Study Guide

Code Talker Themes

  • Warfare

    Code Talker throws us right into the Pacific battles between the Americans and the Japanese during World War II. Warfare is the big theme of this book. And what we'll learn is that warfare isn't just about a bunch of guys with guns shooting at one other. World War II wasn't just a battle of guns; it was a battle of communication.

    And it was a rough battle. Code Talker gives us a first-hand look into the violence of the war, and the uphill fight the Americans faced in trying to outsmart their Japanese enemies using military code.

    Questions About Warfare

    1. War is a physical battle. But what are some of the psychological battles that Chester has to fight in this book? What does this book suggest about the necessity of inner strength in a time of war?
    2. The Japanese are the enemies in this book. Even though they're enemies, they're also human, just like Chester and his buddies. Does the book present the Japanese with enough humanity, do you think?
    3. How does the war allow Chester to reconcile the conflict between his Navajo and his "Anglo" cultures?
    4. Even though the war is very difficult, how does it allow Chester to broaden his horizons and to discover the world beyond Navajo land?

    Chew on This

    War is a terrible experience. There is nothing to be gained from killing and bloodshed. Discuss.

    War isn't all bad. There's a lot to be gained from going through the experience of war. Discuss.

  • Language and Communication

    When we think of war, what might pop into mind are men in uniforms shooting at one another. That's a part of it, of course. But war is also about language and communication. The Americans couldn't have won World War II if they weren't able to communicate and organize their military strategy in an effective way.

    Chester Nez's Code Talker shows us how World War II was as much a battle over language and communication as it was over territory and power. Without the Navajo code that Chester and his buddies developed, it's likely that the Americans would have lost the Pacific to the Japanese. But language and communication are also important in this book because they hint at Chester's own identity as a guy with each foot in a different world: one in the mainstream "Anglo" American world, and the other is in the Navajo world.

    Questions About Language and Communication

    1. How do Chester's two languages embody the conflict between his Navajo and his "Anglo" cultures?
    2. In what ways is the military code that Chester and the code talkers develop a bridge between Chester's two worlds—Navajo and "Anglo"?
    3. How is Chester's "oral" Navajo culture—with its emphasis on oral storytelling—useful for his work as a Marine code talker?
    4. In what ways does the book suggest that war is as much a battle over communication as it is over territory?

    Chew on This

    Language functions as a bridge between Chester's two cultures in the book. Discuss.

    Language represents the conflict between Chester's two cultures in the book. Discuss.

  • Patriotism

    Uncle Sam. The Star Spangled Banner. Lady Liberty. Apple pie. Patriotism for 'Murica is a pretty big theme in Code Talker.

    This is a memoir about a time in history—World War II—when America was under serious threat, and the narrator of this book is a very patriotic guy. When his country's attacked, he risks his life to defend it. This is additionally admirable considering that as a Navajo, Chester and his people weren't treated that well by America. He didn't even have the right to vote until 1947, and the government liquidated his family assets by literally burning most of their herd.

    Questions About Patriotism

    1. How is patriotism posited as a Navajo cultural value in Code Talker?
    2. What value does Chester gain from doing his patriotic duty as a Marine?
    3. The Navajos were historically treated very badly by America, and yet they still join up to defend America during World War II. What does this suggest about their understanding of patriotism?
    4. How does Chester continue to do his patriotic duty after his return from fighting in the Pacific? In what ways does he continue to act as a patriot?

    Chew on This

    Chester and his Navajo buddies join the war effort to defend Navajo land, not America. Discuss.

    Chester and his Navajo buddies join the war effort not only to defend Navajo land, but all of America. Discuss.

  • Identity

    Who am I? Where do I belong? Where's my home? Chances are, we all ask ourselves these questions at some point in our lives.

    But if we're Navajo, we're probably asking ourselves these questions all the time. Is being Navajo the same thing as being American, especially when you're not allowed to vote in US elections until 1947? Why is there so much conflict between Navajo and Anglo culture? Is there a way to reconcile these two conflicting identities? These are the types of questions that our narrator, Chester Nez, asks himself over and over again in Code Talker.

    Questions About Identity

    1. In what ways does the war force Chester to compromise some of his Navajo customs and beliefs?
    2. Does Chester successfully reconcile his Navajo and his Anglo cultures? In what ways does he manage to do so?
    3. Does Chester's education in the boarding schools affect his attitude toward his Navajo culture? In what ways?
    4. What role does storytelling play in Navajo culture and identity? Why is this role important?

    Chew on This

    Chester is a victim of the culture clash between his Navajo and Anglo cultures. Discuss.

    Chester's dual cultures are a blessing. He gains a lot from having access to both cultures. Discuss.

  • Tradition and Customs

    Code Talker isn't just a war story; it's like a crash course in the traditions and customs of the Navajo people.

    The book gives us a vision of the traditional Navajo lifestyle, which revolves around the land and the rearing and herding of livestock. We also get a peek into a number of Navajo rituals and ceremonies, and we learn about Navajo beliefs about living according to the "Right Way." So this book can be read as a document not only of World War II, but also of Navajo culture.

    Questions About Tradition and Customs

    1. What role does ritual play in Chester's life? How does ritual function in Chester's (and other Navajos') daily lives?
    2. In what ways do the traditions and customs of the Marines compare or contrast with the traditions and customs of the Navajo people in this book?
    3. How do the older generation of family members pass on traditions and customs to Chester and his siblings in Code Talker?
    4. In what ways do the traditions and customs of his native Navajo culture help Chester get through the war?

    Chew on This

    The traditions and customs of Chester's Navajo culture are a big source of strength for him. Discuss.

    The traditions and customs of Chester's Navajo culture are a big source of conflict for him. Discuss.

  • Family

    Chester wouldn't be Chester without his family. His values, his principles, his beliefs, are all drawn from his grandmother, his father, and his aunts and uncles. Not only does Chester's family give him a sense of identity, it also supports him through the tough times (and there are about a zillion tough times described in Code Talker).

    In this way, the book shows us family both as a source of identity and a source of support. Family is at the root of who we are. Chester wouldn't be the awesome dude he is without his family.

    Questions About Family

    1. In what ways does Chester's family support him both before and after the war?
    2. How is Chester's identity rooted in his family?
    3. How does Chester's family life prepare him for his work as a Marine code talker?
    4. In what ways does Chester carve out an identity for himself that is separate from his family, and why?

    Chew on This

    Chester's family life is a source of joy. Discuss.

    Chester's family life is a source of sadness. Discuss.

  • Friendship

    We'd bet that if we were thrown into the middle of a raging battle with a bunch of kids from school and had to rely on them to survive, we'd get pretty close to them pretty quickly. This is what happens in war: one minute you're strangers, the next you're saving each other's lives and forming some pretty deep bonds as a result.

    Code Talker dwells at length on the bonds that Chester forms not only with his code-talking buddies, but with his other Marine buddies as well.

    Questions About Friendship

    1. What's the relationship between war and friendship in this memoir? How does war allow Chester to form bonds with other men?
    2. In what ways does friendship function as a support in Code Talker? What does Chester gain out of his relationships with other men?
    3. How is the theme of friendship reflected in the epigraph to the novel?

    Chew on This

    Chester's strongest bonds of friendship are with other Navajo Marines. Discuss.

    Chester not only forms bonds of friendship with the Navajo Marines, but with non-Navajo Marines as well. Friendship breaks down the barriers between Navajos and non-Navajos. Discuss.

  • Courage

    It takes a lot of guts to voluntarily sign up to join the Marines and risk your life for your country. Can you even imagine what it's like to go thousands of miles away from home after a few weeks of training and be responsible for defending yourself, your buddies, and your homeland… all with the knowledge that you may die doing it?

    Yikes. We're even scared of silly things like creaky elevators.

    Code Talker is about the importance of courage. In this book, Chester and the code talkers represent the courage and heroism of the troops who fought to defend America during World War II.

    Questions About Courage

    1. The American troops are represented as very courageous in Code Talker. Are the Japanese troops also presented as courageous?
    2. Is courage an important Navajo cultural value? How so, and why?
    3. How does Chester demonstrate courage not only in his military life, but in his personal life as well?
    4. What is the significance of the Congressional Gold Medal that Chester and the other twenty-nine code talkers receive in 2001? How does this medal reflect on their service during the war?

    Chew on This

    Chester isn't a courageous guy. He just does his duty. Discuss

    Chester is extremely courageous. He goes above and beyond. Discuss.