Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Some scholars of Native American writings believe that “mixed blood” writers such as Erdrich—the daughter of a Chippewa Indian and a German—approach writing as a means of linking not only their own cultures but also the worlds of spirits and human beings. Erdrich had such difficulty in writing Tracks that she put her original manuscript aside for ten years. Only after she had worked backward in time by writing Love Medicine (1984) and The Beet Queen (1986) did she return to Tracks and begin to link it to her completed novels about more recent generations of Chippewa and white settlers in North Dakota.

Within Erdrich’s long fiction, points of view often change, with the narrative voices shifting among both characters and occasional omniscient narrators. In shifting points of view, the reliability and truthfulness of narrators is always in doubt—as is the case with Pauline and Nanapush in Tracks. Nanapush, an old man who has lost his family and becomes a father figure to Fleur, repeatedly insists that Pauline does not always tell the truth. Readers must therefore remember that only Pauline’s narration reports on Fleur’s rape.

Erdrich’s technique of changing narrators and publishing chapters as individual stories breaks down the traditional form of the novel. Each appearance of an individual narrator suggests a separate “storytelling” experience, perhaps a return to a time when the line between history and myth was not clearly defined. This technique seems to be common to Native American writers. As a result of these separate storytelling experiences, separate chapters such as “Fleur” also stand alone as short stories.

Erdrich’s style and language also reflect and present blurring of cultures and boundaries between myth and reality. Although her language is concrete and specific, her allusions are subtle, often leaving the reader not knowing exactly what has occurred. For example, the Chippewa language uses the same word for both flirting and hunting game—a coincidence that subtly connects Fleur’s sensuality with her hunting in a man’s domain. Another Chippewa word suggests both using force in intercourse and killing a bear with one’s bare hands. These connotations merge in Pauline’s narration. Thus, Erdrich presents her major themes through style and language as well as through her use of double narrators and shifting point of view.