Each Generation Must Prove Itself
Updated: Jul 16
In the novel “Vows,” the thinking of each character or narrator is italicized for effect; Chee’s thoughts appear: “The offspring will always be tested… Each generation must prove itself…” (104).
The cultural context is Navajo. Chee renders his life story and he comments on each child he has propagated. The one advantage he possesses in point of view on his long life is that he is at its conclusion. He now has distance from his own words and behavior as they were earlier in his life. Furthermore, he has distance from each person he has brought into the world, because each offspring is fully mature, and instilled with reason and guidance from their ancestors. At the point where this thought pops up, he is fully releasing his offspring to their power and fate. His children have always certainly had power and fate, but he has continued to protect them even into adulthood, and then we see him loosen that tie and undo it. The separation from his children, and from himself in earlier times, is naturally occurring.
On the surface, what he thinks seems obvious. “Each generation must prove itself….”
But his reference is quite specific, an observation and fact passed on by elders and ancestors in his world for at least 1,000 years. He is also referring to human growth and development as told in Navajo stories. Changes in motivation and demeanor. Changes in words and behavior. Changes in mind and body. Human beings don’t stay the same forever, or in a lifetime. What once was quite appealing becomes intolerable in another stage. Inconceivable.
"Each generation must prove itself…” is a commentary on the causes and conditions of human life and linked to it, propagation of all life everywhere on the globe. This idea is deep in Navajo stories. Home to millions of cultures for 4.5 billion years, the earth is the center of other indigenous groups' teachings as well. From that, we know we are in intimate proximity to each other, and other species, whether we desire union or not.
Human behavior has outcomes in each generation and for each to come. For example, right now, at least five consecutive generations may be experiencing Covid 19 at the same time, but each generation has different levels of tolerance to it, and the other side of this is that the virus, too, may be understood in terms of generations.
To go a little further with this idea, in the Southwestern United States, residents in the states of New Mexico and Arizona have recently noted that flocks of birds are dying from an unseen cause. This is similar to a dying-off of large groups of migratory birds which have been discovered in other places on the globe in the last few years. Though no one has figured out its cause in New Mexico or Arizona yet, it is happening now. It has happened before.
From Navajo perspective, as well as in some other southwestern indigenous groups, disruption of life in all species is partially explained as an imbalance in forces that sustain it, as brief or extended as life in a particular species may be.
Elders call upon their families (societies) to recognize that we precipitate life-threatening events in each generation and to be watchful of the rippling out of our acts beyond the point of being able to call back injury or extinction to other species and ourselves. That call is always imperative because we have small numbers. For thousands of years, we have been few, yet we have survived as continuing generations. Perhaps someday, we won’t. Some of us have become extinct or are becoming extinct. When we have held on, it has usually not been by accident. Our ancestors knew that each generation is always tested by the conditions of time and place in which we live, and they forewarned us. We have that guidance. Thus, Chee’s thought, “Each generation must prove itself…,” is communicated as an ancient way of knowing.
Walters, Anna Lee. Vows, A Novel. Red Valley, AZ: Soje Publishing, 2015. Print.