This short story, from the collection Mondo and Other Stories, centers on the dialogue between Little Cross, a Native American girl from a mesa in New Mexico, and a white American soldier ready to go to war. She has an obvious taste for solitude, yet the fact that she addresses the young American shows her tendency to go toward others. Added to this is her ability to communicate, through multiple modalities, with the world around her through senses other than sight.


The story is punctuated by visitations from small animals typical of the American desert. Everything contributes to exacerbate the intensity of the sensations, starting with the heat of the sun. Like many of Le Clézio’s child protagonists, and with the same tenacity as Mondo, the girl asks questions to understand her surroundings, to perceive what the blue of the sky may be, for example. Through these questions, the reader gathers that she is blind. The final event is the appearance of the god Saquasohuh, a blue star whose presence on earth announces a dance of death. In mythology this star represents an ambivalent figure of life and death. Since Native American culture is based on cyclical returns of cataclysms, the girl seems to fear a disaster. At first, she screams, then runs, and her tears flow. Just as her blindness is never clearly named, the end of the story seems to suggest that she "sees" but it remains ambiguous whether she actually recovers her vision or whether her “sight” is rather “insight.” The fact remains that she feels a “clear, pure, blue light that goes to the depths of her body like fresh water from a spring” (M, 242). This penetration works like an initiating visitation. At the beginning of the story, Little Cross saw differently, and as the sun sets at the story’s end, she sees a blue star’s revelation.


The story is set in New Mexico, as the habitat / ecosystem of the mesas (plateaus) indicates. The only toponym mentioned is the village of Hotevilla but, as Bruno Thibault reminds us, the site is a nuclear testing zone, which gives another meaning to the announcement of a cataclysm. It is "in the desert of New Mexico that the first atomic bomb was tested, before being dropped on Japan" (Thibault, 2009, 69). In the text, this correlates to the sensation of the earth’s vibration that the child experiences. The plane passing through the sky is clearly related to the impending Korean War: "In the holds of the giant plane, the bombs are stacked one next to the other, death in tons" (M, 249). This giant is not unlike the other mythical giant in the text which also appears in the sky at the end of the story, meaning that whether in ancient or modern times, predators are always looming.


Contemporary reality is present through clues, such as the initial mythical setting recalling the roads that criss-cross North America: “The tarmac road crossed the country from side to side, but it was a road to go on without stopping, without looking at the villages of dust, straight ahead in the midst of mirages, in the wet noise of overheated tires” (M, 221). The story is also anchored in a social reality highlighted by François Marotin. The child is one of the impoverished peoples, groups who often have a storyteller or a silent witness. In this case, an old Bahti embodies the one who explained the world to the little girl when she was younger. While never present, he is a memory on the edge of the child’s consciousness. Later his role of conveyor of the world seems devolved to the soldier, but as François Marotin demonstrates, the weakness of human language is apparent. Apprehending the world through the senses turns out to be a more accurate method.


“Solarness” has a referential dimension in the  ​​​​ context of the New Mexican climate, but also gestures to Indian mythology. François Marotin underlines how "the sound of light is the expression of an absolute origin: This is the first sound, the first word" (Marotin, 1995, 97). The girl’s welcoming and patient attitude can be seen in the stillness of her body, sitting squarely on the floor, her face turned towards the sky. The quest for blue and the story’s title mark the importance of the celestial dimension. “People of the Sky” designates the Indians who live on the lofty mesas, high above the earth, stretching towards the sky. The plateau they inhabit is experienced as an intercessor between heaven and earth. The emergence myths are based precisely on the connection from earth to heaven, through an Indian who shoots an arrow towards the sun. It is this myth of emergence that J.-M.G. Le Clézio relates when he explains the sources that inspired this account in an interview with Justyna Gambert.


The symbolism can also be interpreted from a Judeo-Christian sphere of reference: the connotation of a peaceful blue, a visitation by bees (abeilles), onomastic which refers to the Cross. This hybridizing of Native American and Christian mythology should not come as a surprise, considering the influence of Spanish colonization on this state in the southern United States.

So, at the end of the story, how do we interpret the race and the child's tears? Is she haunted by the Native American mythologies of disappearance, as Bruno Thibault believes? Is she emerging in the world in a different way, as Georges Lemoine imagines, drawing her as if she is levitating, her feet floating off the ground? Is she running away, becoming “prey”? The fact remains that the short story does not allow itself to be so easily enclosed as a simple resurgence of shamanic myths. It is caught in the fragments of memories of the twentieth century: a memory of death certainly embodied by the blue giant, but told in a precise historical time.

In fact, the giant "came to dance in the village square, as old Bahti said he had in Hotevilla before the Great War." Bahti, whose advanced age designates as a sage in the manner of a Naaman or a blue man from the Sahara, is a vaguely drawn character who is nevertheless among the most significant: he is perhaps another ambivalent object of loss and presence. This figure is mentioned no fewer than six times, often to highlight what he learned to sing or what he said, like the schoolmaster Jasper or the young soldier.


Ultimately, the child is alone; she "totters", she "soars" (M, 243), ... Mute seer? No answer is possible because there are several ways of understanding, as there are "several blues" (M, 228). So with the Leclézian color chart.



Isabelle Roussel-Gilet

Translated by Mary Vogl





GAMBERT Justyna, entretien avec J.-M.G. Le Clézio, Les Cahiers J.-M.G. Le Clézio numéro 8, 2015 ; LE CLÉZIO Jean-Marie Gustave, « Peuple du ciel », Mondo et autres histoires, Paris, Gallimard, folio, 1995, p. 221-243 ; « Peuple du ciel », version illustrée par Georges Lemoine en album jeunesse, Paris, Gallimard, 1990 ; « Peuple du ciel », Mondo et autres histoires, Paris, Gallimard, 1978 ; MAROTIN, François, « Petite Croix ou la descente en soi-même », François Marotin commente Mondo et autres histoires de J.M.G. Le Clézio, Paris, Gallimard Folio, 1995, p. 95-108 ; PLU Christine, « Petite Croix transfigurée », Revue Cahiers Robinson, numéro 23, Le Clézio aux lisières de l’enfance, 2008, p. 92-106 ; ROUSSEL-GILLET Isabelle, « Habiter la terre amérindienne, devenir œil-fruit », Les Cahiers J.-M.G. Le Clézio numéro 8, 2015 ; THIBAULT Bruno, J.M.G. Le Clézio et la métaphore exotique, Amsterdam, Rodopi, 2009, chapitre 3, p. 68-70.