(Masterpieces of American Literature)

At times almost impressionistic in its narrative, Dogsong tells the story of Russel Susskit, a young Inuit living in the shadows of what he perceives as Western society’s incursion upon his Eskimo culture. Partially inspired by a seven-day-run Paulsen himself took in Minnesota during his trapping days and his two runs of the nearly twelve-hundred-mile Iditarod, the plot approaches the idea that to know oneself is to know nature and reject civilization and all its trappings.

Western civilization, for Russel, brings about the destruction of tradition, whether that comes in the form of his father’s abandonment of tribal religion in lieu of accepting the missionary’s Jesus Christ or the disintegration of his people’s songs—the oral history which they no longer sing. His father notices Russel’s discontent and acquiesces to him finding himself through the old ways. There is almost a resigned desperation to Russel’s father since he has become so far separated from his own culture that he cannot teach Russel of the old traditions—he can only point him to a surrogate who can: the elder Oogruk.

Even to Russel, the idea is somewhat preposterous: While the community venerates and respects Oogruk’s role in their society, he is blind and therefore considered invalid and he is also considered wildly eccentric and completely out of touch with the contemporary mores encroaching upon his people. Oogruk, however, becomes the panacea...

(The entire section is 535 words.)