Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 433
Gary Paulsen has divided his novel into three major sections: “The Trance,” “The Dreamrun,” and “Dogsong.” As the novel begins, Russel Susskit, a fourteen-year-old Inuit boy, feels that something is missing from his life, but he lacks the words to express what he does not fully understand. Since he is unable to help him, Russel’s father advises his son to seek out Oogruk, a blind old man who still follows the traditional style of Inuit life. Oogruk immediately recognizes Russel’s dissatisfaction with the modern culture that has supplanted many Inuit ways. Although Oogruk claims some of his memory is “dead and gone,” he agrees to teach Russel what he remembers of the old ways. “The Trance” recounts how Russel learns and practices the Inuit traditions, which he finds more fulfilling than his earlier lifestyle.
During Russel’s training, Oogruk places particular emphasis on the importance of personal songs in Inuit culture. According to Oogruk, the Inuit lost their songs because the missionaries taught them that songs were bad, but Oogruk tells Russel “when we gave up our songs because we feared hell, we gave up our insides as well.” When Russel asks Oogruk to teach him a song, Oogruk tells him that he cannot be taught a song, that he must become a song, an observation which Russel does not fully understand until much later in the story.
After the death of Oogruk, Russel heads north with the old man’s dogsled in a journey in which he finds himself tested by the forces of nature in the same way that Inuit men were tested prior to the contact with white civilization. Nature forces Russel to draw on personal resources that he does not know he has until his own survival depends on them. By the time that Russel finds Nancy, an Inuit girl who has left her home village to die in shame because of her pregnancy, he is capable not only of taking care of himself and his dogs but also of taking on the additional responsibility of caring for Nancy.
Paulsen has interspersed the story of Russel’s journey with a series of dreams that Russel experiences involving an Inuit man from a much earlier time period. At first, the man in the dreams is a shadow figure, but as Russel’s competency grows, Russel and the man in the dreams become the same person. Paulsen concludes the book with Russel’s “Dogsong,” a celebration of his dogs and his accomplishments during the journey. During his long, solitary journey northward, Russel has found both himself and his past.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 96
Jones, J. Sydney. “Paulsen, Gary.” In Something About the Author, edited by Alan Hedblad. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale, 2000.
Moore, John Noell. “Archetypes: The Monomyth in Dogsong.” In Interpreting Young Adult Literature. Portsmouth, N.H.: Boynton/Cook, 1997.
Paulsen, Gary. Father Water, Mother Woods: Essays on Fishing and Hunting in the North Woods. New York: Delacorte Press, 1994.
Paulsen, Gary. Guts: The True Stories Behind “Hatchet” and the Brian Books. New York: Delacorte Press, 2001.
Salvner, Gary. Presenting Gary Paulsen. Boston: Twayne, 1996.
Wood, Susan. “Bringing Us the Way to Know: The Novels of Gary Paulsen.” English Journal 90, no. 3 (January, 2001): 67-72.
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