How does Erdrich blur the themes of The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse? 

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Noelle Thompson eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It is an interesting theory to think of a theme being “blurred.”  This presents the idea that a theme could be either unclear or contrasted.  Let us consider the themes of devotion and Catholic religious life in this regard.

First, the theme of devotion is blurred by Agnes’ devotion to the piano and the Catholic faith.  First, we see Agnes leaving the convent because she is so very passionate about playing the piano that she cannot be contained by the convent walls.  This devotion is subsequently blurred in that it switches to her role as “Father” Damien (when Agnes decides to become a priest in disguise).  Can devotion continue to be devotion if it is so easily transferred? Next, we can talk about the theme of devotion being blurred through her Catholic faith.  Agnes is devoted to this faith in that she becomes a nun.  However, then Agnes decides to “become” a priest.  Women are not allowed to be priests within the Catholic faith (despite their devotion).  Further “Father” Damien allows polygamy and homosexuality within the Ojibwe tribe on the reservation.  Can devotion to the Catholic faith still be present if Catholic rules are not followed?  This is precisely how Erdrich blurs the theme of devotion.

Next, Erdrich blurs the theme of Catholic religious life through mixing traditional gender roles.  Catholic nuns are women.  Priests are men.  Both priests and nuns are celibate.  There are no exceptions in the Roman Catholic Church; however, there are certainly exceptions within this novel.  Agnes “becomes” Father Damien.  She also is sexually active with yet another priest who comes to “help” her with the Ojibwe tribe.  Is this truly Catholic religious life?  The theme is blurred.  Erdrich challenges our idea of nuns being women and priests being men.  Erdrich also challenges our idea about how priests and nuns should behave.  In these ways, she blurs the theme of Catholic religious life.

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