The Beet Queen demonstrates techniques and themes that readers have come to associate with Louise Erdrich’s work. The book’s large cast of characters is a feature of her first novel, Love Medicine (1984), and it continues to characterize her later works. Her later novels also include the use of multiple voices, American Indian elements, and comedy; an examination of gender roles; and themes that insist on the power of love.
Erdrich’s use of multiple viewpoints is a technique that links her with other postmodern writers. As the various characters relate parts of the narrative, the author establishes their separate voices and attitudes. Erdrich sometimes lets characters retell events that others have already narrated, creating ambiguities and allowing the contradictions to illuminate the characters. Thus, when Sita speaks about her courtship with Jimmy, the reader understands that her claims about her career and good looks are mostly products of her own vanity. Not all chapter titles indicate a given chapter’s speaker; in some cases, the titles simply suggest a shift in point of view. “The Passenger,” for instance, uses third-person narration to focus on Jude’s arrival in Argus. Although Dot dominates the second half of the novel, she has a voice only in the last chapter.
Gender, too, is an important theme in The Beet Queen. Mary, and later Dot, are masculine in their pugnacity and stubborn insistence on having their own way. In later life, Mary wears outlandish clothes with no concern for her public image. Her fondness for palm reading and fortune-telling suggests that she would be glad to control the future as thoroughly as she does the present. She simply learns to forget the parts of reality she cannot control, such as her unappealing looks. She does not worry about Sita’s jealousy or Russell’s rejection.
Dot is much like her aunt in looks and personal style. When in grade school she tries to get the attention of a boy who interests her, she can only hit him....
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