Critical Commentary

As a legend, “Robin Red Breast” aims at educating the readers about aspects of Cherokee culture. In addition to this, it serves as a piece that pushes the readers to treat the animals in the environment around them with respect. The first mention of interaction between the humans and the other beings that they share the earth with is after the warrior has been brought to the stake. The tribe who was holding him prisoner decides to leave him, “…to be eaten by the wild beasts who were at enmity with the red man at this time,”.This case stands out because the Cherokees had a close relationship with nature, but that balance is disturbed in this instance. Miller later reveals that this was possibly because the warrior had slain the brothers of the deer that wandered by him. They “passed” the warrior bound to the stake, and “passed” by after deciding to not aid him. By using “passed” twice in the same sentence, Miller is conveying the attitude that the deer had towards the warrior. “Passed” implies that the deer gave a second thought to helping the stranded warrior, but decided against it. In depicting the animals in this way, as beings capable of making rational decisions, Miller is personifying them. She does this multiple times throughout the story, and it contributes to the theme of treating the environment with respect. If animals are capable of feeling human emotions, then we should treat them as our peers. In this example, the deer seem to understand the concept of the justice system in the sense that the warrior killed their brothers, so they are not going to help him. This reemphasizes the idea of treating the beings in the environment with respect.

The next animal that the warrior encounters is the robin that eventually frees him from the stake. This interaction is the exact opposite of the previous one, as the robin, “…worked for a whole day…pecking his fetters away,”. The bird eventually frees the warrior, and helps him further by bringing him water until he regains consciousness. In this scene, the robin is also personified. Miller includes that the bird is female, which adds another dimension of humanity to the animal. The robin recognizes that freeing the warrior will require patience and take a lot of time, but she decides to help him anyways. Through pecking the bindings away, she accidentally cuts the warrior. After being freed, he paints the robin’s breast red with the blood from his wound. As red symbolizes recovery from sickness for the Cherokee, it makes sense as to why the warrior would paint the robin that color. The contrast painted through the two interactions with animals in “Robin Red Breast” does not only further the theme of respecting the environment in which we live, but represents a larger idea of Cherokee culture: maintaining balance with nature. At the end of the tale, this balance holds true. The interaction with the deer in which they ignore the warrior and leave him to die is countered by the robin, who decides to save him and help him regain his strength.

Another idea that is explored by Miller in “Robin Red Breast” is that of destiny. This theme first appears when the warrior is moved out of his cave on the seventh day of his capture. As the number seven represents the highest level of purity and sacredness for the Cherokee, it could be that at this point the warrior is destined to be freed. Upon returning from his capture, the warrior is told that his father was killed in the same fight in which he was taken prisoner. Why is it that the warrior was allowed to survive while his father, the chief, was killed in battle? Again, the idea of destiny comes up. It could be that a higher power wanted to make sure the warrior was kept alive in order to encounter the robin, and share with his people what had happened. He forbids his people from harming robins in any way after returning home, which could have been his purpose in the legend. As a culture-hero story, “Robin Red Breast” portrays the protagonist as someone who has an impact on the world as a whole, and in this case, his purpose is to prove the value of the robin. He was destined to do so. Through this legend, Miller teaches the readers about not only about customs and traditions of the Cherokee tribe. She also includes themes that are prevenient in both literature and the real world, and that are still relevant today.

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