The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse

by Louise Erdrich
Start Subscription

The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse Summary

The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse is a 2001 novel by Louise Erdrich about Agnes DeWitt, a woman who assumes the guise of a Catholic priest named Father Damien and devotes her life to serving the parish at the Little No Horse reservation.

  • The novel moves between the present, set in the 1990s, when Father Damien is nearing death, and various points in the distant past.
  • In the present, Damien converses with Father Jude, who has visited to consider Sister Leopolda for sainthood. Father Damien's story reveals why Leopolda may not be fit for sainthood.

Summary

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 249

The novel explores aspects of the lives of the Pillager, Puyat, and Kashpaw families on and near Ojibwe Native American reservations in the Dakotas. This novel focuses on Father Damien and the secret he keeps, as well as his relationships with other priests and nuns and with the members of...

(The entire section contains 762 words.)

See This Study Guide Now

Start your subscription to unlock this study guide. You'll also get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Start your Subscription

The novel explores aspects of the lives of the Pillager, Puyat, and Kashpaw families on and near Ojibwe Native American reservations in the Dakotas. This novel focuses on Father Damien and the secret he keeps, as well as his relationships with other priests and nuns and with the members of his "flock," to whom he devotes his life.

Alternating between contemporary times and numerous past periods, the story gradually reveals the main secret concerning Father Damien's identity and misdeeds. Despite his efforts to lead a spiritual life and make amends, he is drawn into further secrecy.

From an introductory sequence presenting the priest's communication with the Pope, the novel moves back eighty years to tell the story of Sister Agnes and the challenges the young nun faces, often unsuccessfully. When she assumes the dead priest's identity, the stage is set for the long, complex saga that spans eight decades and keeps the reader wondering whether he/she will be exposed.

Secular characters and the hardships of Native life, including forced assimilation through boarding schools, are developed throughout. Sister Leopolda, formerly Pauline Puyat, ties this novel to Erdrich's earlier Tracks and helps hold the plot together through her attention to the "miracles" and the secrets she also harbors. Sent from the Vatican, Father Jude Miller investigates the miracles; by giving the reader knowledge of what Father Jude Miller may never discover, Erdrich makes us feel invested in the characters' lives and even complicit in helping them keep the past buried.

Introduction

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 513

The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse plunges readers into the lifetime saga of Father Damien and his work among the Ojibwes on the Little No Horse reservation. A prologue, containing a 1996 a letter to the pope from Father Damien, begins the book’s four-part narration by returning to 1910-1912. As in all Erdrich’s work, landscape plays a major role. “Eighty-some years previous, through a town that was to flourish and past a farm that would disappear, the river slid—all that happened began with that flow of water.” Novitiate Sister Cecelia, the former Agnes De Witt, is introduced as a young nun whose piano playing contains such emotion it disturbs her community and prompts her leaving. The arrangements she makes to live on a nearby farm catapult her into an adventure that will engulf her life. An accidental brush with petty criminals causes her common-law husband’s death and sets the stage for the rest of the novel. Themes of passionate devotion, religious life, individual will, and survival in the face of overwhelming odds are set in motion in part 1, “The Transfiguration of Agnes.” After a disastrous flood washes her out of her home, Agnes takes the role of Father Damien Modeste, a drowned priest whose body she finds. She walks onto Ojibwe land, and the novel’s main conceit is in place.

Throughout part 2, “The Deadly Conversions,” and part 3, “Memory and Suspicion,” Erdrich continues the technique of interspersing chapters about the aged priest’s daily routine and life in his parish with chapters about the past. In these sections Father Jude, an emissary from the Vatican, interacts with Father Damien and the parishioners that he has come to know and accept over the years. As Father Jude Miller investigates Sister Leopolda’s life and the miracles reported at Little No Horse, the novel incorporates earlier episodes between Father Damien, Nanapush, and Fleur Pillager as well as revealing the history of the Payut clan and the tale of the Kapshaw wives, the drama of Mary Kapshaw in the convent kitchen and Lulu Pillager’s struggle with her mother, Fleur. Lulu’s hatred for Fleur takes root in these sections when she is sent to Indian Boarding School. To further complicate life, another priest arrives to help Father Damien, and this means sharing a living space—a huge difficulty for “Father” Damien. The two of them discover each other with a passion that cannot be contained.

Part 4, “The Passions,” gives both report and prophecy concerning Lulu Pillager, returned as a woman to the reservation. It contains Sister Leopolda’s final confession of a murder and her threat to unmask “Father” Damien to the authorities when they quarrel. Father Jude Miller begins his account of Leopolda’s passion and finds himself spending equal time thinking about Father Damien’s life as he writes. Father Damien, unwilling to be indefensible in death, plans his disappearance, and Mary Kapshaw helps him carry it out. Finally, it is the love that Father Damien shared with his Ojibwe flock that they and readers remember.

Illustration of PDF document

Download The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse Study Guide

Subscribe Now
Next

Chapter Summaries