The Antelope Wife (Magill Book Reviews)
In THE ANTELOPE WIFE, Louise Erdrich’s seventh novel, a United States Cavalry private, Scranton Roy, sent to quell a Native American uprising in Minnesota, mistakenly attacks a neutral village instead. He captures an Indian dog with an infant strapped to its back and rears the baby as his own. In this way the white Roy family begins its intricate relationship with the two Ojibwa families of Showano and Whiteheart Beads.
Typically, the book is peopled by many complex characters. The baby’s grieving mother marries a man named Showano and bears twins. Her granddaughters Zosie and Mary Showano figure prominently as the twin mothers of Rozina Whiteheart Beads and grandmothers of Rozina’s twin daughters. Meanwhile, Rozina, married to tribal businessman Richard Whiteheart Beads, falls in love with baker Frank Showano. That love triangle echoes the one formed years before by Zosie and Mary Showano and the grandson of Scranton Roy. Finally, Klaus Showano, Frank’s brother, is nearly destroyed by his infatuation with a seductive antelope woman, a creature of legend whom he meets at a powwow.
Welcome flashes of humor appear in the wisecracking monologues of the Indian dog Almost Soup, a four-legged standup comic who tells dirty dog stories. Black comedy also occurs at the disastrous wedding of Rozina and Frank Showano, where the bride’s first husband menaces the wedding party and is felled by a blow to the head with a frozen turkey.
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The Antelope Wife (Magill's Literary Annual 1991-2005)
In her seventh novel, Louise Erdrich uses as a historical backdrop the 1862 uprising of the Dakota (Eastern Sioux) people at a time when starvation stalked the reservation. However, her characters actually belong to the Ojibwa tribe, also known as the Chippewa. A young U.S. Cavalry private, Scranton Roy, is sent with his company to quell the Dakota rebellion but mistakenly stumbles into a neutral Ojibwa village and attacks the inhabitants instead. Sickened by guilt, he captures an Indian dog that is fleeing with an infant strapped to its back, names the baby Matilda and rears her as his own, nursing her with his own miraculous milk in a touch of Magical Realism. In this way the white Roy family begins its intricate relationship with the two Ojibwa families of Showano and Whiteheart Beads.
The child’s grieving mother, Blue Prairie Woman, marries a man named Showano and bears him twin daughters, the first of four generations of twins. Not much is known about the first pair, but the second set, also named Zosie and Mary, figure prominently in the action as the two mothers of Rozina Whiteheart Beads and the grandmothers of Rozina’s twin daughters, Cally and Deanna. Slowly Zosie, Mary, and Rozina reveal themselves as beaders- creators, while Cally eventually becomes an observer and chronicler of their story, a wise woman and “namer” in the way of her grandmothers.
Just as quilt-making provides the underlying framework for Alias...
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In an essay in American Literature, Catherine Rainwater isolated several characteristics in Erdrich's novels that make them different from the typical American novel. In The Antelope Wife, for example, while time is present, ceremonial time is more important. Readers will find that establishing historical sequences in any kind of chronological order in The Antelope Wife is difficult. Instead of presenting scenes according to chronology, Erdrich presents them according to theme; thus, various story lines are interrupted to bring in new characters or events which relate to the theme rather than to the narrative order. Marriages and divorces and powwows seem to operate tunelessly. Because of Erdrich's use of tribal kinship, readers are frustrated when trying to determine family relations in an era of the nuclear family. Thus, Frank Shawano nurtures Sweetheart Calico and Cally Roy whether or not they are clear family relatives. Instead of a central character or hero or heroine, Erdrich develops approximately a dozen characters but infuses them with no sense of priority or privilege. Male characters are no more important than female characters, although most of the women are stronger than the men. In The Antelope Wife, no central character demands our sympathy in the way that characters such as Huck Finn or Tom Jones do.
Instead of a clearly marked narrative point of view or authorial perspective, Erdrich uses four first-person...
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Ideas for Group Discussions
Multiple narrators and a non-linear narrative structure are just two of the nontraditional elements that Louise Erdrich employs in Antelope Wife. Because such elements may be unfamiliar to many readers, it can be helpful to create a time line of the important events in the novel. Next make a list of characters and their relationships, paying careful attention to kinship lines and the recurrence of twin girls. Use the time line and the list of characters to help answer the discussion questions below, or as starting points for other examinations of the text.
1. Part of Erdrich's project in The Antelope Wife is to trace character traits through multiple generations. Starting with Blue Prairie Woman, trace her character traits through succeeding generations of Ojibwa women in The Antelope Wife. In your own family, going back to your grandparents, if possible, try tracing behaviors and gestures from generation to generation. Does it seem sometimes as if we have inherited behaviors and gestures?
2. How do Ojibwa cultural practices contradict urban ways for contemporary Indians in the city?
3. What goes wrong with Rozina's marriage to Richard Whiteheart Beads? What is attractive to Rozina about Frank Shawano?
4. How do Richard and Rozina Whiteheart Beads handle the guilt they feel regarding Deanna's accidental death? How does the way each character handles his/her guilt reflect his/her character?...
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The action of Louise Erdrich's The Antelope Wife, which spans more than a century, traces guilt and love through several generations of three families, the Roys, the Shawanos and the Whiteheart Beads. One of the character-narrators of the novel, Cally Whiteheart Beads, summarizes the novel as follows:
Family stories repeat themselves in patterns and waves generation to generation, across bloods and times. Once the pattern is set we go on replicating it. Here on the handle the vines and leaves of infidelities. There, a suicidal tendency, a fatal wish. On this side drinking. On the other a repression of guilt that finally explodes.
The novel begins in the latter part of the nineteenth century when Quaker Scranton Roy enlists in the U. S. Cavalry after being spurned by a woman he desires. As his company enters an Ojibwa village, Roy's contempt for the Indians escalates to frigid hate, and he bayonets an old woman. Tugging at the bayonet in her wound, he envisions his own mother instead of the Indian and runs away. As Roy runs, he sees a dog with a child on its back escaping from the village. After many days he befriends the dog and nurtures the child, whom he miraculously nurses and raises as his daughter, Matilda Roy. When Roy marries Peace McKnight, a school teacher, and Matilda and Peace bond as if they were sisters, the family seems complete. Meanwhile, however, the girl's birth mother, Blue Prairie...
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William Faulkner's linked short stories in such works as Go Down, Moses foreshadow the structures that Erdrich creates in her novels. The focus of Faulkner's stories is on the McCaslin family from the pre-Civil War past to the novel's present in the twentieth century. Erdrich's The Antelope Wife deals with more families, but the historical sweep of the novel is similar to Faulkner's. Animals like Old Ben the bear in Faulkner and the dog Lion provide symbolic aspects of wilderness and human behavior just as Erdrich's antelope women do in The Antelope Wife. As Faulkner's novel leaves gaps in action and story line for readers to make connections, so does Erdrich in The Antelope Wife. Faulkner's novel is a moving account of the racial dilemmas in the South, while Erdrich deals with a Native American reality midway between the reservation and the city, Minneapolis. Faulkner critically examines the psychological effects of the problems of racism, while Erdrich's Ojibwa are torn between older tribal identities and their lives and careers in a contemporary urban Minneapolis. Despite many stories of failure, Erdrich's novel seems hopeful that the Indians will make their way. While Cally describes the Ojibwa lives as "scattered like beads off a necklace" in Minneapolis, she also sees the necklace of those lives "put back together in new strings, new patterns." At the time that Go Down, Moses was written, Faulkner's South of the 1940s had yet...
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While earlier Erdrich novels feature characters who appear in all or many of her first five novels, such as Lulu Nanapush and Marie Kashpaw, the only connections to Erdrich's earlier novels in The Antelope Wife is Rozina Whiteheart Beads' brief mention of a Pillager woman early in the novel and several narrators depictions of places on the eastern Ojibwa reservation or details about the Ojibwa in Montana. Erdrich develops new families in The Antelope Wife; the novel is a fresh start in a familiar world. What seems likely is that Erdrich will return to many of the new characters in The Antelope Wife in the same way that she developed characters from her earliest work Love Medicine to her previous novel, Tales of Burning Love. The Twin Cities and parts of North Dakota and Montana compose Erdrich's fictional world just as Faulkner's world is encompassed in his fictional county of Yoknapatawpha, Mississippi,
While Faulkner's major concerns are race and class, Erdrich tells stories similar to those of first generation immigrants to the United States. The dilemma for her Ojibwa is similar to that of the European who is loyal to a foreign national identity at the same time he attempts to become an American. Erdrich's Ojibwa experience a dilemma of loyalty to tribal customs and values while at the same time they merge into an urban American identity. In earlier novels, such as Love Medicine, life on the reservation is...
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Bibliography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Sources for Further Study
Booklist. XCIV, March 1, 1998, p. 1044.
Library Journal. CXXIII, March 15, 1998, p. 92.
Los Angeles Times Book Review. May 17, 1998, p. 9.
The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. XCV, September, 1998, p. 48.
The New York Times Book Review. CIII, April 12, 1998, p. 6.
Newsweek. CXXXI, March 23, 1998, p. 69.
Publishers Weekly. CCXLV, February 9, 1998, p. 72.
The Wall Street Journal. March 20, 1998, p. W7.
The Washington Post Book World. XXVIII, May 17, 1998, p. 11.
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