Conflicting Cultures - “the Problem of Old Harjo”

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What are the limits of cross-cultural compromise when it comes to questions of principle? In the story “The Problem of Old Harjo”, John Oskinson writes of a missionary woman, who is bound to teaching a convert, an Indian, that the ways he is living is not acceptable in the church. The culture difference between Native Americans and the Europeans was a big gap. Indians believe in different gods while the Europeans believed in the one god. The Europeans believed one wife for marriage where Indians saw no wrong in marrying more than one woman. The Christianization and assimilation of Indians was of paramount importance to Euro-Americans. Several Christian groups set up schools in Indian lands to provide a basic white education to young Indian boys and girls in order to convert them and teach them English. (Curreri p. 27) In the story, Miss Evans has been trying to convert Mr. Harjo, an Indian and “her gracious appeal had convinced old Harjo that this was the time to repent and be saved”. But as the story goes on, we see that old Harjo has a dilemma that is against the acceptance of the Church beliefs: he has two wives. Harjo wants both the new religion and also to retain his Indian customs, and neither side will give in to the other. Miss Evans gets caught between the strong, yet wanting Harjo and the stubborn and uncaring character of Mrs. Powell, who seems to represent white religion in general. (West) Throughout the story, Oskison employs dark humor to illuminate the insanity of the requests imposed by Euro-Americans on indigenous nations. Harjo has no conception of his ‘sin’ and did not know that he needed to be saved, until a white missionary told him. Oskison is implying that the sin is in the eye of the beholder and not universal. The young missionary is described as “weak on matters of doctrine” but full of “enthusiasm” and actually asks Harjo to choose
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