The Plague of Doves

by Louise Erdrich

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Disaster Stamps of Pluto Summary

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Last Updated on February 4, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 589

Dr. Cordelia Lochren narrates the book’s final chapter. She relates that Pluto is now almost a ghost town and that the year she retires, she is appointed president of Pluto's historical society. 

One of the biggest dramas in Pluto’s history was the 1911 murder of five members of a family, after which a party of Indians were hanged. In 1928, the owner of Pluto’s bank fled the country with most of the town’s money. His plot was foiled, but he killed himself. Meanwhile, on the Second World War memorial was once the name of the boy believed to have murdered the family: Tobek Hess, who ran away to Canada. His sister Electra wanted the name on the memorial, but now the name has been chipped off by unknown people.

The baby who survived the murders was adopted by Electra, who raised her and sent her away to college, where she became a doctor. This was Cordelia. She was an excellent doctor but turned away Indians. She was thought bigoted, but actually she just felt unsteady and weak in their presence.

Murdo Harp was the brother of the suicide banker and the father of Neve. One day Neve says she wants to tell Cordelia the story of Octave, the banker. 

Neve says that Octave had a stamp collection in which he was greatly invested. Neve’s brother took bits and pieces of the collection, and Neve kept the rest. Recently, Neve has discovered from Octave’s letters that he had become interested in stamps and envelopes which had survived dreadful experiences. Dwelling on these began to make him feel worse and worse. 

Octave became interested in a particular letter rumored to be from 79 CE, meant for Pliny the Younger. Octave heard that this letter was now in Brazil. Octave wanted to go and purchase the letter, so he stole the money and left. When he returned to Pluto empty-handed, he became an alcoholic. Afterward, he heard that the woman in Brazil who seemingly had the letter had actually lost it: her small child had shredded it. This broke Octave’s heart. 

In the evening, Neve and Cordelia talk. Now, Neve says her brother has cheated her by taking the valuable stamps for himself, because he knew about stamps, and leaving the useless ones for her.

Cordelia takes out her own disaster letter, the one from the funeral parlor when her birth family were all slaughtered. When she was a child, Cordelia was told that the Indians had been responsible for the murders.

Cordelia believes Electra genuinely thought her brother innocent. If so, who was the murderer? 

Around twenty years earlier, Cordelia took on the case of Warren Wolde, who had been trampled by a bull. She saved Warren’s leg, but the incident seemed to set him on the road to senility.

When Warren died, a lawyer sent Cordelia a package full of hundreds of small wadded bills, folded small, exactly the same as many similar bills that had turned up for Cordelia during her childhood. At the nursing home, the nurse said that Warren had been killed by music played by Corwin Peace.

When she had treated Warren, he had seemed to rear from Cordelia in an oddly personal horror, as if recalling a nightmare. She knows what the name Peace means. 

Neve and Cordelia declare the historical society defunct. Cordelia’s last act as its president is to declare a town holiday commemorating the year she saved the life of her family’s murderer, Warren Wolde.

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