Two Old Women



Two Old Women is a tale of two elderly ladies that were left behind by their community, which suffered from famine. The women tried to survive and did not give up. The ladies were still productive and mobile and were able to go with the rest of their community. However, they were said to be complaining and, consequently, even their children did not protest when it was decided that the two old women were to be left.The main objective of this paper is to review the book Two Old Women written by Velma Wallis.

Velma Wallis is an Athabascan Indian who grew up in Gwich'in, Alaska. Her father died when she was young, and the girl moved into her father’s cabin that was twelve miles from the village. She lived there alone and learned the basic skills of hunting and trapping. Velma Wallis was an avid reader and soon passed her equivalent of high school exams. She then began writing a book based on a story she had been told by her mother. It was the tale of the two old women that were left by their community during famine. Instead of giving up, the two women survived and even managed to gather food in the storage. They were found there by the rest of community when they came back looking for the old women (Wallis, 1993).


The events described in the book happened in winter, when the members of Gwich’in community were struggling to feed themselves. They are nomadic people and, traditionally, when things get to this point, the old and frail are left behind by the rest of community. In the book, the chief decides that Chi’dzigyaak and Sa’ would be the ones to be left behind.  Chi’dzigyaak’s daughter does not protest the decision. The old woman thinks to herself “…I waited for a protest from my daughter, but none came” (Wallis, 1993, p .26). Her daughter, however, leaves a bundle of moose skin strips for her. Her grandson looks more touched by the situation and leaves his hatchet in a prominent place (Wallis, 1993).

Abandoned women decide that if they are going to die, they would try to survive at all costs. They trace their steps to the place they were fishing a long time ago. However, their journey is not easy as they have aching joints; this is a result of their old age. An extreme cold also does not favor the old ladies. The two women use the skills their community has always relied on. Namely, they make snow shoes, warm clothes, rabbit snares and fishing lines. As summer came, the two old women build up a store that contained a substantial amount of meat and dried fish. Further, they even build comfortable huts (Wallis, 1993).

The rest of community does not have as much luck as the two women. The people suffer from weakness and hunger. Desperation sets in, and they decide to go back to where they expect to find the bones of the old ladies. They are, however, surprised when they find nothing there. They send three young men to look for the ladies. Finally, the men are filled with guilt and shame when they find the ladies alive and healthy. They rediscover an inner strength of these women that they did not have during winter (Wallis, 1993).


The book gives a lot of moral teachings to the modern readers. Unfortunately, the elderly are abandoned today because they are thought to be old and frail. Moreover, they are assumed not to be able to contribute to the society. Gwich’in community described in the book learnt not to leave their members during the hard winter times and not to underestimate any of them. Two Old Women is a good read, and I would recommend it to the book lovers.

Related essays