I Heard The Owl Call My Name Summary

Margaret Craven

I Heard The Owl Call My Name

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I Heard The Owl Call My Name Summary

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American author Margaret Craven’s novel I Heard the Owl Call My Name(1967)tells the story of Mark Brian, a young Anglican vicar. Mark is sick and sent by his Bishop to serve at a First Nations parish in British Columbia, Canada. There, he learns how the natives live, becomes more in tune with nature, and finds peace as he confronts his mortality. Exploring themes of Native American culture, faith in the face of tragedy, the ephemeral nature of life, and man’s relationship with nature, I Heard the Owl Call My Name was a bestseller upon its release, and is considered one of the earliest modern novels to deal in depth with Native American society. The events in the book are influenced by Craven’s own life experiences, which she details in depth in her autobiography,Again Calls the Owl (often mistaken for a sequel to the novel). I Heard the Owl Call My Name was released in 1973 in the United States, where it reached number one on the New York Times Best Seller list. The same year, a CBS television adaptation aired to strong ratings.

I Heard the Owl Call My Name begins by explaining the legend of the Kwakiutl Indians of British Columbia, who believe that when a person hears an owl call his or her name, that person will die soon. The story then shifts to a Canadian Anglican parish, where the young priest Mark Brian is serving under an older Bishop. Mark is sick, with likely only three years to live. Mark does not know the extent of his illness, but the Bishop has seen it before and understands. Thus, he decides to send his young protégé to the Native village of King come to serve the Kwakiutl population there and become more in touch with life and nature. When Mark arrives, he is curious why all the Indians he meets there seem so sad, especially Jim Wallace, the village’s boatman. Wallace is in charge of the forty-foot boat that serves as the village’s lifeline to the outside world. Although it is a long and difficult process to become friends with the Native villagers, and it is months before they open up to him, they come to respect him. He carries his weight in the village, standing up for them to the local law enforcement when it comes to burial rites for a child that tragically dies. His respect for tribal custom wins him respect and eventually friendship. Two local children, who have yet to have negative experience with white people, are quicker to warm up to him. Marta, an old woman of the village, who remembers a previous white visitor to the village who also showed them respect, gives him a fair chance. It takes a while for Mark to learn the Kwakiutl language, but he masters it eventually.

During his first winter with the tribe, Mark begins to understand the sadness of the Natives. The young men of the village are sent off to residential schools in populated areas of Canada, as the government attempts to teach them the white man’s ways. While many do return to the village, they are all changed, acting more in the way of the outside world. And some choose never to return, becoming assimilated into the white culture. Gordon, a promising youth from the village, goes off to school in Vancouver. He becomes very successful in the white world, choosing not to return to his village. Mark hopes that Gordon might become an ambassador for the Native culture, helping the white people understand them better. He also worries that Gordon may become too assimilated and simply forget where he comes from. Mark realizes that he has become so close to the people of the village that he sees himself as one of them. He cannot imagine going back to the white world now.

In January, after living with the Kwakiutl for a year and a half, Mark is walking in the woods when he hears an owl call his name. He understands everything at once. The doctors who were not willing to discuss his illness with him when he first became sick, the sadness with which his sister greeted him when they were reunited in Vancouver previously, and most of all, his Bishop’s assignment for him. Although he knows he will die soon, Mark is at peace, understanding the nature of life thanks to his years with the Kwakiutl.

Margaret Craven was an American author and graduate of Stanford University. She wrote short stories for the Saturday Evening Post, but did not publish her first novel until 1967 due to persistent vision problems. She published four major works over her lifetime—I Heard the Owl Call My Name; a second novel, Walk Gently This Good Earth, an autobiography, Again Calls the Owl; and a short story collection, The Home Front. Many of her works center around the Native population of British Columbia, which she visited in 1962 and wrote articles about before her debut novel.