Chal the main character was born into a time and place where his culture was being destroyed. His blood is not pure Osage, mixed with white, but the Indian blood is powerful inside him. The blood that runs through him takes him to days of the past, days lost, heritage lost, role models lost, and a dying culture. Chal is a perfect example of a lost sole.
Throughout this book, Sundown, by John Joseph Mathew, Chal is faced with choices. Challenges, may be the right word though. His father John named him Chal, short for challenge, “He shall be a challenge to the disinheritors of his people,” (Pg. 4). Maybe his name led his life in other directions, and challenges were to fill his life. In his choices he is torn between the mixed bloods that are running through him. The Indian blood and culture, in the expanding, dominating, white mans society.
Chal is filled with confusion, it the theme of the book and his character. He represents that generation of turmoil. The transition to white America, through his euro-american education and loss of the warrior role has clouded his mind. The novel starts with Chal as a young child daydreaming of fighting the English. He is a General, a warrior, leading the charge and then giving an inspirational speech to his men. Chal knows only the stories of the past, going on hunts and wars against “England.” The wars against England taught to him by his father. He knows nothing of the roles of the future because his culture has no role models of Eastern white dominated society to come. He hasn’t grown up with the Eastern white society role models. Chal sees his father trying to be a businessman, and he enjoys listening to that kind of talk throughout his life.It may be because his father is the only role model he has seen. For the most part though while he is young and throughout the book he looks to the past, those glorious stories of the past.
Chal is educated in the euro-american way trying teach the Indian out of him. He is confused of what his glorious past really was. Were his people really the savages and pagans he grew up hearing about in school. He grows up ashamed of his Indian blood, and tries to adapt to the white society. Chal’s friends at college embarrass him. His friend, Son on His Wings, accepts his Indian and is proud. Chal joins the Air Force because that is American and it may replace some his lost feelings of the warrior role, but he is still filled with torment.
Toward the end of the story you believe Chal may finally be all right when he visits the sweat lodge with Son on His Wings. It is there when Chief Watching Eagle spoke of the “roads” to White Deer during the sweat lodge ritual. He was not only trying to ease the pain of the loss of Running Elk, White Deer’s son; he was explaining the choices one must make according to their heritage or blood. It was as if he was speaking to Chal directly.
“Long time ago there was one road and People could follow that road. They said, ‘There is only one road. We can see this road. There are no other roads.’ Now it seems that road is gone, and white man has brought many roads. But that road is still there. That road is still there, but there are many other roads there too. There is a White man’s road, and there is road which comes off from forks. The bad road which no white man follows – the road which many of the People follow, thinking it is the white man’s road. People who follow this road say they are as the white man, but this is not white man’s road. People who follow this road say that road of Indian is bad now. But they are not Indians anymore, these people who follow that roadThe road of our People is dim now like buffalo trail across the prairie” (271).
Watching Eagle was not only speaking of Running