The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse

by Louise Erdrich
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What was Pauline's father’s deathbed wish? Why did he wish it?

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His deathbed wish and command is that Pauline must kill her mother; he says this because her mother resents them both, and he wants to keep Pauline safe.

This wish causes even more strife between Pauline and her mother. Louise Erdrich writes,

It was imperishable, the command of the father...

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His deathbed wish and command is that Pauline must kill her mother; he says this because her mother resents them both, and he wants to keep Pauline safe.

This wish causes even more strife between Pauline and her mother. Louise Erdrich writes,

It was imperishable, the command of the father imposed upon the
daughter. And no less the will she had to carry it out. Her intention
was forged in the heat of grief and tempered in its freezing aftermath.
Though young, the girl now harbored a blade of certainty that waited
calmly in her for its chance. Pauline’s mother knew. That is why, one
day, with no warning and no word but a filthy cry, she dragged the girl
to the shit pile and forced her snarling child face-down and said in a
deadly voice, "This is where you’ll be if ever you go against me."

Her father's dying wish becomes a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. Her mother is cruel to her; she neglects her, starves her, and beats her, partially because she knows that her daughter took her father's last words to heart. Because her mother never cared for them—and, in fact, only married Pauline's father because she had to after he beat her in a race—her father knew she wasn't safe with her. It seems that this was even truer after his death.

Ultimately, Pauline does attack her mother. Erdrich says,

Although her mother clawed at her, she held the woman’s mouth
open and poured the boiling stuff straight down her gullet so that her
throat was seared, her mouth severely blistered, and all she could do
was gasp, in her agonized delirium, for three days, the name Pauline.

Her mother's face sags with the illness and fever that follows. She never completely recovers and eventually dies.

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The wish centers on an event that made Pauline's father's blood run cold, then boil, and that prompted him to propose a truce that made her mother's blood run red in anger.

During the conflict and skirmish with the Bwaan tribe, Pauline's father thought that the women of both sides made animalistic, unreasoning fools of themselves. Pauline's mother's extreme actions were imitated by the other women in her tribe and by the women of the Bwaan tribe.

Pauline's mother threw herself high up the bales and now other women did as well, so that the cacophony of insults exchanged became at once an earsplitting din ...

In disgust and "crazed with irritation," Pauline's father took drastic action to end the violent, "half-naked" cacophony of the women. Holding up the white flag used by the cavalry to indicate peaceful intent to mediate, he stepped forward and proposed a solution to the discord between the two tribes.

He suggested that, since the women seemed intent on attaining blood shed, they give the women blood shed. Two women, one from each tribe, would race to the death and, after the winner took the loser's life, both tribes would go in their own directions.

Pauline's mother was the fastest runner in their tribe. In fact, to choose whom she would marry, she challenged all her suitors to a footrace knowing that she would beat all. Then the "deer-legged" speaker, her husband, had shown up, raced her, and won. She married him but in spite. He had embarrassed her by winning (seemingly she hadn't thought out too well what would be the consequences of being beaten in a race), and she married with a begrudging anger that hadn't left her.

Although she had decided to lose the race and so rid herself of her humiliation and anger and of the daughter her deer-legged husband had fathered, she won. She took precedence that day, and a solemn hatred against her husband, who bet her life in a race, sprang up in her. This is the foundation of the reason that Pauline's father told her with his dying breath that she must kill her mother; her mother tragically goes on in this morbid tale to prove the perception of the father in seeing the need to act against the mother's hatred.

Dying, [her father] looked into his daughter's face and said to her in the clarity of last vision that she must kill her mother.
It was imperishable, the command of the father imposed upon the daughter. And no less the will she had to carry it out. Her intention was forged in the heat of grief and tempered in its freezing aftermath.

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