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She's got a lot of names, our Miyax. Four to be exact. Why so many? Well, Miyax is a girl torn between two worlds: the old world and the new one. Which will she choose? Before we answer that, let's gather some clues about her, so that we might make a more educated guess.
(FYI, we'll refer to our heroine as Miyax when the narrator refers to her as Miyax: that is, when she's with the wolves. And of course, we'll call her Julie when the narrator does: usually when she's in town.)
When we first meet Miyax, she's lost on the Arctic tundra. She seems pretty good-natured and well adjusted, which is impressive when you consider she's in quite the pickle. She's not screaming or crying. In fact, she's just plain calm. Shmoop's impressed.
A few paragraphs in, we get the basics, and it turns out our Miyax is a pretty complicated female. We learn that she is "daughter of Kapugen, adopted child of Martha, citizen of the United States, pupil at the Bureau of Indian Affairs School in Barrow, Alaska, and thirteen-year-old wife of the boy Daniel" (1.15). So how exactly did she end up all by herself out here in the wild, and divorced, no less?
We won't find out until later, but for now there are hints that there are deeper conflicts churning around inside her. For one thing, our narrator tells us that "Miyax was a classic Eskimo beauty" (1.8), but unfortunately, Miyax doesn't seem to like her looks, and she's pleased to find that her face has gotten skinny from eating nothing but plants for a week. Now she looks "almost like the gussak girls in the magazines" (1.95). (Gussak is the Eskimo word for a white woman.)
So Miyax isn't exactly comfortable with herself. Or at least not yet. She's having a bit of a teenage identity crisis, in which her Eskimo roots are telling her to appear one way, and American society is telling her something quite different.
When we flashback to Miyax's childhood, the narrator tells us more about this struggle, and it takes an even more central role in Miyax's character.
She spends most of her childhood at a seal camp with her father, Kapugen, and here she lives a pretty rustic Eskimo life. She seems perfectly content. But when the law requires her to go to school and Miyax moves into town, she leaves a lot of that Eskimo life behind and starts a new one, as Julie. And so the identity crisis begins.
The first thing she realizes is just how much she's missed out on: "The girls her age could speak and write English and they knew the names of presidents, astronauts, and radio and movie personalities" (2.43). Plus, her pen pal Amy tells her about "television, sports cars, blue jeans, bikinis, hero sandwiches, and wall-to-wall carpeting." (2.58) The fact that Julie has never seen these things makes even her town in Alaska seem painfully behind the times. And it makes her feel like nothing but a country bumpkin.
Julie does her best to make up for lost time though. She devours her English classes and gives herself a stylish new haircut (2.49). It seems our little Miyax is well on her way down the road to becoming Julie for good.
But that still doesn't answer the question of how in the world she ends up a member of a wolf pack and living in an ice house, you say. Fair point.
As it turns out, despite her desire to fit in, our heroine has got one heck of an independent streak. After a scary run-in with her awful hubby, she decides to travel across the North Slope to Point Hope, where she'll catch a boat to San Francisco. Suddenly, she's Miyax once again, and Julie is no more. So does that make our girl brave or just plain foolish?
We don't know about you, but if Shmoop were lost on the tundra, and our only hope was becoming part of a wolf pack… well, we don't like our chances. But despite her rather dire situation, Miyax seems pretty upbeat. As she watches the wolf pups play, she laughs openly (1.60). And when she's bored, she dances and sings to pass the time. This is not a girl who whines or pouts.
It doesn't hurt Miyax that the Eskimo half of her identity crisis appears to be gaining strength. She has a lot of traditional tricks up her sleeve, courtesy of the teachings of her father, Kapugen.
Miyax, plainly, worships the guy. During her childhood, "It never occurred to her than anything Kapugen decided was not absolutely perfect" (2.35). And even out on the tundra, where she spends all her time with the wolves, it's clear from how much Miyax relies on Kapugen's wisdom that he's the single most important figure in her life. She loves him unconditionally…
Or does she? It's interesting to note that in Part 3 of the novel, when Miyax soldiers on without her wolves, she hardly ever thinks of Kapugen anymore (in contrast to Part 1, where his advice pops up all the time). Why might that be?
Well for one thing, she's got a new Kapugen of sorts. She repeatedly calls Amaroq her "adopted father," and he's totally got her back. He is there to keep her safe when she needs him, and she loves him so much, she even invents a song:
Amaroq, wolf, my friend,
You are my adopted father.
My feet shall run because of you.
My heart shall beat because of you.
And I shall love because of you. (3.28)
Where her love for Kapugen once gave her all kinds of strength, now it's her love for Amaroq. Julie's a pretty loving girl to begin with, but whom she chooses to love tells us a lot about her. And her love of the wolves tells us she has got some new priorities.
Miyax has changed. In the great battle between town and tundra that's going on inside her, things are looking up for the tundra. She has new plans for herself. Instead of making it to San Francisco and wiggling her toes on wall-to-wall carpeting, Miyax wants to wiggle them in mukluks for the rest of her days.
She, after all, is "an Eskimo, and as an Eskimo she must live. […] She would build snowhouses in winter, a sod house in summer. She would carve and sew and trap. And someday there would be a boy like herself. They would raise children, who would live with the rhythm of the beasts and the land" (3.257). Well, that seems like a pretty clear conclusion to her identity crisis. She's chosen to cherish the Eskimo inside her, and not the gussak.
Every change happens for a reason, and Miyax's transformation is no exception. She has lost her father Kapugen to the temptation of town life. She has lost Amaroq to a wasteful hunter. All she has been able to count on for months and months has been herself and anything that the wild Arctic has to offer. So why not answer the call of the wild /call-of-the-wild/?
As it turns out, there is one good reason not to answer that call. When Tornait, the last wild creature to whom Miyax has given her love, dies, it's a victory for Julie over Miyax, and our girl must go back to town, and her father. She must say goodbye to the Eskimo inside her.
What do you think of this decision? Was it really the death of Tornait that makes her return to town? Or is it something deeper?
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