The Characters (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
Although Fleur is the central figure of the novel, the reader’s understanding of her character is mediated by Nanapush and Pauline, who also serve as the narrators of the novel.
From the perspective of Nanapush, Fleur is a real victim, like many others including himself, of harsh winters, diseases, starvation, government policies, and the scheming of outsiders such as lumber companies and even mixed-blood Indians. A bond exists between Nanapush and Fleur, who warmly calls him “uncle” and treats him as such. For Nanapush, however, Fleur is not only human and daughterly, but also symbolic of the historical predicament of the Anishinabe. As a young woman, Fleur has won his recognition by holding on to the traditional way of life, thus making her an ideal companion for a young man like Eli, who also lives by traditional ways. Thanks to her spiritual and moral strength, which surpasses her passion for Eli, she has turned into a woman warrior in the end, though paying the high price of losing her daughter and husband for her refusal to compromise.
The charming and eerie qualities of Fleur as a character are largely derived from Pauline’s narration, unreliable as it is because of Pauline’s delusions. From her perspective, Fleur is both a peer and a legend. As a peer, she is a model and a rival for Pauline, who is fascinated and overshadowed by her magnetic attraction, especially her sexuality, which Pauline tries to emulate, or else...
(The entire section is 672 words.)
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Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Nanapush, one of two first-person narrators. He is an old and authoritative Chippewa speaking to his “adoptive” daughter, Lulu, as he tries to dissuade her from marrying one of the Morrisseys. Named for his tribal trickster figure, he is a survivor along with Fleur (whom he has saved) of the consumption epidemic of 1912 and a mythic figure in his own right. He claims to have guided the last buffalo hunt, seen the last bear shot, and trapped the last beaver with a pelt of more than two years’ growth.
Pauline Puyat, a young mixed-blood woman whose unreliable narration moves from prevarication to madness in the course of the book. She is from a family of despised “skinners” of fur with no clan name. She is obsessed with Fleur Pillager, whose brief and tragic career in Argus and later troubles on the reservation (some of Pauline’s making) she chronicles with increasingly vicious relish, to an indeterminate audience. Torn between fleshly desire (she bears a baby, Marie, whom she then abandons) and bizarre imagings mixing Native American and Catholic beliefs, she passes herself off as white and becomes a nun.
Fleur Pillager, rescued by Nanapush from her familial cabin on Lake Matchimanito during an epidemic. Tall, strong, and attractive, she is said to be the lover of Misshepeshu, the lake’s spirit, who protects her from drowning and gives...
(The entire section is 442 words.)
The most important character in Tracks is Fleur Pillager, a strong and beautiful woman, who seems to be a shaper of the forces of the land, particularly those of a lake near her home. Unlike Erdrich's previous novels in which nearly all the significant characters have a narrative voice, Fleur is seen only through two other characters: Nanapush, a wise, fun-loving tribal leader, and Pauline Puyat, a tormented mixed breed who envies Fleur's beauty and power. Nanapush's view of Fleur is friendly and caring; Pauline is fearful and shows a desire to humiliate a rival. Both views establish Fleur as an almost mythic figure. If Fleur spoke in her own voice, it would be harder for Erdrich to project Fleur's mythic dimension.
When Fleur succeeds in getting the money to pay her family's land fees and live the life of her ancestors, the test for her culture is whether she can find a traditional man — brave, responsible, and a good hunter — with whom to raise a family. Eli Kashpaw represents such a man, and the quality of their love is a measure of the tribe's success. The tribe feels and appreciates their symbolic role, as if Eli and Fleur were winning a victory for them through their love.
Pauline, who also loves Eli, disrupts the relationship by setting up a sexual liaison for Eli with a young girl whom she hopes will destroy his love for Fleur. The plot temporarily works, but it is the death of Fleur and Eli's baby and a crooked land deal by...
(The entire section is 437 words.)