Student Question

How does prejudice against Native Americans in "Fleur" contribute to the plot?

Expert Answers

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The prejudice in Louise Erdrich’s “Fleur” is ironically represented through the narrator, Pauline Puyat, a young girl who prides herself on her white lineage more than her Native heritage. She focuses her prejudice against her physical features:

I was invisible. I blended into the stained brown walls, a skinny, big-nosed girl with staring eyes.

Even as she critiquing her own appearance, particularly the shade of her skin and her facial structure, she does her best to blend into the town of Argus, a devoutly Christian town with three churches and no room for Native spirituality.

Pauline also embellishes Fleur’s physical characteristics:

Her cheeks were wide and flat, her hands large, chapped, muscular. Fleur’s shoulders were broad as beams, her hips fishlike, slippery, narrow. An old green dress clung to her waist, worn thin where she sat.

Fleur is not allowed any femininity in Pauline’s depictions, though Fleur is arguably one of the closest maternal connections Pauline has. Pauline also uses a bountiful amount of animalistic imagery to describe Fleur; when Fleur drowns and is rescued, she “shivered all over like a dog.” Pauline also says that Fleur’s “braids were thick like the tails of animals, and swung against her when she moved, deliberately, slowly in her work, held in and half-tamed, but only half.” Pauline goes to acknowledge that the men do not judge Fleur based on the fact that she is Chippewa, but due to the way she plays cards.

Pauline’s prejudice against her own lineage and culture adds to the plot because it turns her into an unreliable narrator. When Pauline tells the supernatural story of the monster Misshepeshu, she describes Fleur’s child’s “green eyes” and “copper skin.” Given the common association of these colors with money and greed, the reader must wonder if Pauline’s choice of words is truly part of the story—or if it is based on her greed to be something more than Chippewa.

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