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Dances With Wolves Essay Summary

  • Lt. John Dunbar is dubbed a hero after he accidentally leads Union troops to a victory during the Civil War. He requests a position on the western frontier, but finds it deserted. He soon finds out he is not alone, but meets a wolf he dubs "Two-socks" and a curious Indian tribe. Dunbar quickly makes friends with the tribe, and discovers a white woman who was raised by the Indians. He gradually earns the respect of these native people, and sheds his white-man's ways.

    —Greg Bole

  • A Civil War soldier develops a relationship with a band of Lakota Indians. Attracted by the simplicity of their lifestyle, he chooses to leave his former life behind to be with them. Having observed him, they give the name Dances With Wolves. Soon he is a welcomed member of the tribe and falls in love with a white woman who has been raised in the tribe. Tragedy results when Union soldiers arrive with designs on the land.


  • Having been sent to a remote outpost in the wilderness of the Dakota territory during the American Civil War, Lieutenant John Dunbar encounters, and is eventually accepted into, the local Sioux tribe. He is known as "Dances with Wolves" to them and as time passes he becomes enamoured by the beautiful "Stands With a Fist". Not soon after, the frontier becomes the frontier no more, and as the army advances on the plains, John must make a decision that will not only affect him, but also the lives of the natives he now calls his people.

    —Graeme Roy

  • Lieutenant John Dunbar, assigned to a remote western Civil War outpost, befriends wolves and Indians, making him an intolerable aberration in the military.

    —Jon Reeves

  • The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


    • During a US Civil War battle, Union Army Officer Lieutenant John J. Dunbar (Kevin Costner) learns that his injured leg is to be amputated. Seeing the plight of fellow soldiers with amputated legs, Dunbar refuses amputation and attempts suicide by riding a horse across the line of fire, between the opposing Union and Confederate positions. His action has the unexpected effect of rallying his comrades, who storm the distracted Confederates and win the battle. After the ensuing battle, an experienced general's surgeon saves Dunbar's leg. The commanding officer recognizes Dunbar as a hero and gives him Cisco, the horse who carried him in battle, and offers Dunbar his choice of posting.

      Dunbar, anxious to see the Western frontier before it ends, requests transfer west. After meeting with Major Fambrough (Maury Chaykin), who has slipped into delusions of grandeur (apparently believing he is a king and Dunbar a medieval knight), he is paired with a drayage teamster named Timmons (Robert Pastorelli), who conveys Dunbar to his post. After the departure of Timmons and Dunbar, Fambrough commits suicide with his own pistol.

      After a scenic journey, Dunbar and Timmons arrive with fresh supplies at the desolate Fort Sedgwick, finding it deserted except for a lone wolf that Dunbar later befriends and dubs Two Socks, because of the coloring of its front legs. Dunbar, while waiting for reinforcements to arrive, sets about bringing order the deserted post, left in complete disarray by its previous occupants. Meanwhile, Timmons, while returning to their point of departure, is ambushed by Pawnee Indians and scalped. Timmons' death and the suicide of the major who sent them there prevents Union officers from knowing of Dunbar's assignment to the post, effectively isolating Dunbar. Dunbar remains unaware of the full situation and its implications. He notes in his journal how strange it is that no more soldiers join him at the post.

      Dunbar initially encounters Sioux neighbors when the tribe's medicine man, Kicking Bird (Graham Greene), happens upon the fort while Dunbar bathes out of sight, and, assuming it abandoned, attempts to capture Cisco. After Dunbar scares off Kicking Bird, he is confronted by an aggressive warrior named Wind in His Hair (Rodney A. Grant), who declares that he is not scared of the white man. Eventually, Dunbar establishes a rapport with Kicking Bird, but the language barrier frustrates them. On his way to visit the tribe's camp, Dunbar interrupts the suicide attempt of Stands With A Fist (Mary McDonnell), a white woman captured by the tribe as a child and recently widowed, who recovers and acts as a translator. Dunbar finds himself drawn to the lifestyle and customs of the tribe, and becomes a hero among the Sioux and accepted as an honorary member of the tribe after he helps them locate a migrating herd of buffalo, which they depend upon as a source of food, material, and clothing.

      Dunbar further helps defend the settlement against a Pawnee raiding party, providing the Sioux warriors with surplus rifles and ammunition from the fort. He eventually is accepted as a full member of the tribe. After members of the tribe witness him playing with Two Socks, he is named ugmánitu Taka Ob'wahi ("Dances with Wolves"; ugmánitu Taka means large coyote, the Lakota word for wolf). Dunbar falls in love with Stands With A Fist, a relationship forbidden by the recent death of her husband in battle but consummated in secret. The two eventually win the approval of Kicking Bird, who takes on the role of her father, and marry. Dunbar subsequently spends more time living with the tribe than manning his post at Fort Sedgwick. Wind In His Hair, his last rival, acknowledges him as a friend.

      Dunbar's idyll ends when he tells Kicking Bird that white men will continue to invade their land in "numbers like the stars." They tell Chief Ten Bears (Floyd 'Red Crow' Westerman), who decides it is time to move the village to its winter camp. As the packing finishes, Dunbar realizes that his journal, left behind at the deserted fort, is a blueprint for finding the tribe, revealing that he knows far too much about their ways. Wearing Indian clothing, he returns to Fort Sedgwick to retrieve the journal but finds it is has suddenly been occupied by newly arrived Army troops. They see Dunbar and initially assuming he is an Indian, kill his horse Cisco and capture Dunbar.

      When they recognize Dunbar as a white man, they treat him as a deserter, and beat him during an interrogation. Dunbar tells Lt. Elgin (Charles Rocket) (whom Dunbar met earlier in Maj. Fambrough's office) that he has a journal containing his orders for his posting to Fort Sedgwick. Spivey (Tony Pierce), one of the first soldiers to arrive at the fort, denies the existence of the journal, which he had found and has in his pocket. After further beating, Dunbar declares in the Lakota language that his name is Dances With Wolves. Army officers and a few troops set off to deliver Dunbar to Fort Hayes for execution. When they happen upon Two Socks, they shoot at the wolf, who refuses to leave Dunbar. Despite his attempts to intervene, Two Socks is fatally wounded, and the convoy moves off.

      Soon after, Wind In His Hair and other warriors from the tribe attack the column of men, rescuing Dunbar. Smiles A Lot (Nathan Lee Chasing His Horse) retrieves Dunbar's journal floating in a stream. After returning to the winter camp, Dunbar realizes that as a deserter and fugitive, he will continue to draw the unwelcome attention of the Army and endanger the welfare of the tribe if he stays with the Sioux. Under the protests of his Sioux friends, Dunbar decides that he must leave the tribe, saying he must speak to those who would listen. His wife decides to accompany him.

      As Dances With Wolves and Stands With A Fist leave the camp, Wind In His Hair cries out that Dances with Wolves will always be his friend, a remembrance of their first confrontation. Shortly afterward, a column of cavalry and Pawnee army scouts arrive to find their former camp site empty.

    Michael Blake’s book Dances with Wolves reveals a very exciting story of the territorial war between settlers and Native Americans. The book has a Western setting depicting a frontier from a Native American’s point of view. Blake invites the reader to experience the regular pressure that had initially been placed on American by Settlers. John Dunbar, the major character, is a lieutenant who had initial sympathy for the settlers, links with a tribe belonging to Native Americans. This essay analyses Lieutenant Dunbar’s traits that made him abandon America’s allegiance and be part of the Comanches.

    Dunbar is a brave man after deciding to be a leader of a troop in a civil war. Instead of having one of his legs face amputation, he decides to take a horse to war and ride next to his enemies where they have a full view of him. He goes into the enemy’s frontline so as to pronounce and face his death. The army belonging to the Union attacks as the confederates gets distracted by the ride Dunbar has decided to take. The war ends as a confederate riot. Dunbar survives the battle and they win the war and Dunbar is considered a hero. His creative nature is evident when he decides to distract the enemies from his troop. He also defends the village and sees them to victory following attacks from a rival tribe known as Pawnee.

    He is smart when he requests for a position on western frontier, though it is deserted. He is awarded the horse that carried him during the war and his posting as a gift. As a result of his brave trait, he does not leave the island, and he decides to live alone with his horse. His self-assured nature gives him the courage to live in the island though it looked deserted. After arriving at the new post, he finds the frontier in disrepair and abandoned. He is opportunistic of giving “hope” to the island and makes a “life” out of the island. He begins restocking and rebuilding the fort and prefers the solitude that has been accorded to him.

    Dunbar being a friendly and a social person creates friendship with the people of the tribe found in the frontier, where he finds a woman raised by Indians despite her white race. He gets attracted by the customs and the lifestyle of the island dwellers and he begins spending a lot of time with the tribes. For being lovable person he earns respect from the island dwellers and is seen as a hero when he locates buffaloes that were migrating and volunteers to participate in hunting the buffaloes. In addition to this, his befriending nature also extends to animals after he forms some form of friendship with a wolf that he names “Two Socks” (Blake 120). His non-conversant nature allows him to interact freely with the tribes in the island and get rid of his white-man’s lifestyle. He changed his clothing, identity and mindset. He further befriends and forges relationship that turns out to be romantic with a white woman from the frontier tribe.

    Dunbar is realistic depicting high intelligence in the way he manages his life as well as the life of others. Due to his sympathetic character, Dunbar rescues the white woman who was injured. His compassion attribute causes him to understand the pain tribe is experiencing when they are confronted with the Pawnee community. He also portrays a cooperative nature when he decides to work together with the community in times of war and when hunting for the buffaloes. His cooperative nature is also evident when gets along with the tribe as well as with its culture. Dunbar is loyal and has a citizenship-type of a character when he turns down the offer by Americans to serve in their army. The American army requests Dunbar to serve as an interpreter in helping them understand the local tribe’s language. When he rejects their offer, he is put on trial, and charged for treason, and they transport him back to the east as a prisoner. His courageous nature is also seen when he does not falter even after being threatened with deployment to face trial charges. Dunbar’s excellence nature is attributed to the victory his accomplices have witnessed. Dunbar is also industrious seen in the way he reconstructs the island and tries to reshape it from its ruin. His leadership skill allows him to lead his troops twice in a battle where they did not concede defeat. He showed them the “way”, and this influenced his troops to follow his example.

    In conclusion, the shift portrayed in the story is what makes the story so unique and unusual, as the antagonist turns out to be the protagonist. As the story begins, Blake depicts the Indians as protagonists after the warriors originating from the Pawnee tribe murder Timmons, who was Dunbar’s escort. This makes a reader have an impression of how all Native Americans are cruel and evil savages. As the book progresses, Indians turn out to be the protagonists after Comanche reconciles with Dunbar, and Blake describes them as colonization’s victims. The love twist that unfolds between Lieutenant Dunbar and his lover makes this book worth reading. Dunbar has various character traits that enable him to “fit” and accept the Comanche tribe and join them. Dunbar’s bravery trait made his troop win the war and as a result, he was positioned at the frontier as a gift accorded to him. This accord made him experience a new whole tribe in a deserted fort. His leadership skill “blends” well with his bravery character, in leading the two groups to victory during the war. His bravery nature is one of the things that attract the Comanches to him and because of this he is awarded respect. First and foremost, he leads the Comanches to victory against their foes the Pawnees, and he later joins them in the hunt for the migrating buffaloes. His cooperative nature is another attribute he depicts after agreeing to join hand with the community in searching for the buffaloes. He has a friendly nature seen in the way he befriends the community, a wolf and the woman whom he turns out to have feelings for resulting in a romantic relationship. As the story comes to an end, Dunbar shows the loyalty and the citizenship after turning down the American army’s offer to together with them in interpreting the Comanches language. Despite the fact that the American army threatened him with trial charges for trespass and treason, Dunbar does not yield to their request. They then transfer him to the eastern side where he is to face trial, but he is rescued by the Sioux.

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