Erdrich Journals 1-7

"The World's Greatest Fisherman"begins with a third person narrator and ends with a first person one; whatmight this tell us about the book? about the character that is the first personnarrator in relation to the entire story? What stands out to you from thischapter?

            The shift in perspective during thefirst chapter sets this novel up to read like a story being told in the oraltradition. This first chapter sets the tone for changing perspectives, and chronologicalshifts throughout the rest of the novel. Perspective shifts are used to make this novel a contemporary telling ofthe life that Native Americans live on a day-to-day basis.  This mirrors the way that medicine men andelders would tell the stories of the creation and subsequent rise of humanityin the time before the western powers subjugated the aboriginal peoples of theAmericas.

            Erdrich’s use of June’s first personhelps to develop the character specifically, and to show her place in the largerfamily structure. This is evidenced by the line on page 13 that reads: “…but our relationship was like a file wesharpened on, and necessary in that way.”(pg11)  this line reveals that even though the familymay not always agree, they are still undeniably connected through their sharedexperience, and knowledge of each other.  The use of first person in this chapterleads nicely into a point that is hammered home through the whole novel.

            The point that is hammered home isthat; in the Kashpaw house, every Kashpaw is welcome. This thread of familyconnection is strung through the entire novel. I believe that Erdrich does this to show that even in times of tribulation;the Native American family places the utmost importance on family.  Erdrich uses this to suggest that an Indianfamily can weather even the harshest storms, and come out intact, if somewhatbattered.  It is more than just anexplanation of native culture that whites, may understand, it is a message thatnatives must stick together if their culture is to survive.

Page70 mentions the love medicine as Lulu asks Nanapush what his medicine is; whatis his method? He also expresses a wish to Lulu; what is Lulu's opinion of Marie?What is Nanapush's advice to Lulu about Nector? From what is said here, what dowe know about the Nector/Marie/Lulu triangle?

            WhenLulu asks about Nanapush’s medicine, she is told that; “No clocks. These young boys who went to the bureau school, they runtheir life on white time. Now me, I go on indian time. Stop in the middle for abowl of soup. Go right back to it when I’ve got my strength…”. He suggeststhat by being true to the native spirit that flows in his blood, he is able tolive according to what his body really wants. He does not relegate his love only to the night like white folks do;instead he loves, lives, eats, and sleeps on a natural clock.  This is the native secret of life; to eatwhen hungry, sleep when tired, and love when horney.

            Ashis life is lived in the native way so too does Nanapush want to die and beburied.  He remarks that he lost hisspirit to Father Damien in a card game, but still wishes to “walk away on the old road”. The oldhealer does not want to go to heaven and spend eternity with the Christian god;instead he wants to spend the afterlife with those that came before, hisancestors.  He wants to have atraditional tree burial so he may see his enemies coming even in death.

            Nanapushtells Lulu to forget about Nector, he says that the whole Kashpaw family is“poison”.  The most important advice hegives is that jealousy will tear her up, that she should move on and find a newlove.  This sets up the love trianglethat evolves throughout the novel, and explains a part of Lulu’s character inlater chapters.  it shows a picture of awoman who never got the love she wanted, and so spends her life either lookingfor a suitable replacement, or trying to wash away the memory of unrequitedlove with a series of empty sexual affairs.

Beginning with the sentence “The fire isunstoppable” (p. 144 in my copy) and reading on to the end of the chapter, whatwould you say is happening? Has Nector been alone, or not? Who is there andwhy? Have some fun with this.

            Theunstoppable fire on page 141 is started while Nector is waiting to deliver aletter to Lulu that confesses his undying love for her.  As he sits waiting for her, he creates arather melodramatic scene of Marie find the letter he left for her and loseshis nerve.  The first cigarette he flickswhile rolling his second one ignites the blaze, and he has a minor breakdownbelieving that he deserves to burn for the pain he has brought to both thewoman he pleged his life to, and the woman he can not choose to love.

            Unbeknownstto Nector there is another person lurking in the shadowy recesses of the woodedarea behind the house. As he turns from the scorching heat of the fire hestarted, he falls to his knees in a submissive gesture of acceptance.  He believes that it is proper and fitting forthe blaze to consume him in the same way that he has consumed and destroyed thelife of Marie Kashpaw.  In the midst ofhis spiritual turmoil he notices the figure that has been lurking in theshadows, and mistakes it for a vision (angelic or demonic he isn’t sure) of hiswife Marie at the age of fourteen.

            Thechild steps forward and takes his hand and says “let’s go daddy”, suggestingthat this is one of his children. While conventional wisdom would suggest thatthis is one of his legitimate children from his union with Marie, I think it isthe bastard daughter from his affair with Lulu. She has found her real father, and wants to save him from a fiery deathin the hopes that he will be able to help her find her identity.  

Thinkabout Leopolda and Marie’s relationship. Why do you think Marie returns forthis visit? Why does she bring Zelda with her? How would you describe thepositive aspects and the negative aspects of Marie and Leopolda’s relationship? What does each woman take from this relationship? 

            Marie returns to the convent wearingher best “royal-plumb” dress with her most well behaved daughter Zelda intow.  It seems as though she wants toimpress the haggard old nun with her “success”. Everything in her demeanor says that Marie is seeking approval from theonly person that never thought she was good enough. Not only is Zelda thepicture of the perfect child, she also has a solid christen mind set (we findout that she wants to join the convent towards the end of the chapter). 

            While Leopolda is painted as ahateful which, she (perverse though it was) showed concern for Marie’supbringing.  The crazed nun’s harshtreatment inspired Marie to become a greater woman.  Unfortunately the concern that Leopoldashowed for the young Marie came at the end of a severe rod (or fire poker asthe story goes), and not in the loving voice of a mother.  The fact that Leopolda would never believethat Marie had grown into a valuable adult held caused Marie to develop thesame belief about herself.

            This strangely familial relationshipgives the old nun a sense of accomplishment in believing that she hadcultivated a strong young woman. It also gave her an outlet for her rage whenMarie was in her care.  Among many thingsthat Marie takes from her relationship with the nun, is a sense of familialidentity.  She also finds a desire togrow and become a better woman to spite the crazed mother figure from herchildhood.  While these things serve apurpose in the lives of each woman, neither one can be a healthy human beinguntil the past is laid to rest. 

Gerry Nanapush is described as “both a naturalcriminal and a hero whose face appeared on the sox o’clock news.” At firstglance this statement appears contradictory.  However, the author hasallowed Gerry to be both hunted and honored.  How? Why?  


            In class we have discussed theappearance of law and justice in this novel, and debated whether or not thereis a difference between the two ideals. Gerry Nanapush is the embodiment of this line of discussion.  He understands that in the eyes ofbureaucrats and politicians he has broken the law.  Knowing this he believes that he has notcommitted any real crimes, he has not acted in an unjust manner. This leads himto escape custody multiple times (either he is really smart, or Erdrichbelieves law enforcement officials to be inexcusably dumb) and to be recapturedjust as many times.

            While he has broken every letter ofthe law, it is hard to truly view him as a criminal, considering his kindtreatment of the wandering Albertine and his devotion to his wife and unbornchild.  He is a man of old school honor,not willing to run out on the family that he has made.  Even when he is faced with a lifetime ofimprisonment, he still risks his freedom to be with his wife during her labor.

            The title scales fits well with thecharacters in this story; not only for the physical and occupationalcharacteristics, but for the way each weighs the consequences of their actions.Gerry specifically has to weigh the morality of leaving his pregnant wife,against the personal fear he feels when he thinks of being put into a cage likea rabid dog.  While he is an honorableman as far as his family is concerned, he fails to give thought to the lives heruins when he kills the police officer that is trying to recapture him.  This particular brand of honor was moresuited to days gone by, the days when and Indian could still live like anIndian.    

 Why Crown ofThorns?  How does this title becomesymbolic in what happens to Gordie? Marie? June?

            This chapter is about two men thatface pain and suffering after the loss of a loved one, one that faces it calmly(Eli) and one that tries to drown his pain in booze (Gordie).  The title relates to the biblical story ofJesus wearing a crown of thorns on the cross. In the bible Jesus wears thecrown of thorns as part of his crucifixion, which is symbolic of him taking thepain of all of humanity’s sins upon himself. Gordie and Eli take the pain ofJune’s death upon themselves, and wallow in it. 

            While Eli looked back on his timespent with the woman he loved fondly, Gordie is tormented by the specter of hermemory.  His torment is so complete thathe even fears saying her name out loud, “Never,never, ever call the dead by their names, Grandma said. They might answer.”.  When he is very drunk and alone in his househe says June’s name, and begins hallucinating, seeing her coming through thewindow for him.  In his mortal terror,Gordie hops in his car and drives to town, on the way he hits a deer, and putsit in his back seat to trade for more booze. When he meets the deer’s eyes he realizes that the creature is not quitedead, so he strangles it.  

            During the struggle with the deer,Gordie believes that he has strangled June, and drives to Sister Mary toconfess his perceived crime.  Before shetakes any action concerning Gordie’s confession, the sister wants to see thebody.  What she finds is that Gordie’sgrief stricken and alcohol numbed mind has mistaken a deer for his dead wifeand the sister begins to cry and eventually falls asleep on the deadcritter.  At this point Gordie, stillbeing tormented by his memories of June flees from the persecution that he issure will follow.  the distraught Gordiewraps his tormented mind in visions of June, just as Jesus wrapped his head inin a crown of thorns to take a pain that he believed he deserved.

How does water become symbolic in thisnovel? 

            Water is fluid and flowing as arethe lives of the characters in this novel. Water was life to the ancestors of the characters, giving sustenancebody and spirit alike.  The charactersare never far away from water, always flowing through their stories. The waterdefines their cultural and individual identities. As characters like Lulu andJune flow freely from one home to the next so too does water flow from onedestination to another.  The charactersin this story also leave a mark on the lives they take part in, just as watererodes every bit of soil it touches.

            Water is also interconnected; streaminto lake, lake into river, river into ocean, and from the river into the sky,then from the sky back down into the stream. Every story and character in this novel is connected in the same waythat bodies of water are all connected, with their family circle beingunbroken.  The illegitimate children ofextramarital affairs are tied to the legitimate heirs of the not-so-blissfullywedded couples.  The son that Beverlysired with Lulu is raised by Marie and Nector, and Gerry’s child Lipsha israised by king.  The lives of one familyflow into the others.

            Water also allows for a bridge tobuilt to connect two opposing sides of the same river, this is the same for thelives of the characters.  Some ofErdrich’s characters build bridges between childhood and middle age, andbetween one family and another. Both of those are found in the Lulu and Marie’sactions after Nector burns down Lulu’s house. Bridges are also built to bringtwo different worlds together.  Thebridge that Lipsha crosses in crossingwater is symbolic of just such a bridge. This bridge symbolizes theconnection between Lipsha’s native ancestors, and the realities of modernnative life.





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