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“If you were fortunate enough to be born into a family whose ancestors directly benefited from genocide and/or slavery, maybe you think the more you don’t know, the more innocent you can stay, which is a good incentive to not find out, to not look too deep, to walk carefully around the sleeping tiger. Look no further than your last name. Follow it back and you might find your line paved with gold, or beset with traps.”
- Tommy Orange, There There
Location & Characters
- Oakland, CA: Located in the East Bay region of the San Francisco Bay Area, Oakland has a diverse population of ~433,000. It is home to many of the characters in There There, who traverse it by bike, bus, BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit), and sometimes even by car. All of the characters in the novel come together at the Big Oakland Powwow.
- Tony Loneman: Lives with his grandmother, Maxine, and works for Octavio. He has fetal alcohol syndrome, which he refers to as "the Drome."
- Dene Oxendene: Tries to carry on the work of his uncle, Lucas, to "document Indian stories in Oakland." Has a booth set up at the powwow to record people's stories.
- Opal Viola Victoria Bear Shield: Lives with her great-nephews Orvil, Loother, and Lony. She and her half-sister Jacquie were on Alcatraz with their mother, Vicky, during AIM's occupation of the island.
- Edwin Black: Works on the powwow committee and lives with his mother Karen. Reaches out online to his father, Harvey, who he plans to meet for the first time at the powwow.
- Bill Davis: A Vietnam veteran, he works at the Oakland Coliseum (where the powwow is held) and is in a relationship with Karen, Edwin's mother.
- Calvin Johnson: Works on the powwow committee, and is dragged into the robbery plan by his brother Charles, who works for Octavio.
- Jacquie Red Feather: Has been living in Albuquerque and is a substance abuse counselor. After a chance meeting in Phoenix with Harvey, she decides to return home and meet her grandsons, who have been living with Opal.
- Orvil Red Feather: 14 years old, he has taught himself to dance by watching YouTube. He takes his younger brothers to the Big Oakland Powwow, where he will dance in public for the first time.
- Octavio Gomez: A drug dealer, he lives with his grandmother Josefina. His uncle Sixto caused the deaths of most of Octavio's family.
- Daniel Gonzales: Octavio's cousin and younger brother of Manny, who has been killed. Daniel is a coder, and shows Octavio what 3D printing can do.
- Blue: The daughter of Jacquie and Harvey, she was adopted by white parents and raised in the suburbs. She returns to Oakland after five years living in Oklahoma, and is the head of the powwow committee.
- Thomas Frank: A drummer at the powwow, he formerly worked at the Indian Center as a janitor.
- Harvey: Lives in Phoenix and is the emcee of the Big Oakland Powwow. He learns during the course of the novel that he has two grown children.
- In the first chapter of the book, Tony reflects on the long history of Native Americans being forced off their lands, saying that: “I would hate it if I got moved outta Oakland, because I know it so well... It’s my only home. I wouldn’t make it nowhere else.” (18). What are some of the different ways that the idea of "home" is presented in the novel?
- Opal says to her great-nephew, Orvil: "Don't ever let anyone tell you what being Indian means." (119). How do the various characters in the novel think and talk about Native identity?
- Tommy Orange is currently writing a sequel to There There. Which characters would you hope to see again? Which character do you relate to the most?
- What did you think about the ending of the novel? Did it feel true to you?
- Spiders -- and their legs and webs -- are a recurring theme in the book. How do you understand these references?
- Was there anything about this novel that surprised you? If you could ask the author one question, what would it be?
Land Acknowledgement Statement
"MIT acknowledges Indigenous Peoples as the traditional stewards of the land, and the enduring relationship that exists between them and their traditional territories. The land on which we sit is the traditional unceded territory of the Wampanoag Nation. We acknowledge the painful history of genocide and forced occupation of their territory, and we honor and respect the many diverse indigenous people connected to this land on which we gather from time immemorial."
Learn more about the MIT Land Acknowledgement Statement on the ICEO webpage