What are the subplots in Dogsong?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Much of Dogsong is rooted in Russel's narrative.  Accordingly, the subplots feed into this larger narrative.  One of these subplots has to do with cultural displacement.  Russel is a throwback of sorts because he sees his own cultural reality dissipate in the modern setting:“..when we gave up our songs because we feared hell, we gave up our insides as well.”  One of the subplots that merge into the larger one is how Russel is a construct of cultural dissent.  His relationship with his father is a reflection of this condition.  His father who has been corroded by modernity, causing him to be out of touch with his own cultural reality, causes him to suggest Russel to seek out Oogruk, someone who is blind.  The subplot of how someone blind can cause Russel to better understand his own cultural being is a significant one in the narrative.

Another subplot that develops throughout the narrative is the relationship that Russel has with the dogs who lead him on his quest.  The idea of Russel seeing the dogs as more than simply animals is a subplot that supports the wider vision of how the quest transforms him.  Russel comes to see them as the force that helps to bring about change and transformation.  The development of this idea is one that exists under the surface, but frames the larger construction of Russel's characterization.  It helps create another subplot that helps to support the wider configuration of how Russel transforms.

In the subplot of Oogruk's presence in the novel, one sees how supporting characters can enhance Russel's narrative.  Oogruk is seen as an invalid, and one who is no longer of meaning to the tribe.  However, while he is blind, Oogruk can "see" what Russel needs to find meaning and is able to "see" into the life of things.  His revival into a force who sees in the nature of being for Russel, one who himself struggles to see, is another example of a developing subplot in the narrative that helps to frame the larger themes that emerge of Paulsen's Dogsong.

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