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Tracks Summary

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Tracks deals with the devastation of the Anishinabe (also known as Chippewa or Objiway) people between the winter of 1912 and the spring of 1924 in Matchimanito, North Dakota. The novel focuses on the life of Fleur Pillager and those with whom she comes into contact, dramatizing their struggle for survival as well as their many-faceted conflicts. In alternating chapters, the story is narrated by Nanapush, a tribal elder, and Pauline Puyat, a fanatic nun of mixed heritage. The two narrators complement but at times also contradict and undermine each other.

At the age of seventeen, Fleur is rescued by Nanapush during a severe winter when inhabitants of Matchimanito are found dead from consumption and starvation. After recovery, she goes to Argus to work at a butcher shop. There, she meets a younger girl, Pauline, who has known her as a survivor of two drownings and hence is convinced that Fleur is the chosen one of Misshepeshu, the lake monster. Pauline reports how Fleur, having aroused the desires of three male workers and beaten them at the card table, is sexually assaulted. Russell, Pauline’s nephew, tries to stop it but to no avail. Later, a tornado strikes the town, and the three men take refuge inside a meat locker, refusing to let Pauline and Russell in. Russell shuts them in from the outside, freezing two of them to death. After the incident, Pauline returns to the reservation, where she learns that Fleur is pregnant. It is uncertain how Fleur becomes pregnant, but according to Nanapush, through personal insights and love medicines, he has helped Eli Kashpaw, a hunter, win her passionate love. Fleur’s childbirth proves to be so difficult that she almost dies. The baby, given the name of Lulu Nanapush, is in fact the person Nanapush addresses throughout his narrative.

Meanwhile, Pauline becomes a helper in Argus at a farm belonging to Bernadette Morrisey. Awakening to her sexuality, Pauline experiments with Napoleon, Bernadette’s brother, but finds herself attracted to Eli instead. Spurned by him, she retaliates with the love potions, thus causing Eli to have sex with Sophie, Bernadette’s daughter. Sophie is punished by her mother, who sends her away. She goes to Fleur’s cabin and kneels in her yard for days on end, jeopardizing the relationship between Fleur and Eli. To avenge Sophie, Clarence, Bernadette’s son, attacks Margaret, Eli’s mother, by tying her up and shaving her bald. The insult leads Margaret, Nanapush, and Fleur to retaliate.

The sexual relationship between Pauline and Napoleon has led to her pregnancy. After giving birth to Marie, whom she turns over to Bernadette, Pauline joins Sister Anne’s convent, where she sees visions of Christ. Determined to remove the devil from Indian country, she returns to the reservation. Fleur, who is again pregnant, gives birth prematurely one day when Pauline comes to visit. Pauline is too clumsy to help Fleur stop the bleeding. Fleur loses consciousness, and the baby dies.

The winter begins to get harsh again, and food is running out. Furthermore, Father Damien, the Catholic priest, brings news that the land allotted to the Pillager, Kashpaw, and Nanapush families would be foreclosed unless they pay their taxes. Faced with the crisis, Fleur is affected by a mysterious illness. She undertakes a healing ceremony, which Pauline disrupts ruthlessly. Eventually, the Kashpaws, Nanapush, and Fleur manage to pool their resources to pay the taxes. Nector Kashpaw (Eli’s brother), entrusted to take the money to pay the taxes, betrays Nanapush and Fleur by making the payment toward Kashpaw land. The betrayal agonizes Fleur, alienates her from Eli, and causes her to attempt suicide by drowning.

Pauline, increasingly determined to become a martyr of her new faith, attempts to confront the lake monster—her idea of Satan. In her delusion, she runs into Napoleon and strangles him instead. Afterward, she takes her vow and becomes Sister Leopolda.

The lumber company has started...

(The entire section is 1,570 words.)