The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The narrator seems hopeless. The reader must decide whether it is bad luck or bad judgment that plagues him. A recurring symbol of his frustration is his belief that the river has no fish in it, a conviction he holds in spite of the many locals and tourists who insist that they catch fish in the river all the time.

That the narrator continues both to fish and to believe that the river is barren is a paradox that perfectly combines the senses of perseverance and of doom that characterize him. The combination is useful, however, in the pursuit of his grandmother’s tragic story. For uncovering the act of kindness Yellow Calf had performed, the narrator is rewarded with the truth about his heritage.

Teresa is both a caring and a callous mother. She killed Amos, the duck who won the family’s heart by surviving a grisly accident, but served him for a special Christmas dinner. She reinforces the notion that even sources of nurturing, such as the land and one’s precious memories, can be brutal. Her marriage contributes to a feeling evoked throughout the book that the glory of the past can never be fully recovered. In place of the dramatic and powerful First Raise, Teresa has the unremarkable Lame Bull. The union of Teresa and Lame Bull, however, shows the narrator that personal tragedy can be overcome, that life goes on.

The old woman, like her grandson, is never called by name. This shared emptiness links the narrator and his...

(The entire section is 567 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

The narrator

The narrator, an American Indian of Blackfeet and Gros Ventre ancestry. He remains nameless throughout the novel. As the story begins, he has returned to his family’s home on the reservation after years of drifting from place to place. The familiar sights there stir painful memories of his dead father and brother, the only people he ever loved. Their deaths triggered his wandering. He spends much of the novel searching for Agnes, a young Cree woman who ran away from him soon after he took her home to his mother and grandmother, who mistakenly believed her to be his wife. He follows her into a dismal world of tawdry bars, casual violence, and drunken sexual encounters, meeting a succession of strange men and lonely women. He finds Agnes and pleads with her to settle down with him, hoping that she can bring him enough warmth and happiness to crowd out his insistent memories. Instead, her friends beat him. When he returns home to the reservation, as much tired of himself as he is of squalid town life, he learns that his grandmother died while he was gone. Beaten down by events, he nevertheless experiences an emotional epiphany, prompted by an unlikely event. During a tremendous struggle to free a cow trapped in mud, his grief for his father and brother lessens because he realizes how much he mourns them. At the novel’s end, he begins to plan for the future. He will finally allow a doctor to examine the leg he injured at the time of his brother’s death, and he will propose properly to Agnes.

Teresa First Raise

Teresa First Raise, the narrator’s mother, a handsome, bitter Blackfeet woman of fifty-five years. The death of John First Raise, her husband and the narrator’s father, left her a prosperous widow, but prosperity does not bring her happiness. Even before her husband...

(The entire section is 751 words.)