What is the theme of "Jacklight" by Louis Erdrich?
The theme of this poem is one of exploitation in the relationship between men and women and also between white settlers and Indians. The initial note before the poem begins states that the word in Chippewa can be used to mean both hunting animals and courting women, which clearly suggests that this poem, although ostensibly about hunting animals using a jacklight, or false light, is actually more about encounters between men and women, and the whiteness of the light strongly suggests there is a racial element to the poem as well. Note for example, how the men bearing the light are described:
We smell them behind it
but they are faceless, invisible.
We smell the raw steel of their gun barrels,
mink oil on leather, their tongues of sour barley.
The men are clearly presented in a negative fashion. They are "faceless, invisible," with only the "raw steel of their gun barrels" to identify them, along with their "tongues of sour barley." The effect of the white light that draws the animals out of the woods is also presented in an extremely negative way, as the light forces the animals to divide up and become isolated, with each one taking the light like "direct blows the heart answers." The poem ends, however, with a challenge to white and male supremacy, as the speakers of the poem, the Indian/females, stating that they intend to return to the woods with the men having to cope with this new environment if they want to follow. This act of returning to the woods becomes a powerful symbol of the female/indigenous people perspective that Erdrich brings through this poem and her other work, as her work forces her readers to see reality from a very different position than the white and male viewpoint they currently occupy.