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Home  >  Teaching and Learning  >  Shopping for Porcupine  >  Discussion Questions
Inupiaq Mailman

Essay Summary:  Harry Ticket, the Inupiaq mailman, delivers mail and traditional knowledge to the young Kantner. Harry brings mail and news to the Kantner house during wolf hunting trips. Howie helps Harry after his snowmachine gets stuck, but isn't happy about Harry's wolf kill. Seth reveals his connection and concern for the old hunter.

Discussion Questions:

Why do you think chasing and killing wolves brought prestige? (p. 70)

Points to consider:

  • As wolves are fast and smart, they are difficult to hunt successfully.
  • Wolf pelts are valuable in the fur markets and coveted by skin sewers for parka ruffs.

What does Kantner imply when he says, "Like many Eskimos, he now only walked when he had to"? (p. 70)

Points to consider:

  • With more and more people purchasing snowmachines, ATVS, and boats, fewer and fewer people walk.
  • Kantner was noticing, as a child, that with introduction of machines people were less inclined to move by their own power as they once did.

Why did the youngest Kantner imagine shooting three or four wolves?

Points to consider:

  • He wanted the prestige that came with being a great wolf hunter.
  • Perhaps he also felt this would help him fit into the Inupiaq village.

Why does Kantner say "Out" when he refers to where his family lived? (p. 71)

Points to consider:

  • Perhaps "Out" is short for "out of town," but also a reference to living away from "the clamor and the barking of the village."
  • "Out" is also a reference to life away from society.

Why do you think Kantner has visions of being a singer and traveling to Tennessee or Kentucky? (p. 75)

Points to consider:

  • The songs speak of "country boys," which sounds romantic, which is ironic considering Seth and Kole's existence and country life.
  • The difference from a western country life versus life on the tundra and close to nature isn't made within the songs he is listening to.
  • Perhaps missing people and imagining being surrounded and admired by flocks of people provided a nice diversion from the solitary existence on the tundra.

Discuss the irony of Harry running the post office and at the same time complaining about "white man junk, television, canned pop, and CB radios." (p. 76)

Points to consider:

  • These items all arrive to the village in the mail and he distributes the mail.

How does Kantner's early vision of the world as "part bad and part good" fit with his understanding and feelings about the world beyond "Out?" (p. 80) How was his understanding of Harry also "part bad and part good?"

Points to consider:

  • From the radio reports of political troubles, the cold war with Russia and Howie's terrible stories of the city, mixed with the radio's songs and music, Kantner might have wondered at the good and bad he heard and tried to reconcile the two.
  • People in the village didn't appreciate how Harry ran the post office or his unfair treatment, but he was good to Kantner. Harry's thirst for killing wolves also didn't mesh with Howie's beliefs, creating an unspoken conflict in Kantner's mind.

How is Harry standing on a "melting ice sheet between a past and a future almost too swift" for him to cross? (p. 81)

Points to consider:

  • The two worlds, traditional Inupiaq life and modern life, were rapidly altering Harry's world. The traditional ways were being left behind and Harry would be unable or unwilling to try to make the transition.

How is the ending of the essay a metaphor for Kantner's own life? (p. 81)

Points to consider:

  • Kantner follows the men, including Harry, but cannot keep up with the machines with his team of dogs. They represent the future, as they race towards civilization, and Kantner is left behind. His dogs refuse to move forward, and he remains as an outsider, his chance at learning more from Harry lost forever.

Final Questions:

How are the young brothers' thoughts and visions of life outside similar or different from outsiders' visions of life in Alaska?

How might only hearing about life from the Lower 48 from the radio shape or even distort a person's view of the people living there?  Do you think this way of learning about the rest of the world (through books, radio, and stories from his father) altered Kantner's view of the people living there?

What role did Harry play in Kantner's life?

Points to consider:

  • Harry recognizes Kantner's hunting skills and shares bits of traditional knowledge with him regarding hunting and surviving.
  • As an elder Inupiaq, Harry calls Kantner by an Inupiaq name and this is a sign of respect for the young hunter.

How would receiving mail and news from the outside world from someone like Harry change how you feel about getting mail?

What value does a child receive from learning from an elder? (Other than parents?)

Discuss how the world might be "part bad and part good."

Why would it be so "hard" for Kantner to make his own way? (p. 81)

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