Genre: short story
Genre(s): short story; Short stories; Satires; Novels; Children's literature; Essays; Experimental fiction; Parodies
The story offers little background information about its narrator, who seems to be one of the leaders of the troops the "Comanches" and their sympathizers are attacking. He participates in the torture of the captured Comanche and describes various battle scenarios. These descriptions are interlaced with seemingly unrelated comments directed at various women in his life as well as his accounts of his visits with Miss R. His relationship with this teacher, which he initiates after deciding that he "knows nothing," seems ironic when Miss R turns out to be a member of the insurgency. Some critics have identified the narrator as a member of the well-educated, affluent urban class, too smug and self-deluded to recognize what is going on around him. His frequent comments about the table he is making from a door seemed to some critics to mean the narrator is preoccupied with trivial details even in the midst of a crisis. Others critics have focused on the narrator's relationships with women, including Sylvia---who seems to be his current lover---and a never-identified "you" who may be Sylvia or someone else. It is even possible that the uprising is a metaphor of the struggle to obtain fulfillment in love, a battle waged not against a band of savage-eyed Indians but against Sylvia. Another reviewer called the narrator an artist who destroyed himself by never internalizing social values, which left him open to the onslaught of life's "primitive" elements. At the end of "The Indian Uprising," the narrator is taken prisoner, stripped of the "bindings" of belt and shoelaces, and subjected to chaos and the unknown.
Most of the story's other characters---some critics have argued, that they are not characters at all but vehicles for Barthelme's verbal experimentation---are women, and images of love and war are closely intertwined. As the story opens, it appears that Sylvia is the narrator's main love interest, but she eventually abandons him, running off to join the Comanches and "uttering shrill cries." The story may be a metaphor for the narrator's break-up with Sylvia, whose angry words can then be viewed as the insurgent forces opposing him. The narrator also longs for an unidentified "you"; this woman is apparently a star of pornographic films and may even be Sylvia. Miss R is the teacher to whom the narrator's friends send him for further education. She is supposedly unorthodox but successful with difficult cases like himself. Her methods are bizarre---she alternately insults and cajoles the narrator, calling him "my darling, my thistle, my poppet." Miss R claims that truth lies in the "litany" and that she reveres only "the hard, brown, nutlike word." Some reviewers have felt that she parodies the traditional schoolteacher type or is an ironic reversal of this stereotype, since she turns out to be on the Indian side in the uprising. Also referred to in the story is Jane; the narrator has heard that she was "beaten up by a dwarf in a bar on Tenerife," and (despite his stated desire to remain "nonevaluative") he admonishes her for having an affair with a married man.
Other characters mentioned in "The Indian Uprising" include the captured Comanche brave, whose torture comprises a central motif in the story and who ultimately reveals his name to be Gustave Aschenbach, the name of the emotionally tortured protagonist in Thomas Mann's 1912 novel, Death in Venice; and the narrator's friends Block and Kenneth, who seem to be his co-defenders against the siege of the Indians.
Source: "Donald Barthelme: "The Indian Uprising"," in Characters in Twentieth-Century Literature, Book Two, Gale Research, 1995.