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EL 3500: Literature Across Culture
1 November 2017 Character Analysis Assignment
Greg Sarris's novel Grand Avenue analyzes the lives of a Pomo Indian family that resides
in a community named Grand Avenue. Every chapter from the novel focuses on different
characters which range from young to old, but all seem to be intertwined with each other. The
novel centers on protagonist Nellie Copaz, an elderly woman who is one of "Grand Avenue's"
most important characters. Throughout most of the chapters Nellie is presented in, she is seen as
the anchor of the community, despite not being liked by many of the characters in "Grand
Avenue." Her actions, and thoughts create the perfect portrayal of a heroic character.
From the beginning of Grand Avenue, it is revealed that the small Indian community is
full of secrets that are hidden (53). In "Slaughterhouse," Frankie, Nellie Copaz's nephew, paid a
visit to her for good luck, which ended up taking a left when she began to hysterically laugh at
the young boy destroying her roses. The elders in the community never brought children around
Nellie despite her living fairly close to them due to her weird behaviors. This unusual act left
Frankie positive that Nellie was an evil witch who found humor in his humiliation. Nellie is
represented as being a traitor and outcast due to her marrying a white Benedict, and that is seen
as "taboo" to many Indians. Marrying the love of her life left Nellie being mistreated and singled
out by her family, and those in her community. She was also accused of doing witchcraft due to
her healing abilities which contributed to her being ostracized by her whole family. Throughout the novel, Nellie's spiritual powers were spoken about. In "Waiting for the Green Frog," it is
revealed that Nellie had the ability to heal since her twelfth birthday. Her healing was performed
by her hands and spiritual songs that would come to her; she used her powers to remove a rabbit
from her son's chest, blackfish from certain parts of the human body, and a green frog revealing
what instruments to use to help cure the sick. To many Indian elders in her community, this
ability to heal people of poison is the reason why Nellie was seen as a witch or poisoner, though
the community knew of poisoners Mary Thatcher and Sam Toms. (65-76). Despite being
ostracized by her own people for marrying who she loved and having spiritual powers, Nellie
still used her "power" to heal those who were hurting which is courageous of her; she could have
simply stopped healing and continued on with her life but the need to help those in need of it,
kept her going.
Nellie Copaz’s courageousness was also seen in “Sam Toms’s Last Song.” In Grand
Avenue, Sam Toms and Nellie Copaz were the oldest members living in the community. Sam
Toms woke up on his 100th birthday wanting to move in with Nellie, despite being a poisoner
and being in conflict with her. When Sam Toms arrived at Nellie’s doorstep she thought he came
to her for healing but that made no sense because she knew he had songs as well. It is then, that
we get the truth about Sam Toms, he is a poisoner and in his past, he used his songs to do evil
things. While with Nellie, Sam Toms felt the urge to start singing for Nellie and as he did, she
caught every song in the woven basket she was currently working on. Nellie stated "Now I can
lift the spells dirty old men put on good-hearted women. You know, in the right hands your songs
can be used as medicine” (140). From the beginning of the novel, Nellie was never seen as one to
confront someone like Sam Toms, and when she did it was to protect the one thing that she had,
her spiritual power of healing. 1. Words of Others
a. Quote: “It was about something Nellie did a long time ago, which had Indians
mad at her. Something about who she married, a white man. Folks don’t talk.
Point is, she was alone most of the time” (50).
Analysis: Nellie was ostracized from her family due to her marrying a white man,
and her family members pushed her away solely for that reason. She was seen as
taboo or an outcast and though the adults knew what was going on, they never
explained to the children why she was seen as not part of the family; but, Nellie
did not let her stop her life. She continued her marriage and healing people
despite being pushed away and known as a witch.
b. Quote: “Your hands will have this basket power to pull up sickness from people”
Analysis: Nellie did not seem to understand the power she was told she had until
the songs came to her, and when she began to sing she realized how crucial they
a. Quote: “I won those fights. I won all my fights, which is why I am still sitting
here today” (65).
Analysis: Every single person Nellie healed seemed to represent a battle for her if
she would have potentially lost the battle or not have healed her patients
successfully she could have lost her life. But, knowing this she still took the
responsibility in healing those who needed her, which is something only certain
people can do.
b. Quote: "When my son was a young man when he thought of nothing but what he
could do with that thing he thinks makes him a man, I pulled a tiny rabbit with the
tail of a crow from the center of his chest" (65). Analysis: The tiny rabbit Nellie seemed to pull out of her chest, could have
interpreted to be the same poison that lingers around the Grand Avenue
community. This poison never leaves or “heals” the family due to each generation
never taking responsibility for their actions, and/or thoughts. Again, this poison
can be seen as physical and sexual abuse, promiscuity, and loss of innocence
which is widely seen throughout each story especially with the young women
involved; sexual abuse is also very prominent on Grand Avenue. But, Nellie was
able to remove the poison from her son which shows her bravery and promise to
heal those who seem to find their way there.
c. Quote: "Now I can lift the spells dirty old men put on good-hearted women. You
know, in the right hands your songs can be used as medicine” (140).
Analysis: The "catching" of the poison can be seen in "Waiting for the Green
Frog," where Nellie heals her son by cutting him open and catching the rabbit in
his chest. Just like Sam Toms, he uses his power to take advantage and poison
women which then destroys their lives and familial generation. The same poison
that is from Sam Toms. Every single negative event that has happened throughout
Grand Avenue thus far ties back to Sam Toms and Mary Thatcher which gives
light to why both are hated in the community if each would have taken
responsibility for each of their actions this poison would not have left each
generation feeling off. And Nellie seems to always be the only one to cure and get
rid of it.
were to her being healed.
a. Quote: "Old Nellie's cursing laugh. She'd seen what would happen the minute she
found me on her porch, and she let me fall in. She tucked me into entering the
strange clean house where nobody lived because Old Nellie wasn't a person. Tricked me with them watery eyes like she done that first time at the grocery store
so I would carry her groceries" (53).
Analysis: Many people in the Grand Avenue community saw Nellie as a witch,
she apparently lured people in with her eyes and used them to her own advantages
which is why Frankie was so frightened by her reaction towards him destroying
her weeds. Works Cited
Sarris, Greg. Grand Avenue: A Novel in Stories. University of Oklahoma Press, 2015. ...
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- Character Analysis, Nellie Copaz