The Medicine Bag Summary, Theme, Critical Appreciation by V.D.Hawksneve

The Medicine Bag Summary by V.D.Hawksneve

The Medicine Bag Summary, Theme, Critical Appreciation by V.D.Hawksneve

The Medicine Bag Summary

The “Medicine Bag” is a story about a young lad named Martin’s relationship with his grandfather who actually represent the cultural past of their family and culture. The narrator Martin’s mother is a Native American but his father is a white man. His grandfather is from Sioux, South Dakota, belonging to Lakota tribe.

Martin and his sister Chery visit their eighty-six years old grandfather on Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota every summer- On their return to Iowa, where they live, the often depict a very impressive picture of their native grandpa and the place he belonged to. They bring wonderful things from that place to show and impress their friends. Their friends are fascinated by all the details about Grandpa and the place he lives in. The young teen Martin never shows any picture of his Grandpa to his friends.

Therefore, when his Grandpa actually comes to visit them, Martin felt upset. He feels embarrassed by Grandpa’s dressing style and behaviour in the street, where dogs also barked at him. Grandpa greets Martin in a traditional way.

Martin’s mother also feels shocked on seeing that the old man had come from South Dakota to Iowa just to meet them. She avoids hugging the old man while greeting. She feels that her hugging the old man will not be considered dignified. But her daughter Chery goes and greets the old man as their loving Grandpa.

Martin helps his Grandpa into bed, he realises how weak and feeble the old man is. He discovers a leather pouch around Grandpa’s neck. As he removes Grandpa’s boots, he finds them stuffed with money. Seeing the condition they call a doctor and he reports that the old man is suffering from heat exhaustion.

After relishing soup, the old man describes them the actual purpose of his visit. He was feeling lonely and decided to meet his family his only surviving relatives. With the assistance of a policeman, he was able to meet Martin and his family. All the family felt guilty that Grandpa faced difficulties in reaching them.

Martin has a feeling of respect for the old man who bravely set out to the unknown place. Grandpa narrates to the family how he had saved one hundred dollars for his funeral. He carried the money in his boots which was earlier discovered by Mail n himself. He ordered them to use the money to buy groceries as the old man does not want to depend on them being their burden. Martin’s father realises his fault in never asking

Grandpa to come to visit their house or to live with them. He believed that it was his right time go visit the family. He had come to hand over the medicine bag to Martin. The boy feel shocked that he will have to take the bag if it is offered to him.

The Medicine Bag About the Author Roald Dahl

Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve (born on 21st February 1933) is an American author with a focus on children’s books about aboriginal Americans. The daughter of James Driving Hawk, an Episcopalian priest and Rose Driving Hawk (nee Rose), Virginia was raised on the Rosebud Indian Reservation. She graduated from St. Mary’s School for Indians Girls in Springfield, South Dakota and received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from South Dakota State University (Brookings) where she met her husband.

She published twenty books on South Dakota history, aboriginal American history, poetry, fiction and non-fiction work for children, as well as one about her female ancestors. She studied journalism at the South Dakota State University. She is a mother of three, grandmother of five and great-grandmother of two. It is beacuse of her children that the author realized the need for children’s book about aboriginal Americans in a contemporary context rather than a “Savage” myth of the past.

First published in Boy’s Life Magazine in 1975, ‘The Medicine Bag’ is one of Sneve’s early works. Her writings earned her acclaim throughout the world and won prestigious awards including National Humanities Medal (2000). She always realised the need for children’s books about aboriginal Americans that makes her contribution to literature more valuable.

The Medicine Bag Theme

The story “The Medicine Bag” concentrates on the significance of family relationship and the importance of cultural heritage. The writer explores two levels of family relationship. Martin, the narrator belongs to a small nuclear family. He likes to talk about his Grandpa and the place he lives in but does not want his friends to know the reality about them. On the other hand, the Grandpa keeps hold on the family’s culture and tradition and want Martin to understand the intrinsic power of family heritage and culture.

He wants to handover a leather pouch “the medicine bag” to Martinto carry on the cultural heritage that signifies the families past. At the end of the short story the author makes the reader realise the importance of family history, culture and tradition, through Martins realisation and acceptance of the “Medicine Bag”.

The Medicine Bag Critical Appreciation

Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve’s “The Medicine Bag” is very interesting and meaningful story about the forgotten values and significance of cultural heritage. The narrator Mortin a lad of fourteen, loves to talk about his Grandpa a Native American and how the old man brought to their home the link of cultural heritage preserved by the Native Americans.

The boy narrates how he exaggerated the attractive aspect of South Dakota, the place where his Grandpa lived and bored the appearance. Martin’s friends at Iowa, where he lives with his parents, do not know much about the Indians as they have seen them and their life in Television and films or any other media only.

When the narrator’s Grandpa pays them a visit, it worries Martin that his friends would not appereciate Grandpa’s way of life. He does not want them to meet the Grandpa. But his friends like and appreciate Grandpa’s behaviour and the way he greets them. The Grandpa narrates the tale of his father called “Iron Shell” who handed over “the medicine bag” to him with a hope that he would pass it to the future generations particularly the male member of his family.

Since Grandpa’s sons are dead at war, he wanted Martin to hung the medicine bag or the elk leather pouch on his neck which is symbolical about cultural past of the family and the society the ancestors belonged to. There are two parts of the story consisting of two stories related to the bag of medicine.

In the first part, the narrator talks about his fears about the nature of the culture that Grandpa represents. It also brings out that the narrator himself seems ashamed of his past. It critically points at the attitude of the younger generation towards the ancient traditions and values. The young one usually avoid to show their cultural past in fear they will be considered traditional by their modem friends.

The second part of the story highlights Grandpa and his past history of acquiring the medicine bag. Grandpa make the narrator Martin realise the importance and relevance of his cultural tradition and the ways their ancestors have valued them. It brings a change in the young boy’s attitude and he readily accepts his cultural past symbolically represented by the medicine bag”.

The Medicine Bag Characters


In this story Grandpa is potrayed as an eighty-six years old Native American committed to the family traditions and the cultural past. He lives on the Rosebud Reservation in south Dakota. He travels a long way from Dakota to Iowa to hand over the medicine bag as a symbol of his family heritage to Martin his grandson. The old man wore a tall black hat with feathers in it. Although he was old and belonged to distant land, but he knew how to conduct himself in the changed circumstances.

His behaviour with Martin’s young friends brings a change in the boy’s thoughts about him. He always act with dignity and seems to have an innate sense of time. He understands the proper time at which certain events should take place. He prepares Martin to embrace and appreciate his own culture and heritage.


The narrator Martin is a young teen of fourteen. He lives with his parents in a white sub-urban neighbourhood in Iowa. His mother is Native American and his father is a white man. He creates a glorious image of his Grandpa and the place he belongs to infront of his friends. He is aware of this false apprecation. When his Grandpa actually visits him. Martin does not want his friends to meet the old man.

It shows that he does not think high of his Grandpa’s appearance and the culture he belongs to. However, he is helpful, respectful and considerate towards Grandpa. Martin helps the old man in changing his dress and making comfortable place in the house. He guides the old man from the street to the house. He realises the significance of his family’s past and accepts its tradition as desired by Grandpa.

Iron Shell:

The character does not appear in the story like Grandpa or others. He is just mentioned in the story of Grandpa. He is an important character. Iron Shell was a Native American who lived in the area known as Montana and Dakota. He was actually Grandpa’s father. Iron Shell gave respect and importance to ancient tradition of his people. He decided to go on a spiritual journey or quest. His dream of an iron shell that he put in a leather pouch of elk skin gave him his name as “Iron Shell”. He appears to be a strong minded people who had great faith in the value of his cultural past.

Cheryl, Dad, Mother:

These three characters are the member of Martin’s family. Cheryl, is his sister and she lives with her parents in company of Martin. His dad and Mom are too responsible, sensitive and sympathetic human beings. They realized their mistake and feel guilty for not asking Grandpa to accompany them to their house. They look after the old man very well.

Dad is a teacher at a local college. He is a white man but he respects the traditions of his wife’s family belonging to Native American. Martin’s mother, referred to as “Mom” is a good lady who values her Native American heritage. She is kind and affectionate towards her father and also wants her children to follow the advice of their old Grandpa. Cheryl, Dad and Mom are not well-developed characters in the story but they have important roles to play in developing the whole story.

The Medicine Bag Title of the Story

The author Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve has used the title “The Medicine Bag” in a very suggestive and symbolical manner. The pouch of elk leather bag as mentioned in the short story as “The Medicine Bag” has no medicine in it. It has an iron shell that signifies the ancient culture and traditions of the Native Americans that Grandpa wants Martin to adopt and carry forward on heritage relics.

“The Medicine Bag” gains importance in the section of the story when Grandpa gives details about Iron Shell and the story related to him. The whole focus shifts from Grandpa’s unexpected arrival, Martin’s fear and the old man’s long journey to the purpose of Grandpa’s visit concerning the medicine bag. The bag is the symbol of ancient culture and tradition of the family.

The Medicine Bag Setting

The story “The Medicine Bag” features round Grandpa’s concern to carry forward the Native American Culture. Consequently, the setting of the story is in Native American places like Dakota and Grandpa is linked to the Rosebud Reservation located in the southern central part of Dakota. He teaches real Sioux chant to Martin and familiarises Martin to the culture and history of his ancestors. All the incidents related to Grandpa’s arrival to Martin’s house takes place in Iowa whereas the other places are mentioned or simply described to provide a suitable setting to the story.

The Medicine Bag Style

Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve’s style in this story includes the use of literary devices like simile, contrast, juxtaposition and symbolism. The example of simile can be observed in the sentences “His rumpled black suit hung like a sack over his stopped frame”. The use of contrast is obvious when the narrator brings out the difference of people’s thought towards the Native American based on Television any other media image and the reality about them.

The narrator Martin’s thought about the reaction of his friends and his sister’s attitude in this situation have been justified to highlight the difference in perception and understanding. The most important example of a symbol in this story is the medicine bag that the Grandpa hands over to Martin. This bag is the symbol of Native American culture and belief that these people preserve and wish their generations to carry forward in future.

The Medicine Bag Plot Explanation

Martin, the narrator fears that his Grandpa’s unexpected visit would spoil his reputation among his friends and peer group as he had poesented a glorious picture about the Grandpa and the place where he lived.

The Grandpa comes, Martin brings him home from the street, he had reached after a long journey from Dakota.

Grandpa gives detailed accounts of his journey and declares then his actual purpose of this visit. He wants to give his ancestral medicine bag to Martin as his own son has died in war. Martin feared that his friend will make fun of him seeing his Native Grandpa and hides the oldman’s arrival before them. But Martin’s friends visit the old man and feel rather happy. It changes Martin’s attitude and thoughts about the old man.

The old man narrates the story of his father from shell who had handed over the bag to him. The medicine bag possess a magical quality it keeps away all evil of life. Martin accepts the leather pouch without any hesitation and when the old man dies the family bring the Grandpa for burial to Dakota.

The Medicine Bag Annotations and Vocabulary

glamourous — attractive
bragged — talked two proudly
mocassins — flat comfortables shoes made with large stitches in front
authentic — true
stringy — resemble a string (especially hairs)
strand — a piece of hair or wool
shock — a small bundle of wood or metal
mutis — stray dogs
commotion — great noise
yipping — give out short sharp cries in excitement
nipping — giving a quick bite
straggled — walked more slowly than the group
rumpled — dishavelled
fatigue — tiredness
sheepishly — shyly
Patio — a flat hard area usually behind the house.
squaeeze — press
scared — afraid
sacred — pious, holy
blacksmith — a person who makes and repairs things made of iron
treasured — valued
drifted — moved away
Prairie — a region covered with grass
sage — a fragrant plant
upright — in a straight vertical position or honest and responsible
wearily — tiredly
stooped — head and shoulders bent

Prism A Collection of ISC Short Stories Workbook Answers