Why do you think Louise Erdrich titled her novel Tracks? What is the significance of tracks in the story? How should we understand "tracks" differently for Pauline and for Nanapush?

Tracks is a common English word for the trail left behind by a person or animal, such as that of an automobile in snow. It is also used to mean the footprints left by them. There are many examples of this usage in the book, including "Tracks" (chapter 3), "The tracks were new to her" (chapter 20), and "Pauline used to find him sitting at his desk with his head in his hands and she would stand watching him for a moment before he heard her and looked up, startled, from his reverie." (chapter 22). But there are other possible meanings of this title which do not have to do with the actual tracks left behind by people or animals.

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Trails, or tracks, were traditionally a key aspect of Native American society, important in assisting individual tribes in hunting and gathering, or alternatively in trade, cultural exchange, and warfare with other tribes. Knowledge of tracks also proved an important currency in early interactions with white people, who were often ignorant as to the nuances of the land they had stumbled into. In this novel, the author presents a contrary impression wherein the tracks definitive of Native American culture and interaction have become confused and conflictual.

The novel is ultimately about the relationships between characters, relationships which are more complex than simple love or hate. While individual characters such as Pauline, Eli, and Fleur follow independent character paths or tracks, they intersperse with one another often, sometimes engaging in conflicts wherein their shared Native American heritages are forgotten in the name of selfish desires or aspirations.

More broadly, Tracks might also be a reference to the two cultural paths followed by white and Native American societies. While Native American traditions do persist on the Matchimanito reservation, the presence of White innovations such as alcohol, land interests, and Christianity indicate a mingling of the cultures, the results of which are ultimately left ambiguous by the author.

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As the novel Tracks explores the lives of several families living on or near a Native American reservation, the title has a very symbolic meaning. For one, it explores the history of each family, essentially the tracks that have led them to the present. Fitting in with the Native American imagery, tracking was a very common practice for those people groups, and the novel is essentially following the remnants of their history, just like a tracker would follow the scent and markings of an animal in the wild.

The story follows a few main characters, namely Nanapush and Pauline, who are, in essence, searching for their own history as they dig into the past of their families. By presenting it in this manner, it illuminates the theme of tracking, since they are acting as the pursuers and working with limited evidence.

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Louse Erdrich’s novel Tracks, published in 1988, is the third in a tetralogy of novels that explores the interrelated lives of families who live in and around an Indian reservation in North Dakota. The narrative of Tracks is the earliest chronologically, delving into the back story of several characters from the other books.

Erdrich has commented on the importance of titles in her work. In the book Conversations with Louise Erdrich and Michael Dorris, Erdrich says a book title is like a “magnet” drawing experiences, memories, and conversations to it until those pieces coalesce as a book.

The book’s title may be drawn partly from themes surrounding the past. Like tracks or footprints left behind, the narratives of Nanapush and Pauline often look back at those “tracks” of the past. Tracks may also refer to the historical context of the novel. For example, Lulu’s mother wants to prevent her from marrying a Morrissey, a reference to the Morrissey/ Pillager land rights following the 1887 Dawes Act. A consequence of this central event of Native American history was to destroy the Indian land base and, as a result, hurt Indian culture, too. These historical “tracks” are inseparable from the characters’ current struggles.

The title may also refer to the narrative structure of the story. The novel alternates between the first person point of view of Nanapush and Pauline, who often tell different versions of the same stories. Thus, the reader follows parallel, sometimes intersecting, narrative “tracks.”

Nanapush follows in the tracks of Nanabush the trickster, a central figure in Chippewa storytelling. As an elder and a trickster himself, he challenges the gods and cheats death by playing a trick on them. Pauline, however, follows a different track. She is a tragic figure torn between her Indian heritage and her desire to reject it. As Pauline descends into madness, she eventually chooses a track leading away from her tribal community.

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