The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Christofer Van Eenanam is a hero alienated from the world—even, it seems, from his own wife. The final pages of What I’m Going to Do, I Think strongly suggest that the character is leaning toward suicide; there is a distinct emptiness in Chris Van Eenanam’s soul at the end of the first novel. By the time Indian Affairs opens, six years later, Chris has given up working for the “Establishment” in a brokerage firm, a period of his life that now is a source of embarrassment to him. His choice of English literature over mathematics as a field of study further reflects this change in his temperament. He feels the need to understand himself, to explore his heritage, and to find some deeper meaning to his life. Woiwode’s often disjointed plot line and the obscurity of Chris’s reasoning help to render his sense of confusion and of aimlessness throughout the novel.

Woiwode renders the conflicts in his main character’s life in a number of ways. Almost immediately, the uneasy relations between Chris and his wife are dramatized. Chris has apparently been drinking more than Ellen would like, and she disapproves of his buying liquor for underage locals. Chris’s thoughts ramble widely, now focused on cutting down a tree, now following a train of thought that leads to a childhood memory. From the beginning, Chris is established as a complex, confused, self-centered young man.

It is not until the final pages of the novel that Chris begins to feel a sense of self,...

(The entire section is 616 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Christopher (Chris) Van Eeananam

Christopher (Chris) Van Eeananam, a Lakota Indian on his mother’s side. He has gone with his wife, Ellen, to upper Michigan to complete his dissertation. They are staying in the lakeside cabin owned by his wife’s grandparents where they had spent their honeymoon seven years ago. Chris had worked at a brokerage house in New York before he decided to go back to school to obtain a Ph.D. in literature. He has just turned thirty and is at a critical juncture in his life. His relationship with Ellen is strained because she is still grieving the loss of their son and has not been able to conceive again. As Chris examines his past, he realizes that all his life he has tried to deny his heritage and tried to pass as a white man. He befriends a group of young Native Americans with an intent to educate them and occasionally buys beer for them. When two of them, in a drunken state, beat an old patriarch on the reservation, Chris feels guilty and refuses to oblige them any more, thus earning their animosity. Through his old friend Beau, Chris meets an activist group planning a protest against development of Indian land. His own past catches up with him as one of his female acquaintances attempts to draw Ellen away from him by involving her in a feminist group. When Ellen is endangered, first by the prowling neighboring youths and then by Gaylin, who sets their cottage on fire, Chris realizes how deeply he cares for her. It also becomes obvious to him that Ellen still loves him. Clear of his doubts and ambiguities, he is able to concentrate on his writing. He is ready to return to New York, this time certain of his own identity and ability to assume responsibilities.


Ellen, who was...

(The entire section is 720 words.)