize it with excuses…give it room to roam…perhaps hope that it will burn out or evolve away over time? Does the society debate its own guilt for collaboration in the genesis of the malevolence? Does a society define “violence” in different degrees, codify rules regarding the acceptability of its expression, or quantify and qualify the sanctions that should be applied when those rules are broken? And ultimately, does it find the temerity to extinguish it, as did Emmy in the “obligatory scene” in chapter thirty seven? And in the process of containing and/or extinguishing violent behavior, how does a society or group minimize the potential damage to everyone involved in the process, including the human soul hidden beneath the sociopath/perpetrator/monster’s mask?