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.

Historical Context

(Short Stories for Students)

North Dakota in the Early Twentieth Century

West of Minnesota, on the southern border of Canada, and within the large area of the central United States known as the Great Plains, North Dakota has an arid climate with extreme temperatures and a rural economy. Sparsely populated until the late-nineteenth century, the state has a history of groups of Native Americans and immigrants competing for land. Anglo-American and Canadian settlers moved to North Dakota in the mid-nineteenth century to farm and participate in the fur trade, but many moved away in the late-nineteenth century, and Norwegian and German-Russian immigrants began to replace them. By 1910 North Dakota had an uncommonly large percentage of foreign-born residents, and its two main immigrant groups tended not to mix.

North Dakota experienced a population boom between 1898 and 1915, when railroads had been completed, connecting the region with the West. In politics, Republican Progressives instituted reforms and made a number of businesses public enterprises in order to stand up to the Minneapolis-St. Paul grain traders. They were accused of mismanagement, pro-German sympathies, and socialism, however, and they were removed from office in the recall election of 1921. In 1913, the year the events of “Fleur” take place, people were beginning to suffer in small towns, farms, and on Native American reservations, which were particularly hard-hit by disease, drought, and lack of food. Sioux, Chippewa, and other tribal lands had been greatly reduced by this time, to some of the least fertile areas of the state, and Native Americans continued to die after the disappearance of buffalo herds and the onset of disease and malnutrition in the late nineteenth century.


The Chippewa, otherwise known as Ojibwa or Anishinabe, first came in contact with French colonial fur traders in the sixteenth century, in the Great Lakes region. Traditional Chippewa lifestyles varied according to region, but most Chippewa were hunters and not farmers, a tradition that continued into the twentieth century. Many Chippewa became involved in the French fur trade after contact with Europeans, which led to alliances with the French. Like other Plains Native Americans, they were gradually driven off their indigenous land by westward expanding Americans of European descent. In addition to killing Chippewa in conflicts such as the French and Indian War and the War of 1812, these Americans forced Chippewa tribes into undesirable areas, depleted the plains of animals for them to hunt, and spread disease. Chippewa tribes were also involved in a series of disputes with the Sioux, whom they drove south as they made their way to Minnesota, North Dakota, and Ontario.

After the buffalo were nearly exterminated and many Native Americans faced malnutrition, the American government passed the Dawes Severalty Act of 1887. Forcing Native Americans to give up tribal lands for individual land grants, this policy led to the transfer of nearly sixty percent of Native American land to whites by the time it was repealed in 1934. Because of disease, inadequate hunting space, malnutrition, and the loss of land to whites, the suffering of the North Dakota Chippewa persisted into the early twentieth century. Untold numbers died, lived in poverty, and/or suffered from depression as they were forced to change their way of life.

Literary Style

(Short Stories for Students)

Magic Realism

Pioneered by post–World War II Latin American writers such as Jorge Luis Borges and Gabriel García...

(The entire section is 379 words.)

Literary Techniques

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Erdrich is first and foremost a sensuous and feminist poet. She adroitly uses the techniques of imagery and symbolism to advance her themes...

(The entire section is 762 words.)

Ideas for Group Discussions

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

"Fleur" provides an excellent introduction to the body of Erdrich's work. But it is such a tightly focused work that it also rewards...

(The entire section is 424 words.)

Social Concerns

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

With the publication in 2001 of The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse, Louise Erdrich has fleshed out the story of Fleur...

(The entire section is 1296 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Short Stories for Students)

1910s: Chippewa cope with poverty, lack of adequate hunting space, depression, and loss of land. There is little or no organized...

(The entire section is 278 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Short Stories for Students)

Research Native American history in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. What did Native American communities go through in the...

(The entire section is 257 words.)

Literary Precedents

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Having grown up in Wahpeton, North Dakota, Erdrich absorbed much of the traditional lore and story-telling habits of the Ojibwe people when...

(The entire section is 164 words.)

Related Titles

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Love Medicine (1984, expanded edition, 1993), The Beet Queen (l986), Tracks (1988), The Crown of Columbus (With husband,...

(The entire section is 188 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Short Stories for Students)

Erdrich’s Tracks (1988), which focuses on the lives of the Nanapush and Kashpaw families between 1912 and 1924, is the ideal work to...

(The entire section is 125 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Short Stories for Students)


Erdrich, Louise, “Fleur,” in Esquire’s Big Book of Fiction, edited by Adrienne Miller, Context Books,...

(The entire section is 190 words.)


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Bruchac, Joseph. “Whatever Is Really Yours: An Interview with Louise Erdrich.” In Survival This Way: Interviews with American Indian Poets. Tucson: Sun Tracks and University of Arizona Press, 1987.

Coltelli, Laura. “Louise Erdrich and Michael Dorris.” In Winged Words: American Indian Writers Speak. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990.

Erdrich, Louise. “Where I Ought to Be: A Writer’s Sense of Place.” The New York Times Book Review 91 (July 28, 1985): 1, 23-24.

Erdrich, Louise. “The Writing Life: How a Writer’s Study Became a Thing with Feathers.”...

(The entire section is 153 words.)