Jan 12, 2018 in Literature

Little Big Man

In his Little Big Man, Berger documents a series of events that leave Jack alone. This may be a symbolic expression referring to how one of the characters, Jack Crabb, stood out from the rest as a unique and long-suffering person who endured a lot of trials and tribulations. In order to demonstrate that indeed Jack was meant to be alone, this essay explores some of the plot characteristics as well as character traits of the protagonist. This will be done through quotes from Berger’s works as well as other secondary sources that have analyzed the theme. In this essay, it is argued that indeed, Jack stands alone in many aspects. The concern is if his being meant to be alone was a consequence of his travels or a pre-determined thing in terms of destiny and symbolism. In order to understand the text in another perspective, the essay introduces alternative options in order intensify the analysis. A critical view of the diarized information as well as the author’s perspective helps to understand the book better. The author uniquely presents the events in the plot to present Jack as a character who appears to have been meant to be alone.


Jack Crabb was alienated from the very beginning. Since he was young, it is clear that he was not even brought up in the right place by the right people. To demonstrate this, Crabb says "I am a white man and never forget it, but I was brought up by the Cheyenne Indians from the age of ten". In this regard, perhaps Crabb would have been a different person if he was brought up by White parents. The other aspect is the fact that he has never forgotten his situation. In most cases, people forget their childhood events and happenings but Crabb does not. Furthermore, although it may appear that Jack Crabb should live like the Indians, he makes it clear from the beginning that he was a White. In the process of scrutinizing his life, it happens that he does not actually have a permanent place of residence. He keeps on oscillating between the Whites’ and Indians’ places. This leads to the strong assertion that he was meant to be alone. In essence, neither is he with the Whites nor is he with the Indians.

Jack Crabb was meant to be on his own world of uniqueness. This is because unlike the rest of the characters. He remembers all the dates without any aid. Therefore, he was on his own class of people with fine memory. There is no doubt that this and other aspects made him a unique character. Crabb considers himself as not belonging to the old way of life. This is demonstrated by his disgust and negative attitude towards the old Cheyenne chief as well as the old lodge skins. According to Hoover 2012, ‘Crabb views the old Cheyenne chief as a bloody and savage reprobate, and yet Crabb loves him with all his heart and doesn't apologize one whit for it’.However, queries may be raised on the appropriateness of the claim that the Indian society was old. This is because he was raised up there and if anything was old there, then he must have inculcated it in his character. Conversely then, it would mean that if he was brought up in an ‘old’ society but remained to be ‘not old’, then he must have been unique and unchanging thus meant to be alone.

Other than what is written in Little Big Man, Berger’s intensive research into the Old West facilitates the understanding of why the protagonist was indeed meant to be alone. According to Landon (2009), out of this literature, it becomes apparent that this society was quite discriminative as well as structured. For one to survive there, they had to device their own ways; such as the ones devised by Crabb. For him, he had to steal from them in order to survive. In addition, Crabb had to tell many lies in order to survive. This further sets him apart as a loner in terms of survival techniques as well as mannerisms that are not in tandem with the social contract dictates. It should be noted that being alone is also a literal term in that the protagonist was alone in a land of people from another race. Additionally, he stands out to be alone in that he boasts of being ‘not like them’ yet he tells lies and steals from them; unless ‘not being like them’ meant that he was not virtuous. Moreover, Crabb was a great survivor as well as a hardworking character, something that is not found in all characters.

Crabb is left on his own after the passing of the Old Lodge Skins. He is torn between two perspectives or worlds. This is because he never finds one permanent place of residence. According to Hoover (2009), it appears as if he was a symbol of loneliness that never disappears in the world even among social beings. Moreover, other than the symbolic nature of his suffering, he was actually alienated. From the outside, and from his conviction, he was White but in terms of socialization, he was a Cheyenne Indian. His mannerisms were also Cheyenne. In a more critical perspective, there is a need to examine the kind of ‘meant-to-be-alone’ person he was. Does this apply to how others viewed him or how he viewed himself? Is it possible for one to lie to himself about himself? Of course in the eyes of the society he was not like them. This is because he could say it and they could hear him. However, in this view, Crabb knew, deep within himself, that he was being dishonest to himself and was a victim of falsehood.

Jack Crabb was meant to be unique in terms of age. This is because he lives longer than many of the other characters. This sets him apart. In addition, although he passes through a hell of tribulations, problems and trials, Jack later comes into a relatively glorious life. In that society, very small number of people succeeded or overcame the challenges that faced. Moreover, he was able to survive and pass most of the hurdles and make a life of his own. But considering isolation as a way of being on own, it would not qualify Jack as such a person. Berger presents him as a character that was social, outgoing and unable to be left alone in terms of interpersonal dealings. Therefore, to qualify the statement that he was meant to be alone, another aspect must be considered. It could be said that he had many properties and characteristics that others did not have. He was a well rounded person in times of social life as well as technical know how. Furthermore, Jack qualifies to be on his own because he is at the centre of two conflicting cultures. It appears that he is a perfect manifestation of the nurture-nature debate. Are some traits genetic or simply social? In answering this question, Berger only relays facts and episodes; it is up to the reader to discern. In this regard, it should be arrived at that Jack as a product of two cultures but one played a more dominant role in his life.

Jack was meant to be on his own because he was very hypocritical. He was a boastful character. He had a high opinion of him. However, if this opinion is not genuine, one becomes a hypocrite the way Jack turned to be. In yet another perspective, Jack was meant to be on his own since he was the sole survivor of the Battle of the Little Big Horn. According to Berger (1989), he says that ‘I am, beyond a doubt, the last of the old-timers. My name is Jack Crabb, and I am the sole white survivor of the Battle of the Little Big Horn.. uh, uh . . . popularly known as Custer’s Last Stand’. This is perhaps why Berger chose the title Little Big Man. He was little in achievement and simplistic life but was big in terms of having overcome the war. Moreover, this assertion could be questioned. Jack survived the war simply because he was saved by a stranger. Otherwise, he would have been slain. On this basis, did he survive or was saved? It is clear that his survival was because he was helped. However, since he is actually alive, he must be referred to as having been meant to be on his own.

Crabb was meant to be on his own on the basis of the fact that although he was saved by a stranger, he was not ready to appreciate ‘strangers’. He says that ‘There was no describing how I felt. An enemy had saved my life by the violent murder of one of my best friends. . . . The world was too ridiculous to even bother to live in’. The Cheyenne are symbolically referred to as strangers because they were not his race. He did not appreciate them because of his negative attitude and always being opposed to their humanity and ability to excel like any other human being. He did not want to be identified with them, most of the times, as illustrated by the fact that he did not have a permanent residence in their midst. The available literature shows that he admired their way of life and character. In one of the acts, he says that ‘they’re Cheyenne brave, and Sioux. You go down there if you've got the nerve’.

There is no doubt that Jack was an exceptional character in that he identified, though not wholesomely, with the non-American ways. He was not imperialistic as most of the American as well as Whites were towards the Indians. He must have held something special for them within himself. In the mix of imperialism, it also remained clear that there was immense discrimination. The Whites were presented as infinitely powerful while all other people as finite not only in numbers as well as in their capabilities and what they could possibly do. This is illustrated by the assertion that the numbers of the Whites were always unlimited but the numbers of all human beings were limited. In spite of the existence of such stigmatizing philosophies, Jack was able to mix with the non-whites. However, this king of association could be questioned because an offshoot of this attitude was clearly visible in the way he perceived them.


The events recorded by Berger in his novel variously prove that indeed Jack Crabb was meant to be on his own. To effectively demystify this, this view considered both literal as well as symbolic aspects of being on own. On a literal sense, it was found out that indeed, Jack was the only person who survived the Battle of the Little Big Horn. As a result, he author chose the title Little Big Man. Moreover, much of the debate discussed ways in which Jack was unique. It was found out that he was aged 121 years, an age that a rare number if people attain. Due to this, he continuously brags that he was indeed the toughest. In order to ascertain whether indeed Jack was tough, this investigation, upon intensive scrutiny, found out that he was saved by a stranger. Going yet back again, other than the battle, the character had survived other strenuous life events; which made him somewhat tough. By considering the entire plot, Jack could be described as having been meant to be on his own.

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