What are three themes in Thomas King's novel Medicine River?

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In the novel Medicine River by Thomas King, Will Bird has a difficult relationship with his mother and struggles to fit in on the reservation as an outsider. As he learns more about himself and his heritage, Will must decide if he will follow the path of his father or live out the rest of his life on the reservation.

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Three themes in Thomas King’s Medicine River include single-parent childhoods, justice, and cultural identity.

Will grows up never meeting his father, and this aspect of his life dictates everything that follows for Will. The fact his mother married an outsider means Will cannot grow up on the reservation, which...

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casts him as an “other” in the community. This theme reappears later in the novel as Will pursues a relationship with Louise and her daughter Wilma. Will sees another child who will grow up with just a mother, but ultimately cannot get over the fact that Louise may never stop loving Wilma’s father. Again, Will is on the outside looking in.

When Jake is found dead of a suspicious suicide, Will and Harlan take matters in their own hands to investigate the incident. This introduces the theme of reservation justice, where citizens must handle investigations versus trusting the government to uncover the truth,

Will is only half Blackfoot, but he can only pull this cultural identity from his mother. He never knows his father, so he cannot contextualize the other half of his identity. This puts him in the position of a nebulous state, not fully fitting in the Blackfoot culture, but also not knowing where else his identity lies.

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Medicine River is a novel by Thomas King, first published in 1989. It deals with the lives of the Indigenous people of Canada, also referred to as First Nations. Through the character of Will, the reader gets a glimpse into the life of the Native people of Canada nowadays.

One of the important themes in the novel is the theme of fatherhood. Will grows up estranged from his father, and as a result he craves a family connection. Through South Wing, who also doesn’t have a father, Will is able to fill this gap and become a father figure himself, despite the fact that he isn’t actually South Wing’s biological father.

This links in with a wider theme within the novel: the theme of family. Throughout the novel, the reader meets a number of families. For example, we learn about Will’s own family through his flashbacks. We also find out that he tries to build his own family through his relationship with Louise and by taking care of South Wing.

Another theme within this novel is the theme of domestic violence. Jake Weasel, for example, frequently beats his wife, January. In the novel, a question is raised about who is to be blamed for this abuse. Shockingly, some male members of the community seem to have the view that it is January’s own fault. Another couple displaying domestic violence are the Oswalds, as the reader finds out that Mr. Oswald beats Mrs. Oswald.

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Medicine River is a complex novel full of equally complex themes. One of those themes is the importance of identity and heritage. Will Sampson, the protagonist of the book, has several questions about his identity, the main one being who his father is. He knows and lives with his mother, Rose, a Native American Blackfoot woman, but he has yet to meet his elusive father, a white man who abandoned his family years ago. The only connection Will has to his father are letters that his mother saved from Will's father written to her. Unfortunately, Will's mother catches him reading the letters and beats him severely, so Will cannot finish reading them, and thus, he doesn't learn the truth about his father and the hole about his identity is never closed, leaving him with unresolved emotional issues.

Another prominent theme in the novel and one especially prominent in chapter 13 is the idea that stereotypes, particularly those about Native Americans, are not always true. For example, Will and his best friend Harlen are Native Americans, but like pizza, football, and play basketball, just like most Americans or Canadians. Similarly, Will is a photographer, despite the fact that some Native Americans believe photographs steal souls. In this chapter, Susan, a white women whom Will is dating, is surprised to learn that will is a photographer. Her preconceived notions of Native Americans prohibited her from entertaining that idea before meeting will, and this meeting, ultimately, opens her eyes.

Finally, an equally important theme is the fact that strong women can also have imperfections. The reader knows that Rose, Will's mother is a strong Blackfoot woman who raises her children on her own with no help from their father, but she also seems to be weak when the subject of their father is brought up. Bertha Morley is equally as strong as Rose in that she has been in abusive relationships in the past, but still has hope and takes care of herself. In chapter 13, she chooses to join a dating service which she humorously calls an "escort service." Although she is initially presented to the reader as a direct woman, she doesn't seem to have very high standards. For example, on her application she writes:

Whites are okay. Should have his own job and not be married. I’d like someone tall so I can wear heels when we go out, but short is okay, too (178).

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