Erdrich, Louise (Contemporary Literary Criticism)
Louise Erdrich 1954–
American novelist, short story writer, poet, memoirist, children's fiction writer, and juvenile fiction writer.
The following entry presents an overview of Erdrich's career through 1996. See also, Love Medicine Criticism.
In her fiction and poetry, Erdrich draws upon her Chippewa heritage to examine complex familial and sexual relationships among midwestern Native Americans and their conflicts with white communities. Her eccentric characters attain mythic stature as they struggle to overcome isolation, abandonment, and exploitation. Jean Strouse has observed of Erdrich: "Her sure sense of the way people think and talk keeps it hard to remember she is making them all up, and her lithe, athletic prose makes wildly improbable events seem as natural as the weather."
Erdrich was born in Little Falls, Minnesota, in 1954. Both of her parents, Ralph and Rita Erdrich, worked with the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Erdrich received her Bachelor's degree from Dartmouth College in 1976 and her Master's degree from Johns Hopkins University in 1977. In 1981 Erdrich married Michael Dorris, with whom she had six children (one of whom, Reynold Abel, died in 1991). A writer himself, Dorris frequently worked with Erdrich in developing stories until his death in 1997, and the two cowrote a novel, The Crown of Columbus (1991). Erdrich has taught poetry with the North Dakota State Arts Council and creative writing at Johns Hopkins University and has been a visiting fellow at Dartmouth College. Her fiction has garnered a Nelson Algren Award, a National Book Critics Circle Award, and a Los Angeles Times Book Award.
Erdrich's first published volume, Jacklight (1984), is a collection of poems that garnered praise for infusing everyday situations with mythic qualities. Her first novel, Love Medicine (1984), for which she won the National Book Critics Circle Award, gathers fourteen interconnected stories related by seven different members of the Kashpaw and Lamartine families of the Turtle Mountain Chippewa community in North Dakota. In The Beet Queen (1986) Erdrich continued her portrait of Turtle Mountain Chippewa but shifted her focus to the community outside the reservation. In Tracks (1988) a Chippewa elder and an abusive young female of white and Indian heritage relate the exploits of Fleur Pillager, a destructive yet magical woman who is an ancestor of several characters from Love Medicine. Characters from the first three novels recur in The Bingo Palace (1994) and Tales of Burning Love (1996), which again use multiple narrators and elements of magical realism to tell the stories of those living on and around the Turtle Mountain reservation. In 1993 Erdrich published an expanded edition of Love Medicine, adding different perspectives on the original story and dealing with different members of the families and those surrounding them. In The Crown of Columbus (1991) Erdrich and her husband Michael Dorris discuss historical inaccuracies in the story of Christopher Columbus and the impact of these inaccuracies on native peoples. In The Blue Jay's Dance (1995) Erdrich covered more personal ground, writing about the effect of motherhood on her work and her relation to the world around her.
While some critics find Erdrich's use of multiple narrators and her return to the same characters in different novels to be unnecessarily confusing and her use of mythic allusions and elements of magical realism to be contrived, most applaud her unflinching portrayal of contemporary Native American life. Many commentators note that the large number of influential Indian women in her fiction and her exploration of the disparities between institutional and indigenous history cements her as one of the most important voices in contemporary Native American literature.
Imagination (textbook) 1980
Jacklight (poetry) 1984
Love Medicine (novel) 1984; expanded edition, 1993
The Beet Queen (novel) 1986
Tracks (novel) 1988
Baptism of Desire (poetry) 1989
The Crown of Columbus [with Michael Dorris] (novel) 1991
The Bingo Palace (novel) 1994
The Blue Jay's Dance: A Birth Year (memoir) 1995
Tales of Burning Love (novel) 1996
Grandmother's Pigeon (children's fiction) 1996
The Antelope Wife: A Novel (novel) 1998
The Birchbark House (juvenile fiction) 1999
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SOURCE: Review of Jacklight, in The Georgia Review, Vol. XXXVIII, No. 4, Winter 1984, pp. 863-64.
[In the following excerpt, Stitt examines the mythic patterns explored in Jacklight.]
In Jacklight, her first book, Louise Erdrich arrives at an understanding of the modern world by discovering patterns within the experience she studies—mythic patterns derived from her own Native American background. The poems are narrative in structure, benefiting from a strong sense of both place and character. The poem "Train," for example, expresses the sense of self which determines the speaker's progress through the world:
Tunnels that the body strikes open in air.
Bridges that shiver across
every water I come to.
And always the light
I was born with, driving everything before it.
The basic metaphor is technological, of course, and explained by the poem's title. But the underlying definition of self, the idea that calls up the metaphor in the first place, is the same notion that determines the plot of Ruth Bebe Hill's novel Hanta-Yo.
Mythic narrative, character, and setting—the building blocks of much good fiction—are of course not enough for the making of good poetry. At her best, Louise Erdrich combines these...
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SOURCE: "Border Country," in The Nation, Vol. 243, No. 14, November 1, 1986, pp. 460-63.
[In the following review, Banks asserts that The Beet Queen, in its best sections, rivals the novels of Charles Dickens in socially conscious storytelling.]
The Beet Queen is a Dickensian story, an angry comedy about abandonment and survival, pluck and luck (ambition and coincidence), common sense and pretension, and wise children and foolish adults. The book is structured in an almost classical manner. It opens with a sudden, unpredictable disaster that tosses an ordered world into terrible disarray. It then follows the paths of the half-dozen affected lives through three generations of small triumphs and reversals, long digressions and quick returns, until at last, in a ceremonial event that reunites and reorders the scattered elements of the tale into symmetrical, benign relations, it circles back to where it began, with everything the same only different—which in classical comedy, as in Dickens, is almost always the point. It's a form that in the hands of lesser artists than Louise Erdrich often affirms the status quo and lends itself to sentimentality. When, however, the story is played against a view of history in which decent folks are victimized not by their dopey and amusing gullibility but by economic and social forces too powerful to overcome with wile or guile, then the story has a divine...
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SOURCE: "Whatever Is Really Yours," in Survival This Way: Interviews with American Indian Poets, Sun Tracks and the University of Arizona Press, 1987, pp. 73-86.
[In the following interview, Erdrich discusses her process of writing and storytelling and emphasizes the importance of her heritage in her work.]
It was a sunny day in New Hampshire when Louise Erdrich and her younger sister, Heidi Erdrich, a student in Creative Writing at Dartmouth, met me at the airport. We drove to the house her sister was subletting from Cleopatra Mathis, a poet and teacher at Dartmouth. Louise and I sat out on the back deck above a field where apple trees were swelling toward blossom, two horses moved lazily about their corral, and we could see the hills stretching off to the east. Louise is a striking woman, slender with long brown hair. She is surprisingly modest—even a bit shy—for one whose early accomplishments are so impressive: a powerful first book of poetry from a major publisher, a first novel which won critical acclaim, a National Book Critics Circle Prize, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in 1985. But as we spoke, her voice was clear and her convictions as strong as those of any of the complex white, Indian, and mixed-blood characters who populate her work and her memories.
[Joseph Bruchac:] That poem ["Indian Boarding School: The Runaways"] is among the ones I like...
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SOURCE: "Revenge of the Chippewa Witch," in Commonweal, Vol. CXV, No. 19, November 4, 1988, pp. 596-98.
[In the following review, Vecsey dispels possible criticism of Tracks as stereotypical and improbable, instead positing that the novel's mythic elements bring American Indian history to life.]
Tracks is Louise Erdrich's third novel of rural North Dakota. Love Medicine (1984) delineated a frayed line of Chippewa Indian lives in contemporary America. The Beet Queen (1986) portrayed a braid of their struggling, non-Indian neighbors of a generation or two ago. Both books were hung together by lyrical threads that highlighted and augmented the bleak and painful stuff of the stories wherein the lives of these peoples were intertwined. Both were masterworks.
Tracks brings the reader back to the early years of this century, 1912–1924, and it ties a knot of narrative around the previous novels. The style maintains the densely spiritual quality of her earlier work, resembling in some ways the "magical realism" of Gabriel Garcia Márquez, and reveals some important history of the characters who people this rural world Ms. Erdrich is creating, or unraveling, before our eyes.
The narrative technique reveals the structure of the plot that in itself means to set forward the oppositional strands of twentieth-century Chippewa existence. Old...
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SOURCE: "Love Medicine: A Female Moby Dick," in The Midwest Quarterly, Vol. XXX, No. 4, Summer, 1989, pp. 478-91.
[In the following essay, Matchie outlines parallels between Love Medicine and Herman Melville's Moby Dick.]
Published in 1984, Love Medicine is about a tribe of Indians living in North Dakota. Its author, Louise Erdrich, is part Chippewa and in the book returns to her prairie roots for her literary materials. Recently, Erdrich published another work entitled Beet Queen, also about the Red River Valley, and some of the same characters appear in both novels. Love Medicine is different from so much of Native American literature in that it is not polemic—there is no ax to grind, no major indictment of white society. It is simply a story about Indian life—its politics, humor, emptiness, and occasional triumphs. If Erdrich has a gift, it is the ability to capture the inner life and language of her people.
Since its publication, Love Medicine has won several national awards. Still, critics see in it a serious lack of unity—it was originally published as a series of short stories or vignettes. Also, some think it has little connection to authentic Indian values; students at the White Earth Indian Reservation in Minnesota identified more with Giants in the Earth, Rolvaag's epic novel about white immigrants on the Dakota...
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SOURCE: "Poets of Our Time," in Belles Lettres, Vol. 5, No. 4, Summer, 1990, pp. 30-31.
[In the following excerpt, Finch praises most of Baptism of Desire but expresses reservations about the final section of the book, objecting to the comparative "ordinariness" of the poems there.]
These three books of poetry [Baptism of Desire by Erdrich, Green Age by Alicia Suskin Ostriker, and Toluca Street by Maxine Scates], written by three women coming from very different places as poets at the beginning of the end of our century, make a revealing cross-section. Louise Erdrich, a successful novelist who has written only one other book of poems, presumably uses poetry to write in ways not possible with the novel form. Alicia Suskin Ostriker, well-established as a poet, uses this volume to continue ideas developed in six other books of poems and three books of poetry criticism. Maxine Scates is new to the poetry scene; this first book of poems is published as the winner of an annual national poetry competition.
In the context of the wider poetry scene that these books reflect, Erdrich's Baptism of Desire is probably the most unusual and original of the three books. "Hydra" is typical, a poem full of private imagery and eclectic allusions, as in the following passage:
Hour of the talk-show hostess.
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SOURCE: "Mediation and Multiple Narrative in Love Medicine," in North Dakota Quarterly, Vol. 59, No. 4, Fall, 1991, pp. 229-41.
[In the following essay, Ruppert explains the ways in which Erdrich allows readers of Love Medicine, both Native and non-Native American, to experience the Native perspective in the text.]
Love Medicine is a dazzling, personal, intense novel of survivors who struggle to define their own identities and fates in a world of mystery and human frailty. In her writing, Louise Erdrich both protects and celebrates this world. To assume effectively the roles of protector and celebrant, Erdrich must mediate between two conceptual frameworks, white and Native. But as a contemporary Native American writer, she appreciates and utilizes both epistemological codes. Erdrich has at her disposal both Native American and white codes at any moment in the creation of the text. This dual vision allows her either to use one code to illuminate another, or to ignore one code and stay within another if she wishes. She can create value and meaning through a Native worldview or through a contemporary American worldview or both at the same time. Thus, her standpoint as a mediator is more complex and more open to a wide set of possibilities than authors positioned in only one culture or even authors perceived as merely standing between two cultures. She is capable of satisfying two...
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SOURCE: "The Comic Savior: The Dominance of the Trickster in Louise Erdrich's Love Medicine," in North Dakota Quarterly, Vol. 61, No. 3, Summer, 1993, pp. 118-29.
[In the following essay, Slack contends that Love Medicine's loose structure as a novel is held tightly together by the recurring figure of the Trickster, represented by various characters.]
One complaint occasionally directed at Love Medicine is that it is really not a novel but rather a collection of short stories bound together loosely by a common set of characters inhabiting successive stories. The arguments for its misnomer include the book's lack of either a central protagonist or a central conflict and its multi-narrational, and thus disjointed, narrative structure. However, this essay offers an argument in favor of Love Medicine's "novelism," that is, at least as far as its possession of a central protagonist is concerned. As others, like Nora Barry and Mary Prescott, have suggested, it does have one: June (Morrisey) Kashpaw, whose disembodied spirit haunts or protects the lives of all the other main characters. However, I would further submit that, in this text, June is really the preeminent Chippewa woodland trickster figure, that wily, good/evil shape- and sex-changer, and as such, she embodies anagogically most of the central characters who people Erdrich's rich narrative.
In this sense,...
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SOURCE: "Louise Erdrich Revisits the Complex World of the Chippewa," in Chicago Tribune Books, November 14, 1993, pp. 3, 11.
[In the following review, Rubenstein praises Erdrich's up-dated edition of Love Medicine.]
Louise Erdrich is not the first author to return to a previously published work of fiction to amend it. The most well-known of such revisers, Henry James, published altered versions of his stories and novels—often accompanied by eloquent prefaces explaining the revisions—years after their original publication. Presumably, writers tinker with works already in print because events continue to develop and characters continue to pursue the lives their author has invented for them.
The latter seems especially true for Erdrich, whose first novel, Love Medicine, was originally published in 1984 and honored with the National Book Critics Circle Award that year. Returning readers, unlikely to have forgotten such vivid characters as Lipsha Morrissey and Lulu Lamartine, will relish the current expanded edition as a second visit to a familiar landscape.
The book is equally a feast for readers discovering Erdrich's richly realized world for the first time: several interrelated families of Turtle Mountain Chippewa Indians living in a community in North Dakota over a period of 50 years. Five new sections have been seamlessly spliced into the original narrative;...
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SOURCE: "The Fragmentation of a Tribal People in Louise Erdrich's Tracks," in American Indian Culture and Research Journal, Vol. 17, No. 2, 1993, pp. 1-13.
[In the following essay, Larson discusses Erdrich's depiction in Tracks of Native Americans' loss of land and cultural identity to white colonization.]
Louise Erdrich's novel Tracks deals with the years between 1912 and 1919, when the North Dakota Chippewa, or Anishinabe, as they call themselves, were coping with the effects of the General Allotment Act of 1887, the purpose of which was to divide tribally allotted lands among individual Indians so that these Indians could leave their nomadic, communal cultures behind and become settled as farmers. After the Indian Allotment Act of 1904, each enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Chippewa born before 1909 received one quarter section of land, with single members of the tribe receiving various lesser amounts depending on their age. This was part of the transformation of Indian land into Euro-American property; more significantly, as Mary Jane Schneider has noted in her book North Dakota Indians, allotment had the immediate effect of reducing the total acres of Indian land by 65 percent. Tracks is in part an autopsy of this process, whereby place becomes property, and an analysis of how the process affects innocent bystanders.
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SOURCE: "Women's Community and Survival in the Novels of Louise Erdrich," in Communication and Women's Friendships: Parallels and Intersections in Literature and Life, edited by Janet Doubler Ward and JoAnna Stephens Mink, Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1993, pp. 165-80.
[In the following essay, Tharp discusses the destruction of Indian women's power and identity through Anglo colonization and demonstrates how Erdrich's explores this phenomenon in her fiction.]
… The old women sit patiently in a circle, not speaking. Each set of eyes stares sharply into the air or the fire. Occasionally, a sigh is let loose from an open mouth. A Grandmother has a twitch in the corner of her eye. She rubs her nose, then smooths her hair.
The coffee is ready. Cups are brought from a wooden cupboard. Each woman is given the steaming brew. They blow on the swirling liquid, then slurp the drink into hungry mouths. It tastes good. Hot, dark, strong. A little bitter, but that is all to the good.
The women begin talking among themselves. They are together to perform a ceremony. Rituals of old women take time. There is no hurry.
This excerpt from Beth Brant's Mohawk Trail sheds light on the traditional women's community of her Native origins. Within the old traditions of the Longhouse, Brant finds a...
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SOURCE: "Gambling with Their Heritage," in New York Times Book Review, January 16, 1994, p. 7.
[In the following review, Thornton offers a positive appraisal of The Bingo Palace but expresses reservations about the novel's elements of magical realism.]
One of the dominant motifs in the fiction of American Indian writers is the vision quest, whose goal is the integration of inner and outer being through knowledge gleaned from nature. Louise Erdrich has explored this territory in Love Medicine, The Beet Queen and Tracks, and she revisits it in her moving new novel, The Bingo Palace. Set, like the others, on the North Dakota plains, this latest book shows us a place where love, fate and chance are woven together like a braid, a world where daily life is enriched by a powerful spiritual presence.
Her story comes to us in the alternating voices of the inhabitants of the Chippewa reservation—the novel's chorus—and of Lipsha Morrissey, the central character, who is sometimes laconic, frequently passionate and, through painful experience, increasingly insightful. Presented in a counterpoint that is by turns colloquial and lyric, all these voices reveal how inescapably Lipsha's fate is inscribed within his heritage. To emphasize this connection, Ms. Erdrich begins and ends The Bingo Palace with the chorus, thus bracketing both Lipsha's good luck and his...
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SOURCE: "Race and Gender in Louise Erdrich's The Beet Queen," in Ariel, Vol. 25, No. 1, January, 1994, pp. 45-57.
[In the following essay, Meisenhelder argues that Erdrich addresses problems of race and gender in her portrayals of white women and men of color in The Beet Queen.]
To a number of reviewers and critics, Louise Erdrich's novel The Beet Queen is unusual in Native American literature because of its apparent silence on the issue of race. As Louis Owens has argued, the "excruciating quest for an Indian identity in late twentieth century American that haunts other fiction and poetry by Indian writers is simply not here." Certainly the most strident expression of this idea has been a review of the novel written by another Native American writer, Leslie Marmon Silko. Although she praises Erdrich's style, Silko attacks the novel for its failure to treat the social and political dimension of Native American concerns; the book, she argues, reduces society's problems to individual ones: "In this pristine world all misery, suffering, and loss are self-generated, just as conservative Republicans have been telling us for years." My purpose in this paper is to show that The Beet Queen does in fact speak to questions of Native American identity in important ways. Far from being silent on sociopolitical concerns, Erdrich sustains an examination of the relationship between two crucial...
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SOURCE: "History, Postmodernism, and Louise Erdrich's Tracks," in PMLA, Vol. 109, No. 5, October, 1994, pp. 982-94.
[In the following essay, Peterson presents a poststructuralist interpretation of Tracks, noting in particular the novel's treatment of history as potentially fictive and relative.]
In a 1986 review of Louise Erdrich's second novel, The Beet Queen, Leslie Marmon Silko argues that Erdrich is more interested in the dazzling language and self-referentiality associated with postmodernism than in representing Native American oral traditions, communal experiences, or history. In Silko's view, the "self-referential writing" that Erdrich practices "has an ethereal clarity and shimmering beauty because no history or politics intrudes to muddy the well of pure necessity contained within language itself." Whether or not one agrees with Silko's characterization of postmodernism, with her criticism of The Beet Queen as apolitical and ahistorical, or with the implicit agenda that she proposes for Erdrich, it is true that reviewers of Love Medicine and The Beet Queen, the first two novels of Erdrich's recently completed tetralogy, tend to praise Erdrich's lyrical prose style and to applaud her subtle treatment of Native American issues. Erdrich's novel Tracks, published in 1988, almost seems to answer Silko's criticisms of The Beet Queen by overtly...
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SOURCE: "Mother's Day," in New York Time Book Review, April 16, 1995, p. 14.
[In the following review, Halpern praises The Blue Jay's Dance for its realistic portrayal of early motherhood.]
I recently saw an ad for an instructional CD-ROM on "parenting, prenatal to preschool" whose contents I could only imagine: sage advice from professionals and video clips of children whose exemplary behavior—so different from one's own child's—sells the sequel. Louise Erdrich's first book of nonfiction, The Blue Jay's Dance: A Birth Year, which is about being a parent, is nothing like that. Aside from a few recipes (lemon meringue pie, fennel and chicory salad, anise apples) and bits of painfully gained wisdom (when dealing with a screaming, colicky baby, "I use my most soothing tone of voice to call her names. The tone helps her, the words help me"), the book is delightfully impractical. It is a narrative, not a manual.
Ms. Erdrich is not only a successful novelist; she is a successful novelist who is also the mother of young children. In the past she shielded her family life from public scrutiny—allowing the press to interview her only away from her New Hampshire home, for instance, and purposefully declining to talk about her life there. Her marriage to the writer Michael Dorris was well known, and so was the fact that Ms. Erdrich and Mr. Dorris had six children, three of them...
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SOURCE: "A Gathering of Widows," in New York Times, May 12, 1996, p. 10.
[In the following review, Childress praises Erdrich's storytelling and characterization in Tales of Burning Love.]
Louise Erdrich is attracted by the miraculous possibilities of love. Romantic love, religious ecstasy, the strange mixture of devotion and misunderstanding that runs through families—all are steeped together. The result is a rich and fragrant infusion.
Tales of Burning Love is her sixth novel (including The Crown of Columbus, written with her husband, Michael Dorris). The publisher says this book "extends the boundaries of her literary vision," but any reader familiar with Love Medicine and The Beet Queen will recognize the characters and settings. Once again we are firmly placed in the bleakly beautiful landscape surrounding Argus, N.D. Once again many of the characters are Native Americans with a fading connection to the reservation, confused Roman Catholics on the lookout for miracles, lonely women searching for that thing called love.
In this case, the male component of that thing is Jack Mauser, a lapsed Chippewa who marries five times in 13 years—four times for love and once as a result of booze, painkillers and a horrible toothache. The story opens in 1981 with that toothache, which has put Jack into such a state that he takes up with the first...
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SOURCE: "A Gulliver Shipwrecked on a Coast of Women," in Los Angeles Time Book Review, June 16, 1996, pp. 3, 13.
[In the following review, Klinkenborg praises Tales of Burning Love and conjectures that the book signals a fundamental change in Erdrich's writing.]
There has always been something fervent about Louise Erdrich's fiction. Her characters seem to burn with consciousness and desire in a difficult landscape, a place where isolation and hard weather and poverty clarify the nature of longing. The life she sets loose in her novels is so incendiary that it can only be contained, so it seems, within a shape that is nearly symbolic in purpose. If Erdrich were writing for a different time, her novels would be about saints' lives—narratives in which pain is also joy and death is transfiguration. There is about each of them something exemplary, in the cautioning sense of that word.
Tales of Burning Love is Erdrich's sixth novel, not counting The Crown of Columbus, which was written with her husband, Michael Dorris. Erdrich has an extraordinary ability to grant her characters parole—allowing them to move from one novel to the next—without ever seeming repetitive or calculating.
Tales of Burning Love, a comic, expansive book, begins with the same story of doomed courtship that opens Love Medicine, Erdrich's first novel, except that...
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SOURCE: "Blurs, Blends, Berdaches: Gender Mixing in the Novels of Louise Erdrich," in Studies in American Indian Literatures, Vol. 8, No. 3, Fall 1996, pp. 49-62.
[In the following essay, Barak discusses Erdrich's use of gender mixing in the Indian tradition of the figures of the berdache and the trickster.]
We have come to the edge of the woods,
out of brown grass where we slept, unseen,
out of leaves creaked shut, out of our hiding.
We have come here too long.
It is their turn now,
their turn to follow us. Listen,
they put down their equipment.
It is useless in the tall brush.
And now they take the first steps, not knowing
how deep the woods are and lightless,
How deep the woods are.
In an interview with Jan George shortly after the publication of her first book of poems, Jacklight, Louise Erdrich comments on the title poem, explaining that "Jacklighting and hunting are both strong metaphors for me of sexual and love relations between men and women. In the male tradition, men are the...
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SOURCE: "Louise Erdrich's 'Scarlet Letter': Literary Continuity in Tales of Burning Love," in North Dakota Quarterly, Vol. 63, No. 4, Fall, 1996, pp. 113-23.
[In the following essay, Matchie discusses similarities between Tales of Burning Love and Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter.]
In an address on National Public Radio, Amy Tan said she would rather be recognized as an American author than classified among multi-cultural writers as Chinese American. Perhaps for some the same might be said of Louise Erdrich, "the foremost practitioner of Native American fiction." She is most often represented as a mixed-blood, and much of the critical analysis of her fiction centers around her use of Chippewa mythology as a key to illusive meaning in her novels. It is also true, however, that Erdrich is an ardent student of American literary history and culture. One has only to look for references to Melville's Moby-Dick in Love Medicine (1984), Flannery O'Connor's notion of the Christian grotesque permeating Tracks (1988), or Lipsha's language and naiveté resembling those of Huckleberry Finn in The Bingo Palace (1994). And I would like to suggest that her latest novel, Tales of Burning Love (1996), is her contemporary answer—or parallel—to the classic American romantic love novel, The Scarlet Letter.
Those familiar with Hawthorne's...
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SOURCE: "Women Aging into Power: Fictional Representations of Power and Authority in Louise Erdrich's Female Characters," in Studies in American Indian Literatures, Vol. 8, No. 4, Winter, 1996, pp. 13-20.
[In the following essay, Castillo examines issues of women and power in Erdrich's novels.]
Some years ago, when I was casting around for a topic for my Ph.D. thesis, I was struck, as I read so-called canonical authors, by the number of female protagonists in American literature who come to unsavory or untimely ends. Heroines, particularly those who challenge prevailing social and cultural norms, are all too prone to every sort of disaster: they are either condemned to social ostracism (as is the case with Hester Prynne in Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter or Sister Carrie in the novel by the same name by Theodore Dreiser) or die in ways which are more or less aesthetically appealing (as is the case with Hawthorne's Zenobia in The Blithedale Romance, Henry James's heroine Daisy Miller, Kate Chopin's Edna Pontellier, and so very many others).
In our own century, however, it is curious that female protagonists who actually manage not only to survive but actually to prevail and even prosper can be found in significant numbers in popular fiction and in fiction by so-called "ethnic" or minority writers. Perhaps for this reason, I have found novels by Native American...
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