Joseph Bruchac

Code Talker

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Code Talker Summary & Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 43-page guide for “Code Talker” by Joseph Bruchac includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 29 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Exile and Alienation and Underdogs.

Plot Summary

Originally published in 2005, Code Talker: A Novel About the Navajo Marines of World War Two, is a middle-grade work of autobiographical fiction by Joseph Bruchac. The story is based on historical events and told from the perspective of Ned Begay, a now-elderly Navajo man who refers to readers of the book as “My Grandchildren.” Looking back on his youth, Ned reveals how native Navajo speakers were recruited by the US military to use their unique language skills in aiding Allied forces during the war.

When Begay is just 6 years old, he is taken more than 100 miles from his family home to the Rehoboth Mission boarding school in New Mexico, which he will attend through high school. Here, American Indian children are taught to abandon the ways of their tribes and embrace Anglo-American language and culture. Through often draconian measures, students are forced to assimilate; their hair is cut short and they are punished if they lapse back into their Navajo tongue. They are also given English names. It is in this way that the novel’s protagonist, Kii Yazhi, becomes Ned Begay.

Ned does well in school. Too small for sports, he learns English and excels academically, though he and other children defy administrators by maintaining surreptitious use of their Navajo language. When he’s a teenager, the US military is escalating involvement in the conflict overseas, and in 1942 recruiters come to the school, looking to enlist Navajos. Though Ned doesn’t enlist with the first group of recruits, when the opportunity arises the following year, Begay, at 16, joins the Marines and is sent to bootcamp. It isn’t until after he has finished bootcamp that Ned is told what his role in the military will be. He and the other Navajo recruits will be trained as codetalkers for the war effort. At Camp Elliott, in California, Marine officials explain to the soldiers that because it is so esoteric and difficult to learn, Navajo is being used as the basis for a code to transmit indecipherable messages among the allies. In this way, the language that Ned and other Navajo youths had been taught to abandon by white America becomes a unique and valuable tool for white America’s war efforts.

From California, Ned and other code talkers in his regiment are sent to Hawaii for training. From there, the group is sent to the Solomon Islands, where they experience combat for the first of many times. Ned takes part in a series of battles in the Pacific, first in Bougainville, then aiding in battles on both the Marianas Islands and Guam. From there, they move on to the tiny Pacific island of Pavuvu, and then finally to Iwo Jima and Okinawa, after which point US forces drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, prompting the Japanese emperor to surrender and effectively ending World War Two in the Pacific. Though some in the military first doubted the benefits of code-talking, Ned describes how invaluable he and the other code talkers prove themselves to be. They relay messages among leadership in the Pacific, providing important intelligence that drives tactical decisions.

Throughout the battles and in the interstitial downtime, Ned demonstrates how Navajo soldiers integrate with other American soldiers, and also how they do not; the experience of Native American service members differs starkly from that of their white counterparts. Many among the Navajo maintain their cultural and spiritual practices while overseas. They also face discrimination from other US troops and leadership and run the additional risk of being confused for enemy combatants.

After the war, Ned returns home, where he realizes that even service as a US Marine can’t shield Navajo soldiers from racism in their own country. He uses his GI Bill to further his education and involves himself in his community, becoming a Navajo educator. Though the code talkers’ mission remained confidential for decades, in 1969, the US government declassified the program and recognized the special service of the Navajos who took part. Ned describes how Code talkers were invited to the White House on several occasions after the program was made public, where their unique service was finally acknowledged.

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Chapters 1-4