“Two old women” the novel of the American writer Velma Wallis published in 1993 is Alaskan legend of betrayal, courage and survival.
Long before Europeans came to Alaska, the nomadic tribes of Indians roamed in motion for the polar regions of Alaska, obtaining food by hunting. Gvich’in tribe of Athabaskan peoples wanders in these regions through which the Yukon River and its tributaries Porkupine and Tanana flow.
One of these Gvich’in groups because of the upcoming harsh winter and an acute shortage of food simply decided to leave the two old women in the snowy wilderness.
Shocked and frightened 75-year-old Sa’ and 80-year-old Ch’idzigyaak stand in the snow, when the head of the tribe announces the decision, and tribe hastily leaves the place. Before this, Ch’idzigyaak daughter gives two condemned to death an untanned moose hide. Grandson of Ch’idzigyaak secretly gives them a bone ax. Finally, a tribe hides away from the sight. Two women sit quietly. In desperation, however, they want to die, not giving up. Sa’ manages to kill a squirrel, wielding an ax as a projectile. Near fire two women eat meat broth. They prepare a trap for a rabbit and set it. In the trap, two rabbits were caught. Old woman together make snowshoes and, swaying from one foot to another, go to the river, on which once the tribe successfully caught the fish. In their multi-day march, every night, they put a temporary tent in the snow. Hot coals – this is the most protected treasure in their luggage. The fire never goes out. In the morning, the old women during each transition farther are struggling with pains in the joints. Women reach the river and break winter camp hidden away from the river because they are afraid not only of wolves, but also of people and cannibalism in case of famine. Fortunately, the old ladies can collect supplies of smoked muskrats and beavers for their camp. After the end of the winter, in the summer, they dry large quantities of fish.
Next winter the tribe returns to the area. The head of the tribe notes tracks, and comes to the conclusion that the two old women went through last winter. Moreover, he thinks that if the old women are there, then all will be well. The tribe, with no luck in hunting, is again dying of hunger. The head sends ranger Daagoo and a few young hunters. Weak group wanders the countryside. Daagoo smells the smoke from the fire of two successful old fisherwomen. Daagoo goes to their camp, but women do not trust him. Daagoo gives them the word that men want to submit to two women. Sa’ and Ch’idzigyaak have many doubts. However, they feel that what Daagoo says is fair, and that, in spite of the big accumulated reserves, they are very lonely. They miss the tribe, which drove them to their fate. They agree to go, but not fast. Contrary to a deep-seated distrust, their hearts are softened. Old women give a sufficient portion of their reserves to comrades dying of hunger. Ch’idzigyaak’s grandson arrives in camp. Daughter is still ashamed. Finally, the mother and daughter reconciled. Tribe gets a lesson. They never will expose the elderly to the danger.
The women, one 75 and the other 80 years old were waiting for the quick death, and then they decided that they really are not so unfit and that they deserve to live. Although the tribe says the opposite! Is it not self-respect! And one said to the other, “Let’s die resisting.” They that went with sticks and complained of pain began to think about the skills, they possessed in their youth. This gave them more and more confidence.
“Yes, she is waiting for us, this death. Ready to grab us at a time when we show our weakness. I fear this death more than any suffering that you and I will have to go through. And if in any case we have to die, then let us die resisting it!
Chidzhiguak long and intently look at at her friend, knowing that what is said is the truth and that death will come, if they make no attempt to survive. She was not sure whether they are strong enough to survive this harsh time, but the passion in the voice of her friends made her feel a little better. And instead of hopelessness, sadness, because there was nothing to say, she smiled:
– I think we talked about this, and we say many times. But yeah … Let’s die resisting”. (Wallis, 2000)
The novel tells the story calmly and so convincingly. Each step of the old women is believable. Since they are women, they can tell about themselves, buried in the snow, about their life and so timidly approach each other as a person to person. Plot changes in the story – from the primal terror, acts, production of food and, in the end, the initial reluctance to share supplies with starving tribe – are absolutely clear to the reader. This is sequential narrative, in which there are no spaces. Reading gives contemplative pleasure. Some things become clear only after reading. For example, early cannibalism is selected as one of the central themes. However, subsequently, the problem itself is dissolved in a series of events as the two old women dry and smoke fish, it becomes negligible. Nothing in the text is implausible.