When the Legends Die, by Hal Borland, is a novel in which traces the life of Tom Black Bull from a young Indian boy to an older, mature adult. Thus meaning When the Legends Die is a bildungsroman. A bildungsroman is a novel in which the protagonist from beginning to the end matures, and in a classic bildungsroman, undergoes a spiritual crisis. His life is filled with many obstacles and affected by many people positively and negatively. Throughout the story he overcomes these obstacles and lives through the people. His attitude is affected with the presence of the other characters.
Soon after the death of Tom’s father, George Black Bull, Tom is left to be the man of the family. Bessie states to Tom after burying his father, “‘Now you are the man. ’”(29) That one statement has a lot of meaning. On one hand it means he has to provide for him and his mom. By hunting for food to help him and his mom stay alive and survive. Then he has to be able to catch enough to eventually save for winter. Then, during the winter, his mom dies from sickness. He brings her up to where his father was buried and buries his mom right next to his father, singing the song for going away.
Bessie was a positive influence to Tom, she had taught him how to live: cook, sing the old songs, and doing things in the old way. On the other hand she was negative, because everyone else in the story was starting to live in the new ways and adapting to it, while she did not even teach Tom anything about the new ways. With the lack of his mother now, he has no one to live with, care for, except for himself, but without an adult in his life. But now he is now forced to choose his own choice and learn from them since he has no one to help him through life.
For his mother, was not only his caretaker but also his teacher and mentor for living in the old ways. Soon after living alone for a while on the mountain, he is tricked into going to a reservation school. Then from there, he escapes then returns and ends up being an aid for a sheepherder. Within a short a period of time, he is taken in the hands of Red Dillon. Red Dillon is an owner of a kind of farm. As an ex-rodeo rider, he teaches Tom how to ride broncs. Red Dillon teaches Tom important lessons but attempts to run his life. When Red Dillon says, “‘… First one is, don’t trust anybody when it comes to your saddle and gear.
Not even me. Check everything yourself before you say you’re ready.. .’”(125) Those few words by Red taught Tom more than just not to trust anyone with your gear and deal with bronc riding. But instead do not trust anybody with anything at all in life. Do everything yourself and do not rely on others to do things. “‘Second thing you just learned,’ Red said, “is not to jump somebody bigger than you unless you’ve got an evener.. .take it out on a horse, where you’ve got a change to win’”(125) This lesson is for Tom to try to not take out his frustration on something that he know he can not handle.
Instead, to take on something he can tackle, where he has a chance. This applies to anything in life, not just to rodeoing. Red Dillon though with his alcohol brings a negative affect to Tom. He does not provide a father figure in which Tom lacks, he does not show any affection, forces Tom to do things against his own will, and he shows a lot of aggression. In the end, Red brings doom to himself and leaves Tom, alone by himself again. Tom is back to having no one to lead him and help him make decisions. He is back to supporting himself and choosing what to do.
Tom is able to do what he wants to do, without anyone to hold him back. He does not want anyone to lead his life for him. But he needed the lessons from his mom and Red to be able not to repeat mistakes and what to do in what situation. But that does not mean he is set for any situation. In the end he returns after having a spiritual crisis in which he gets seriously injured from a hard blow. In which he then returns to his old ways in living how he did as a kid, in the old way. Completing a circle, in his path through life.