Characters

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The two female characters, Fleur and Pauline, are among the most memorable in recent literature. Fleur is surely one of the more fascinating examples of the "shape- shifter" in American literature, perhaps because she represents the will to survive in the face of terrible assaults on her person, her family, and her culture by the assorted evils of racial prejudice and ethnic conquest. Fleur Pillager is characterized in terms of the legends that surround her, her physical characteristics, and uncanny skill at playing cards. The narrator tells the reader that Fleur "messed with evil, laughed at the old women's advice, and dressed like a man. She got herself into some half-forgotten medicine, studied ways we shouldn't talk about." Clearly, in the mind of "the community," the reservation community, Fleur has power manifested in a number of ways that comes from her clan, the bear clan, including changing into a bear when it suits her, killing off men who transgress her in some way, and drawing down the power of a tornado to destroy the town of Argus.

Pauline, the narrator, observes at the end of the story that "power travels in the bloodlines, handed out before birth. . . . through the hands. . . . through the eyes." Before the tornado, Pauline characterizes herself as "the watcher on the dark sill, the skinny girl," invisible, an observer of the action. However, when the tornado strikes, she runs for shelter and stops at the "heavy doors of the lockers" when she hears a "shrill scream that . . . spoke plain so I understood that I should move, put my arms out, and slam down the great iron bar that fit across the hasp and lock." Pauline is the agent of revenge, the means by which the evils of the men, including her stepfather, are revenged. It is she who visits Fleur and assists at the birth of her baby. It is she who controls the story.

Characters

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Tor Grunewald

One of the men who works at Kozka’s Meats, Tor is involved in the card games with Fleur and dies in the meat locker with Lily and Dutch. He a “short and scrappy” man married to a woman that does not appear in the story except to say that she received a blow to the head during the storm.

Jean Hat

Jean is run over by a cart after saving Fleur from drowning in Lake Turcot.

Dutch James

Pauline’s stepfather, Dutch works at Kozka’s Meats and dies in the meat locker the night after he rapes Fleur with Tor and Lily. He brings Pauline’s mother from the reservation and marries her, but she dies after a year, and he forces Pauline to drop out of school in order to take her mother’s place in the butcher shop. He smokes cigars and, when he gets angry, veins bulge in his forehead.

Fritzie Kozka

Pete’s wife, Fritzie is “a string-thin blonde who chain-smoked and handled the razor-sharp knives with nerveless precision.” She works with Fleur but is not as strong as she, so Fleur is responsible for much of the heavy lifting. Fritzie keeps close tabs on her husband, refusing to tolerate any talking behind her back. A practical business owner, she refuses to let the town break through the meat locker in order to discover whether the men are inside because it would spoil the frozen meats, her and Pete’s major investment.

Pete Kozka

The owner of the butcher shop, Pete is a soft spoken man who keeps his thoughts to himself because of his wife’s influence. The only book he reads is the New Testament, and he always carries the...

(This entire section contains 1273 words.)

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lens of a cow’s eye for good luck. Pete hires Fleur because of her strength and seems to bear no ill will towards her, which is why, Pauline implies, his and Fritzie’s living space is spared by the storm.

George Many Women

George Many Women bends over to look at Fleur when she washes up on the shore of Lake Turcot. Fleur curses him, saying he will take her place, so he refuses to go outside, but Fleur’s magic seems to work nevertheless because he soon drowns in a bathtub.

Misshepeshu

The “waterman, the monster” Misshepeshu is a “love-hungry” devil that lives in Lake Turcot and yearns for young girls like Fleur. Chippewa mothers warn their daughters that he may appear handsome to them, with “green eyes, copper skin, a mouth tender as a child’s,” but when they fall in his arms “he sprouts horns, fangs, claws, fins.” Once he changes shape, he appears somewhat like a merman, with joined feet and brass scales, until he pulls the girls under, at which point he “takes the body of a lion or a fat brown worm.” Erdrich implies in “Fleur,” and makes more explicit during Eli Kashpaw’s courting of Fleur in Tracks, that the form-shifting, magical Misshepeshu is associated with Fleur’s sexuality and sexual power.

Pauline

Pauline is Dutch’s stepdaughter and the narrator of the story. She blends into the walls, or “melt[s] back to nothing” as though she is a part of the furniture, and she knows about everything that goes on at Kozka’s Meats, including Fleur’s rape. A “skinny, big-nosed girl with staring eyes,” Pauline is captivated by Fleur but has mixed feelings about her, ranging from fear to admiration to disdain. She is also somewhat jealous of Fleur’s good looks and powers because by contrast Pauline is quite homely, with a dress that hangs loose and a curved back like an old woman’s. A timid and insecure girl, she cannot bring herself to come to Fleur’s aid when she is raped, and she seems to feel somewhat regretful about this. It may be a reason why she locks the men inside the meat locker during the storm, murdering them, although Pauline seems to imply that she felt compelled to do this because of Fleur’s magic.

Whether to believe Pauline about this motive is one of the cruxes of the story. Erdrich’s novel Tracks suggests much more explicitly that Pauline is not a reliable narrator. She is eager to stress that she has a minimal impact on the story, but she is the one who actually locks the men in the meat locker. Regardless of whether Pauline murdered the men of her own volition or whether she is a reliable narrator, she retains a close connection with Fleur after the storm in Argus, as though she is drawn to her and repelled by her at the same time.

Fleur Pillager

The intriguing subject of Erdrich’s story, the daring Fleur Pillager is a Chippewa woman with magical powers. Chippewa men are attracted to her good looks, but they fear her because she has power from spirits and natural forces. She has “wide and flat” cheeks and a strong, muscular upper body, but her hips are “fishlike, slippery, narrow” and she has “sly brown eyes.” She wears a green dress that, during the August night at the climax of the story, looks like a transparent “skin of lakeweed.” The men at Kozka’s Meats do not notice her very white, “strong and curved” teeth nor the fact that her fifth toes are missing, and they vastly underestimate her.

Fleur’s reasons for moving to Argus are unclear; she may simply want a change from her home on Lake Turcot, or she may fear that people on the reservation will try to get rid of her. In any case, she works hard and with great strength, and she is able to cheat the men at cards (possibly using some kind of supernatural powers). The men, particularly Lily, are infuriated by her confidence and boldness, perhaps more than by the possibility that she cheats at cards. The women seem to respect Fleur, and Fleur takes to Pauline and appears to protect her. Pauline, however, has complex feelings about Fleur that must be deciphered in the subtext of what Pauline says.

Pauline claims that Fleur is “haywire, out of control,” and that she “messed with evil, laughed at the old women’s advice, and dressed like a man.” She goes on to claim that Fleur practices ancient Chippewa medicine and charms, and she emphasizes that Fleur is responsible for summoning the storm that kills the three men who raped her. Pauline also suggests that Fleur magically compelled her to lock the men in the meat locker. It is not clear that all of these things are true or that Fleur is single-handedly responsible for all that happens. In one sense, Fleur is a victim who is raped by three brutal men. In any case, as she is presented by the narrator, Fleur possesses magical power related to her femininity, which no one fully understands.

Lily Veddar

Lily is a fat man “with snake’s cold pale eyes and precious skin, smooth and lily-white, which is how he got his name.” He works at Kozka’s Meats and likes to play cards with his “stumpy mean little bull” dog on his lap. The main actor in the rape and the events leading up to it, Lily attempts to bait Fleur by raising the stakes in the card game. During the chase, Lily falls into the sow’s pen and has a dirty and vicious fight with it in which he crawls around in the mud and is bitten in the shoulder. Erdrich implies during this description that Lily is a pig himself.

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