The Plague of Doves

by Louise Erdrich

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The Plague of Doves Summary

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Last Updated on February 4, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 775

This section is narrated by Evelina. In 1896, Evelina’s great-uncle, an Indigenous Catholic priest, gathered together his parishioners to “pray away the doves.” The parishioners farmed among Germans and Norwegians who did not intermarry with the Indigenous people.

The doves destroyed and ate all crops planted; while the Indigenous and white people both caught, killed, and ate doves, there were always more.

Evelina’s great-uncle had attempted to protect the glass of his rectory, a one-room cabin, with sticks. In the cabin slept his younger brother, Evelina’s grandfather, Mooshum. He is called Seraph Milk and lives to be over 100. Aged eleven, Evelina hears him tell the story of this attempt to vanquish the plague of doves. He tells how the doves scratched the houses with their feet; in the outhouse, which was the only toilet, many doves became mired in excrement. 

Because their father has disabled the television, Evelina and her brother love to listen to Mooshum talk. He explains how his brother put on vestments, stuffed his censer with sage, and gathered the parishioners in his cabin church. Mooshum and his brother then began walking down the hill, leading the parishioners through thick packs of doves. The parishioners began to chant the Hail Mary; Mooshum was distracted by the sight of the women’s legs when they lifted their skirts above reach of the doves. At this point he was struck by a bird hurtling from the sky; the Holy Spirit appeared to him in the form of a girl. This was the sort of romantic encounter common in the family.

It is now the mid-1960s, and Evelina feels she has already had her romantic encounter, with a boy at school she is in love with. She writes his name over and over on her own skin: Corwin Peace. This is around the time of Lent. When Evelina’s father is away, she and her brother fiddle with the television and watch The Three Stooges until they are found out.

For Mooshum, the girl who appeared to him was one who had fallen behind the others in the field, as she was too shy to knot up her skirts. Her name was Junesse, and she knelt to mop blood from Mooshum's forehead and ear, which the doves had half pecked off. Junesse was very beautiful, and Mooshum eventually went with her to North Dakota, running away together. Junesee was fleeing an abusive aunt and six cousins for whom she had responsibility; Mooshum was fleeing the priesthood. They lived off doves and off the land. 

During that Lent, Evelina has braces put on her teeth. Corwin Peace, her beloved, shoves her, teasing, which upsets Evelina, but she feels sure she will be very beautiful one day. She punches Corwin’s arm and says “Love me or leave me,” an act which soon becomes known around the school. Other girls offer to beat Corwin up for Evelina. Evelina begins writing Corwin’s name backward on her skin to undo her love for him; she had never spoken to him before this.

On Easter Sunday, Evelina is dressed in her best frock and mantilla. After taking Holy Communion, her eyes meet Corwin’s.

For a whole summer after running away, Junesse and Mooshum lived off a bag of pinto beans, rattlesnakes, gophers, and rabbits. One day they snared a pig and were debating how to kill it when a rider appeared, a giant woman in men’s clothing. She told the pair to climb onto her horse and took them to her ranch, where she put them in a bedroom. Her name was “Mustache” Maude Black. She kept a henhouse and a neat kitchen, and taught Mooshum and Junesse to rope, ride, shoot, and cook. When they were seventeen, Maude allowed them to marry.

When Mooshum was young, a local white woman was killed, and her neighbors came to try and punish Mooshum, an Indian, for it. But Maude refused to surrender him to the mob, promising to shoot them instead. One was shot in the leg by Maude’s husband, Ott. Maude lied and said that Mooshum was no Indian, but Ott’s son.

They left, but the man who had been shot died of his wounds, so Maude put Junesse and Mooshum on horses and told them to ride to their home reservation, where they were given allotments on which to raise their five children, one of whom was Evelina’s mother, Clemence. 

The day after Easter Monday that year, Evelina and Corwin kiss. Rather than feeling happy, Evelina feels confused and sorry, as if this kiss has launched her into real life.

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