Medicine Walk Characters
The main characters in Medicine Walk are Franklin Starlight, Bunky, and Eldon Starlight.
- Franklin Starlight, or “the kid,” is the novel’s sixteen-year-old protagonist. He is Indigenous but initially knows little about his heritage or biological parents.
- Bunky, or “the old man,” is Franklin’s adoptive father. He has raised Franklin alone on his farm, teaching him how to survive in nature and be a good man.
- Eldon Starlight is Franklin’s biological father, who is Ojibway. He has been largely absent from his son’s life and is now dying of liver failure.
Franklin Starlight (The Kid)
Franklin, who is referred to as “the kid” throughout much of the narrative, is the sixteen-year-old protagonist; he knows that he is Indigenous, yet he has almost no information about his heritage. He has lived with the old man for his entire life, yet he doesn’t know the man’s true identity until the novel nears its close. Growing up, Franklin never knew anything about his mother and very little about his biological father, who showed up only periodically throughout his childhood and who was almost always drunk. Because of the old man’s influence, Franklin enjoys being in nature much more than being in town and prefers solitude to being around others; he quit school as soon as it was legal because he never found his teachers’ lessons meaningful to his own life. Franklin and the old man have a comfortable rhythm in their daily lives, caring for the animals on their small farm and making repairs together.
Franklin’s central conflict in this novel is with his biological father, Eldon, who requests Franklin’s help when he is dying of liver failure. Franklin hesitantly agrees to take his father on a forty-mile journey into the wilderness so that he can receive a proper warrior’s burial. On this journey, Franklin learns about his father’s life, including how he met Angie, Franklin’s mother. As he listens to his father’s stories, Franklin doesn’t offer undue sympathy, instead challenging him and reiterating that his father’s choices have negatively impacted his own life. He proves to be more resilient than his father, demonstrating physical bravery when he encounters a bear; this act provides a contrast to the way his father fled from danger during the Korean War. Franklin provides physical comfort to his father as life leaves Eldon’s body, and he then honors his father’s wishes, giving him the burial he wished for. Franklin also understands that life is better lived when shared with others, and when he returns from burying his father, he shares the story of his difficult journey with the old man. The old man’s influence has helped shape Franklin into a better young man, and in the end, Franklin identifies with Bunky in a way that he never could with his biological father.
Bunky (The Old Man)
For the majority of the novel, Franklin’s guardian, Bunky, is known simply as “the old man.” After he met Eldon at a local bar, the pair watched Angie, who would become Franklin’s mother, as she danced. That night, Bunky had stood up for a man who was being bullied, and that act of compassion particularly touched Angie. She bonded with Bunky, finding him “heroic.” Bunky later hired Eldon to build a fence around his farm; at this point, Angie was also living with Bunky. While Bunky was at work, Angie formed a relationship with Eldon. When Bunky walked in on them having sex, he was devasted but insisted on taking care of Angie even if she didn’t love him. Bunky gave the couple a truck and enough money to help them start a life together. Later, Eldon reappeared with an infant, wanting Bunky to raise him because the baby reminded him too much of Angie.
Bunky raises Franklin like his own son and teaches him everything he knows about nature. From tracking game to shooting a gun, Bunky passes on lessons that ground Franklin in the outdoors and provide a sense of constancy in the boy’s life. As a way of honoring Angie, Bunky also makes a concerted effort to incorporate Franklin’s Indigenous culture into the way he raises him. He decides...
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that raising the boy to be a good man should also teach him how to be a “good Indian.” When Franklin tells Bunky that he views him as a father, the old man is moved, telling Franklin that this is all he’d ever hoped to be.
Eldon is Franklin’s biological father, though for all purposes, he remains a stranger to his son for most of his life. Periodically, he shows up at the old man’s house or summons Franklin to his home in town, where the visits always end badly due to Eldon’s alcoholism. Eldon is dying as the novel begins, and he asks his son to give him a proper warrior’s burial: he is half Ojibway and claims that he was a warrior once. As he and Franklin journey forty miles to the ridge where he wishes to be buried, Eldon shares the stories of his life. He tells Franklin that he moved often as a child because neither the Indigenous communities nor the white communities accepted his family. He talks about how his mother became involved with an abusive man after his father died in the war—and how he never saw her again after she told him to leave one day. Eldon also tells his son about how he ended the life of his best friend, Jimmy, during the Korean War, partly to end Jimmy’s agony and partly because he was afraid that his friend’s screams would endanger his own safety.
Most importantly, Eldon finally shares with Franklin the truth about Angie, Franklin’s mother. Eldon had become involved with Angie while she was living with Bunky and had fallen in love with her. After she became pregnant, he was terrified of failing as both a father and a husband; he began drinking again and wasn’t there when Angie first went into labor. Because she arrived at the hospital too late, Angie died during childbirth, which devastated Eldon. Realizing that he could not be the father his child needed, Eldon took the infant to Bunky and asked him to raise Angie’s son. Eldon never regretted this decision, telling Franklin that it was the only thing in his entire life that he could say that he was proud of. Franklin is there when Eldon takes his final breath, and his son then fulfills his request to be buried in the warrior tradition.
Angie, Franklin’s mother, was half Cree and a gifted storyteller. While living with Bunky, she entertained him with stories each evening. When Eldon heard her first tale, he was moved to tears. As Eldon constructed a fence on Bunky’s property, Angie took him lunch and began trying to get to know him. She shared the pain of her own past, telling Eldon that her parents had died when she was young and that she had realized she needed to be able to support herself. She had then earned a reputation as a knowledgeable cook. Eventually, she had crossed paths with Bunky in a bar and found him “heroic.” She insisted that Eldon could be a hero as well, but he never believed in himself the way Angie did. Nevertheless, Angie fell in love with Eldon, not Bunky, and ultimately left with him. After fixing up a small cabin with Eldon and enjoying a modest life together for a time, Angie became pregnant. She died giving birth to Franklin.
Jimmy was Eldon’s best friend when they were young. Jimmy faced his own share of hardships: his father had been injured and was no longer able to work, so Jimmy was tasked with taking care of his family. Because Eldon was in a similar situation following the death of his father, the two looked out for each other. Jimmy was with Eldon when they heard Eldon’s mother screaming inside her house; both boys rushed in to help her, but Jimmy was the one who physically assaulted Lester Jenks with enough force that the man collapsed. Later, Jimmy and Eldon served in the Korean War, and Jimmy asked his friend to give him a warrior’s burial if he should die. Jimmy was shot on a reconnaissance mission, and as he lay screaming in a pool of blood, Eldon stabbed him in the chest, killing him. His body was never recovered.