Vfvstetv (to serve): An intrinsic analysis of Muscogee playwright Elaine Anderson's playscripts

Timothy Aleck Petete
English, University of Oklahoma
December, 2011


Members of the Muscogee Nation have encountered and endured several challenging events (the Civil War, allotment, Oklahoma statehood, etc.) since the removal of their ancestors to Indian Territory. A number of writers have emerged since the dawn of the 20 th century (Alex Posey, Charles Gibson, etc.) and they have shared with readers the dynamic realities of Muscogee culture. Contemporary Muscogee authors have drawn from this foundation and, as a result, they have expanded a culturally specific literary tradition. Recent contributions to this tradition are to be found in the form of playscripts written by Muscogee writer Elaine Anderson (1934-1993). Over the course of twelve years (c. 1974-1986), Anderson submitted playscripts to the Five Civilized Tribes Playwriting Contest. This dissertation offers an analysis of three of her works: Death of the Holly Leaf (1978), Checote: Great Leader (1982), and Who is There to Mourn? (1986). I have chosen to apply an intrinsic approach in examining the ways in which Anderson employs dramatic conventions in order to produce culturally specific plays. Each of the three plays features theatrical elements (character, setting, and plot) that reveal the dynamic nature of Muscogee culture. And although the plays feature different topics and settings, they each convey a similar unifying principle: vfvstetv (the Muscogee infinitive verb meaning "to serve"). In each of Anderson's plays, the protagonist serves the community despite personal and communal sacrifice. Each protagonist is tasked with making important decisions. Anderson shows audiences how the decisions the protagonists make produce long-term consequences. A study of Anderson's work is important because her work constitutes the earliest examples of modern Muscogee drama. As well, these works apparently represent the extant writings authored by Anderson. Within this dissertation, I discuss in broader terms the status of American Indian theatre; summarize the status of American Indian theatre; describe Muscogee history, culture, and literary tradition; document the publication of Muscogee related works, while examining Anderson's Muscogee-centered plays.