Book Review Essay on “Train Time” by D’arcy Mcnickle

Nowadays more and more researchers become concerned in the life of Indians in modern America. They show deep interest in how Indians were forced to live in unwonted conditions and how they are steadily trying to survive. But what are the feelings of those Native Americans themselves? Researchers may write about pains and sorrows of the Indians and seem to be rather compassionate to their sufferings. But the most important matter is to hear the opinion of Indians themselves. Their problems often reveal in so-called Indian literature. My paper is devoted to the work of a prominent Native American writer D’Arcy McNickle who suffered from discrimination himself, and expressed it in his stories.

First of all I’d like to say that D’Arcy McNickle was recognized as one of the most influential writer of the Native American literature. Although his writings still remain unknown to many people, they gradually win world-wide recognition. I dare say that soon McNickle’s stories will be translated in many languages and come to light in different corners of the world.

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“Train Time” is a part of McNickle’s book called “Hawk and other stories. It is a story about one Indian boy Eneas Lamartine. This character personifies the great number of Indian children who were forced to leave their settlements and go to the boarding school. Originally, in order to help Indians to survive there were arranged special reservations. They were supposed to resemble natural surroundings in which Native Americans got used to dwell. However this measure appeared to be more harmful rather than helpful. Native Americans had to suffer greatly in those reservations [Louis Owens].

Their pains and sorrows became the topic of a great number of stories and novels. The problem of ethnic and cultural discrimination awoke the interest of numerous writers. D’Arcy McNickle, however, was Native American himself and wrote his stories from personal experience. Through his stories readers see him as one of those writers who understand the evil of the reservations. In such a way each of his stories attracts reader’s attention to different problems of this kind. “Train Time” tells about a boy who was forced to go to a special boarding school far away from his family. The major peculiarity of the story is the vividness of depiction. The author managed to describe the events in a true to life way. The story itself is extremely touching. The reader feels all pains and sufferings of the Native Americans. Such writings make people understand the evil of Governors who made Indian children go to the boarding schools. The author makes it clear that none of children wanted to leave their native settlements and be ‘educated’ far from home.

None had wanted to go. They said they “liked it at home,” or they were “afraid” to go away, or they would “get sick” in a strange country; and the parents were no help. They, too, were frightened and uneasy. It was a tiresome, hard kind of duty, but the Major knew what was required of him and never hesitated [D’Arcy McNickle].

The Major is a symbol of the Government who is supposed to protect Indians, but in reality he caused pain and sufferings. The story itself starts with the scene when thirty children are standing at the station waiting for the train to come. The very title of the story “Train time” can be a symbol itself. The time when train comes would be the time when children go far away from home; this moment may also mean the fateful turn in children’s life. Major Miles tries to persuade Eneas that every change is for the best. He said the boy would soon be able to come back and to live as usual. The naïve boy as well as other Indian children didn’t understand the fraud of those words. Moreover none of the children was aware that they could get mortally sick there. Numerous children were transported to boarding school not knowing that they may die. I consider it to be one of the major themes of D’Arcy McNickle’s story. The story is penetrated with uncertainty. Poor children couldn’t imagine to what place they would be sent and didn’t know what they would meet there.

Some researchers draw attention to McNickle’s style of writing. As it was written above, the major characteristic is symbolism of characters and the title itself. The story is based on the acquaintance of Major Miles with one of the Indian boys and his departure to the boarding school which symbolizes despair, disease, unhappiness and hopelessness.

“You won’t make me go away, will you?” – Says the boy – There was fear in the voice, tears threatened.
Children were afraid of the future which awaited them. They somehow felt the evil. Each reservation had its own rules and restrictions. Few people know that in order to survive in the reservation, Indians had to follow the life-style of white people. In such a way they were actually forced to forget about their personal views. They were even prohibited to have their own religion. Such actions doubtlessly ignore personal needs of Native Americans and make them break traditions and beliefs. Moreover, taking into account poor and unhealthy conditions in the reservations, Indians are unlikely to survive.

D’Arcy McNickle draws public attention to the problem of boarding schools, where Indian children were deprived of freedom. Major Miles promised Eneas that the boy won’t have to go. Although he knew perfectly well what would await the boy at school, he tried to justify his actions: he just wanted to “help”, and the boy was too young to understand what was good and what was bad. The Major was the one to decide it. He ruled the destinies of numerous Native American children. And he finally sent Eneas with the next quote of children to the boarding school [John Purdy].

The author vividly describes the feelings of both Major and Eneas. The great fear penetrated the boy, while Major tried to approve his actions somehow, but fulfilled his duty without delay.

It was a tiresome, hard kind of duty, but the Major knew what was required of him and never hesitated [D’Arcy McNickle].

An attentive reader would notice the terrifying spirit of the whole situation described. Children didn’t want to leave their native lands. Moreover, they were not aware that they could catch a dreadful illness there or even die. Their parents were not aware either.

D’Arcy McNickle wrote that equality means right to be different. His stories stand up for Indian discrimination. “Train time” reveals the problem of reservations and sending Indian children to boarding schools. Reservations limited freedom of Native Americans, made them forget about personal views and customs. Children were brought up in unfamiliar conditions. Enforcement to assimilate to the life-style of white men broke their personality at young age.

One more peculiarity of McNickle’s story is that he writes it from the side of Major Miles. In such a way he probably tried to reveal the evil of the officer from inside.

“Major Miles was a man of conscience. Whatever he did, he did earnestly” – here reveals the ironical attitude of the author to such people as Major Miles, his moral stupidity. He pretends to know better what would be good for those children, but in reality he turns out to be evil and unconscious.

In conclusion I’d like to say that the story “Train time” is based on problem of inequality and ethnic discrimination in the USA. Although it’s obvious that some measures should be taken in order to protect Indian Americans, it is also clearly seen that the actions of the Government may cause much damage. Possible ways to overcome the problem are still under discussion. Native American literature makes certain attempts in the right way. Many writers try to draw public attention to the threatening state of matters. D’Arcy McNickle is a decent example of such literary activists, who certainly made a valuable contribution into the Indian literature.


  • Ottery, J. (2001) Studies in American Indian Literatures. Vol 13. D’Arcy McNickle’s Train Time: The Real Imperative of “Native” Education.
  • John Purdy. (1990) Association for the study of American Indian. Word Ways: The Novels of D’Arcy McNickle.
  • D’Arcy McNickle. (1995) Rico & Mano. Train Time.
  • G. Jay, S. Jones. (2005) Journal of the Society for the Study of MELUS. Whiteness Studies and the Multicultural Literature Classroom.
    Louis Owens. (1992) University of Oklahoma Press.
  • Understanding the American Indian Novel: A Story in D’Arcy McNickle’s Train Time.