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How did the contact zone impact the two cultures in Louise Erdich's "Fleur"?

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windrider | eNotes Newbie

Posted January 26, 2010 at 7:16 AM via web

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How did the contact zone impact the two cultures in Louise Erdich's "Fleur"?

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carol-davis | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted May 10, 2013 at 5:34 PM (Answer #1)

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“Fleur” by Louise Erdrich presents two different settings which are troublesome for the main character Fleur Pillager. As a Chippewa Indian, Fleur grew up on reservation.  Men seem to die when they are around Fleur.  The main character is a flamboyant woman who appears to have magical powers.  Unfortunately for the opposite sex, men find Fleur alluring and sexual. 

The question mentions the contact zones of the story which are social spaces where cultures meet, clash, and grapple with each other.  The impact on the story and its resolution would be the difference between the life on the reservation and the life that Fleur finds in the town.

In the first part of the story, the first person narrator, Pauline, takes the reader inside the reservation world.  Fleur almost dies twice in the story.  The first time that she drowns two men help her. Soon after, the men disappear.  When she is about twenty, she drowns again but the men are afraid to help her. One man comes up to her after she washes up on the shore.  Fleur curses him, and the man dies in his bathtub.

Fleur leaves the reservation for the town of Argus where she asks the local priest for help in finding a job.  Ironically, he sends her to the slaughter house for a job.  Fleur finds her niche because she can work like a man. 

The men in the town find her sexual inviting. Yet, Fleur joins the poker game with the slaughter house men and wins.

“Women did not usually play with men, so the evening that Fleur drew a chair up to the men’s tale without being such much as asked, there was a shock of surprise.”

“Well, we know one thing,” Lily said, leaning back in his chair, “the squaw can’t bluff.”

When she wins their money, the men led by Lily decide to pay her back. Drinking to excess makes the men vulnerable to their animalistic urges.  After a terrible struggle with the narrator refusing to help Fleur, the men trap her and take her into the smokehouse. No details are given, but it is obvious that she was raped by the men.

The next day the town falls prey to a terrible storm. Pauline even flies through the air because of the high winds.  Trying to pull itself out of the storm, it is discovered that the only business that is nearly destroyed is the butcher house.  The people forget to look for any survivors at the slaughter house for several days.  Eventually, the three men and the dog are found frozen to death in the meat locker. 

Obviously, the implication is that the two different cultures do not mix—the Indian woman against the slaughter house men.  The men do not treat Fleur or Pauline with respect.  Because Fleur places herself in the same setting as the men, she opens herself for the ill-advised abuse of the men.

After the humiliating loss to a woman, the men feel the need to pay her back. Apparently, the men have no compunction in raping a woman; in particularly, Fleur who acts both femininely and with an air of masculinity.

Old men and Pauline retell the story giving credit to Fleur for the storm and the death of the men. Pauline describes the character of Fleur as using magic and Indian medicine and charms.  To the men and Pauline, Fleur was out of control when she dressed like a man and ignored the advice to forego the magic. When Pauline locks the men in the meat locker, she suggests that it was Flour’s influence that made her do the deed.

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