Louise Erdrich Writing Styles

Louise Erdrich Writing Styles

LouiseErdrich Writing Styles

LouseErdrich is a master of literary works, and she has written manypieces that are rich with themes that reflect the everyday life ofthe context of the society. The exploration of the Native Americanlife earns her a secure place as a keen observant chronicler. Herfirst novel, LoveMedicinepublished in 1984 details the 60-year lives of Chippewa residing inthe turtle mountain. TheBingo Palacepresents the saga that brings to light the life of Lipshey Morrissey,who is the son of irresponsible parents. The story is passionatelyetched in the memories of natives Americans coupled with hopes anddespairs in their contemporary lives. The third novel, TheTracks,published in 1988, explores the interrelated accounts of theAnishinabe families that reside in an Indian domicile. The story isrich in first person narratives enabling the reader to view variesaspects of life from the characters’ perspective. Erdrich portraysvarious themes that have an identifiable attribute of similarity inthe three novels. This paper will lay insight on the theme ofstorytelling and the concept of home because they revolve around thelives of all the characters. It will lay insight on theircontribution to the development of the story and their contributionto attachment to the family heritage that the characters have.

Erdrich’swriting technique is unique as she uses an unconventional approach. The style is colloquial since it emphasizes on both dialect and thesound of a speaker. Besides, the style also matches the NativeAmerican’s traditional oral literature. Many books use regularlanguage with the intention of communicating a specific message to atarget population. Nevertheless, Erdrich chooses her wordingcarefully because she intends to use a language that will identifywith her culture. Consequently, readers from the Ojibwe backgroundcan easily relate to the books since the content is based on herpeople’s civilization. The readers acquire a deeper understandingof the Native American’s cultural values as the characters do notjust speak and listen, but they also reflect their lifestyle in theensuing conversations and descriptions.

InBrown Ruoff’s article “Introduction to American-IndianLiteratures”, Simon Ortiz lays insight on the significance ofstorytelling. He states, &quotThe oral tradition is not justspeaking and listening because what it means to the people who havegrown up in that tradition.&quot (Ruoff 184). He goes on to state,&quot..the society in terms of its history, its culture, itslanguage, its values, and subsequently, it’s literature is notmerely a simple matter of speaking and listening but living thatprocess&quot (Ruoff 184).

Thereis a certain level of significance given to those who belong to theNative American culture. They have a good acquaintance with the localstories from the past and feeling the urges them to put them down topreserve them. It is evident in Love Medicine in its composition. Asingle story can be independent, and it appears like the narrator isverbally telling the story to a reader. The stories interconnect, andas the story unfolds, certain querries find answers. Charactersbecome complete, and details are clearer as different charactersnarrate their ordeals in different circumstances. Their storiescontribute to the development of the whole story. The approach takenby the novel also represents an important idea in the Native Americanliteral way of life. Ruoff makes a reference to Gary Witherspoon’spiece of Language and Art of the Navajoch to present his point. Itpresents certain Navajo beliefs and explains that “the existence ofthe Navajo world was the responsibility of the gods who entered thesweathouse and thought the world into existence (Ruoff 185).

LouiseErdrich writing style is varies with the ancient Western aspects oflanguage use in various ways. It first becomes evident in the wayErdrich creates a common platform for the language and the Englishnarratives used in Native America. It appears in account wherebyseveral characters use their mother tongue. It happens in the firstaccount in several junctures. The first instant is when King requestsGordie for a cigarette, and he replies: “…you don’t say can Ihave a cigarette. You say ciga swa?” ( Erdrich 34). Eli responds“Them Michifs ask like that….you got to ask a real old timeIndian like me for the right words” (Erdrich32). The second accountis when Eli comments on being old. He says, “I’m an oldman…Akiwenzii” (Erdrich 34).

Thetheme of storytelling also finds a place in The Tracks. In thisnovel, storytelling is an instrumental weapon used by the charactersto engage in active resistance to any prejudicial tendencies. Theprotagonists in the story have to narrate their accounts to breakaway from societal conventional images and stereotypes, and thisserves as a major effort to redefine themselves and discover theirtrue femininity. Erdrich stresses the significance of storytelling onthe onset of the novel. For Nanapush, storytelling contributes to hissurvival. He saves his life by telling his account. He narrates “Igot well by talking” (Erdrich 46). He is one of the few whosurvived the destructive winter of 1912 that almost wiped out theentire Chippewa tribe. He furthers the theme by telling Lulu, anadopted granddaughter, her mother’s story. It is the account of histribe and is passing the memory to Lulu. He admits that “…attached,and once I start there is no end to telling because they are hookedfrom one side to the other, mouth to tail” (Erdrich 46).Storytelling, therefore, earns the responsibility of creating acontinuous chain of the community. Memories come to light throughstorytelling. The story of Lulu’s mother establishes a necessarylink with Lulu’s present life. The three generations of Nanapush,Fleur, and Lulu derives unity from storytelling.

Nanapushtakes the role of a grandmother who had the responsibility of tellingstories to grandchildren. He is, however, a representative of thetradition and he emphasizes the importance of maintaining therelationship between the present life and the past through thenarration of accounts. He terms it as vital for the nurturing anddevelopment of the community. Brehm asserts that “Nanapush…attemptsto talk to Lulu…back into traditional culture” (Erdrich 694). Thetheme acts as the only hope to safeguard the Chippewas from a forceddisintegration and loss of their identity. His unprecedented role asa male storyteller may have been the intentional work of Erdrich inan attempt to disappoint the patriarchal society (Beidler and Barton22). She tries to forge a path for the return of the Native Americanway of life that existed before the infiltration of the Westernculture. Through storytelling, Nanapush goes against the conventionalperception of womanhood and tries to reinvent the powerful positionof women in the Chippewa community.

InTheBingo PalaceErdrich introduces Lulu as an old woman, a grandmother to GerryNanapush. As in the love medicine and TheTrack,Erdrich upholds the role of storytelling in passing the Chippewaheritage. The storyteller in this account is an observer who does notactively interact with the characters. Through his forged path, heuses stories to connect the new generation with the old one bypresenting as full of memories.

Erdrichalso uses the theme of home to develop the story that revolves aroundthe characters in her stories. In the Native American tradition, thehome plays an important role as the background that shapesindividuals beliefs and also gives them a sense of identity. All thecharacters used by Erdrich in the three stories revolve around theconcept of a community. She indirectly emphasizes on the idea ofhomecoming or returning to the societal tradition. In LoveMedicine,the concept of home is prominent, and the multiple narratives in thestory are structured around the idea of a home. The opening sentencein the novel depicts the importance of having a place to return.“…killing time before the noon bus arrived that would take herhome” (Erdrich 1). In the account of Marie Kapshaw’s family, thehome is full of children who belong to her biologically and otherswho she has acquired through foster means. Her husband similarsentiments regarding the joy that emanate from a home with children.He says, “I liked each of our babies, but sometimes I was jugglingthem from both arms and losing hold. Both Marie and I lost hold. Inone year, two died a boy and a girl baby. There was a long spell ofquiet, awfully quiet, before the babies showed up everywhere again”(Erdrich 136). Erdrich presents the woman as the homemaker and theygive their children a sense of belonging.

EliKapshaw has the experience of living as a foster son to Nanapush, whoteaches the role of a parent, and this can only take place in a home.As a child, he had lived in her mother’s reservation with Nector,his younger brother. Although they had no father, Nanapush adoptedthem, and they experienced a sense of belonging to a home. It is in ahome setting that parents take responsibility for their children andprovide them with the necessary resources and skills. Nanapush actsas an invaluable teacher to Eli by teaching him apt hunting skillsand the ways of life of their ancestors. He inherits the homelyattitude towards others from Nanapush, and this explains the reasonhe and Fleur settle for starting a family. Fleur ad lost all herrelatives during the epidemic that killed people on the reservations.They agree “…live in commitment, love and ability to confide inone another” (Erdrich 11). This is the same concept adopted byNanapush and Margaret in their marriage.

InThetracks,the idea of belonging to a home plays an important role in shapingthe lives of the characters. Nanapush uses his oratory skills toadvice Lulu that she cannot hate her mother for abandoning her. Thehome environment created by Nanapush facilitates a relaxedenvironment for advising the youth. Lulu sees him as a father, andshe obliges to the directions given by Nanapush. According toNanapush, a home can be a result of individuals who are notnecessarily related by blood. Circumstances can bring peopletogether, and they form a family. He orates, “…far cousins,related not so much by blood as by name and chance survival”(Erdrich 33). It is through the idea of having a home that peopleidentify themselves, and they derive a sense of belonging. Nanapushdescribes his life by referring to the importance of the concept of ahome where he derives his heritage. He says, “I was a vine of awild grape that twined the timbers and drew them close. Or maybe Iwas a branch, coming from the Kashpaws that lived long enough totouch the next tree over, which was Pillagers” (Erdrich 33).

InTheBingo Palace,the home setting plays an important role in the characters livesmainly by acting as a place to lean on in times of trouble and toderive important lessons about their heritage. The relationshipbetween Lipshaw and Fleur intensifies when they meet. Fleur acquaintshim with teachings of love and the value of land into the family(Erdrich 131). The Lipshaw’s dual Kapshaw and Pillager relationshipsaves him from a childhood death and a later near freezing. Thepeople who acted in favor of Lipshaw had a basis on theresponsibility bestowed on them by the extended family institutionthat gives them a feeling of belonging to a home. It is not howevera collectively supported concept since some people run away fromtheir responsibilities.

Lipshawdid not enjoy her mother’s warmth since she abandons him afterbirth. She runs away from responsibility, and this leaves her son toan unknown fate. However, the homely environment of the Kapshaw saveshim and it, therefore, invaluable to him. The lessons learned fromhis grandmother instill in him the need to take care of those underhis care. It is evident in the snowbound car when he holds the babyclose and muses, “I know it will be a long night that maybe willnot end. But I can say …here is one child who was left behind. Atleast he always had someone, even if it was just a no-account likeme, a waste, a reservation load” (Erdrich 259). Despite Erdrich’sdefinite characterization of the characters in the bingo place ashighly individualized, some of them forge their paths, and they breakaway from the family beliefs. The characters are not subject to amandatory compliance with the family systems and the inheritedpatterns due to the changes that occur in the native Americansociety.

Conclusively,Erdrich uses a distinct approach to explaining the Native Americanculture through the lives of different characters. The three storiesincline heavily on the themes of storytelling and the concept of ahome. Storytelling acquaints the young generations with the heritageof their family, and it gives them a sense of identity. The conceptof home is dominant in the three stories since the institution actsas the first point of contact between children and their relatives.It cultivates the sense of responsibility towards each other. Thechronological approach use by Erdrich makes the stories easy tocomprehend and track the changes that take place in the family overtime.


Beidler,Peter, and Gay, Barton. AReader`s Guide to the Novels of Louise Erdrich.Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2006. Print.

Erdrich,Louise. LoveMedicine.New York: Holt,Rhinehart and Winston, 1994.Print.

Erdrich,Louise. TheBingo Palace.NewYork: Harper Perennial,1995. Print.

Louise,Erdrich. Tracks.Diss. New York: Harper Collins, 1988.Print.

Ruoff,Brown. AmericanIndian Literatures. An Introduction, Bibliographic Review, andSelected Bibliography.Modern Language Association, 10 Astor Place, New York, NY 10003-6981,1990.