Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
The struggle for survival is one of the most obvious themes in Tracks. All the major characters in the novel are survivors of not only the environment, famines, and epidemics, but also the historical reality of genocide, dispossession, and deprivation. Despite the sense of doom overshadowing the entire Matchimanito reservation upon the encroachment of outside interests, however, upholders of the tribe’s cultural tradition have fought in the best way they can: Fleur by crushing the lumber crew and Nanapush by campaigning for the position of tribal chairman.
The struggle for survival, which reaches tragic proportions, is closely related to the theme of cultural conflict. Ostensibly, the Christianity of Pauline, though half-baked, is pitted against the traditional wisdom of Nanapush, who is nevertheless conversant with white culture. The native way of life, together with its tribal kinship system and symbiotic relationship with the environment, is challenged by the white way of life, including its nuclear family, exploitation of natural resources, greed for land, and oppression by legal codes. The mixed-bloods, caught between the two ways of life, lean toward one pole or the other, but while adapting to the cultural change, they also exhibit symptoms of dysfunctionality and confusion. Their predicament, which is epitomized by the conversion of Pauline, pervasive alcoholism, incestuous marriages aimed at amassing land, the subsequent loss of land...
(The entire section is 500 words.)
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In Tracks Erdrich deals not only with individual American Indian lives but the loss of a tribe's land and identity during a crucial period from 1912 to 1924. In the novel Native Americans are attacked by illnesses and hunger, and annual land fees and taxes cause many to lose their land and homes. Their ties to their ancestors are severed, and the mythic significance of the land is destroyed when loggers change its face.
While whites show ugly faces in Tracks, particularly in the rape of Fleur Pillager and her loss of home and land, the face of economic and governmental dispossession of the tribe is more Indian than white. Erdrich chooses to dramatize Native Americans undoing the lives of their kinsmen. Pauline Puyat, a mixed breed and one of the novel's two narrators, shows the terrible effects of white influence on her life, particularly that of the Catholic Church, which Pauline has absorbed along with the native American myths of place. Her tormented version of Christianity is more life-denying than the tribe's myths which focus on the land. To become a nun, Pauline denies her heritage, her language, her daughter, and her lover. Instead of a God of love we see a God of sexual torment, vindictiveness, envy, sadism, and pride. Other Native Americans betray their trust in exchange for white favors as Bernadette does with the Agent; Nector and Margaret use money that others helped to raise to pay taxes on their land.
(The entire section is 344 words.)