Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Tragedy of the Blue Tattoo

First, I would like to express my extreme sadness and empathy for Olive Oatman and her brothers and sisters and for their suffering. This is such a tragic story. Imagine your entire family being killed,  being taken into slavery, your only surviving family member dying of starvation, and after finally being accepted into a culture and creating a life for yourself with a husband and children, to be taken from this life and forced back into "normal society" as a victim and as a freak. Everything about this story makes me hurt. It reminds me of a novel I read when I was younger and really interested in historical fiction. It chronicled the story of a young quaker girl taken captive by local Native Americans who was assimilated into their culture. At the end when she was "rescued" she was so torn, worried that her husband was killed in the raid, and ultimately had a hard time adjusting back to her old life. Now, I am sure that this novel was partially inspired by the Olive Oatman story.

I think the tragedy of this story is the lack of agency she has on her entire story. She was unable to make decisions about her travel across the west. She was sold into slavery. And even though the tattoo may not have been forced onto her, we have to ask questions about whether she really had a decision about the tattoo or was it such a cultural mark that, like foot-binding, it was a necessity to fit into society. She had little agency over her rescue and her return to U.S. society left her with hardly any decisions as well.

Though this tattoo may not seem so shocking today, this marking and , perhaps her story, made her a freak in 19th century Morman America. What were her choices as she arrived back into this society? She could never be normal. I think its important to reflect on this experience and to reflect on what we see today as "freakery" in society. We should attempt to reconsider this position until we understand anothers experience and attempt to place it outside of our time frame.

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