In the short stories that I have read by Louise Erdrich, she always includes a central idea of loss in them. In her short story, “The Red Convertible”, the main characters tells of slowing losing his brother. His brother, Stephan, comes home from the Marines depressed. This depression alters his personality where he becomes quiet, jumpy, and mean. This depression ultimately leads to Stephan’s death when “his boots are filled with water on a windy night” (Erdrich, 1). The short story, “Scales” shows that theme of loss with Dot having to deal with the constant coming and goings of her boyfriend. His escapes from prison and finally his being sent to a no-contact federal prison takes a toll on Dot as she is pregnant and gives birth to their child. “The World’s Greatest Fisherman” deals with the death of June and how her son Delmar handles the loss. Delmar struggles with the early demise of his mother, “Delmar’s face was grinding deep into the cinders and his shoulders shook with heavy sobs. He screamed up through dirt at his father. ‘It’s awful to be dead. Oh my God, she’s so cold'” (Erdrich, 49). The loss of family is evident in the short story, “The Blue Velvet Box”. Through several events, the little girl in this story loses first her father, then mother, then baby brother, then finally her older brother. She experiences another loss when she opens the velvet box she has kept safe to be empty of the heirlooms she thought it possessed, “I stood quietly, stunned” (Erdrich, 103). Erdrich describes another sense of loss in the short story, “Anna”. The main character, Anna, feels a loss of her freedom when she unexpectedly becomes pregnant later in life. Anna talks about this loss when she says, “I just wanted one chance, one chance to be Anna, one chance I never got in my life” (Erdrich, 274). Louise Erdrich continues writing about different aspects of loss in all her short stories that I read. The central theme of loss throughout her writings makes them to be somber stories.
Louise Erdrich’s short stories also include destructiveness in her characters. Erdrich’s character, Nector Kashpaw, exhibits destructive behavior when he cheats on his wife in the story “The Plunge of the Brave”. He also displays destructiveness when he accidently sets fire to his mistress’s house and stands by and does nothing. “I don’t know how long I stand there, moving back inch by inch as fire rolls through the boards, but I have nearly reached the woods before the heat on my face causes me to abandon the sight, finally, and turn” (Erdrich, 87). Gerry’s destructiveness in the short story “Scales” is evident by his cycle of escaping from jail and getting caught. This damaging harmful ultimately leads to him killing a federal officer. In the short story, “Saint Marie”, Sister Leopolda displays this destructiveness when she physical abuses Marie. She pours boiling water on her young charge, to remove the devil from the child. Sister Leopolda said, “I will boil him from your mind”. Stephan’s behavior in “The Red Convertible” exhibits his self-destructiveness after he comes home from the Marines. His brother describes him as, “quiet, so quiet, and never comfortable sitting still anywhere but always up and moving around” (Erdrich, 5).
Culture plays an important role in all of Louise Erdrich’s short stories. She relies heavily on her American Indian background for most of the stories, but she also uses Euro-American culture as well. Erdrich’s “The Red Convertible”, “Scales”, “The World’s Greatest Fishermen”, “The Plunge of the Brave”, and “The Antelope’s Wife” are a few of her short stories that contain American Indian culture. The main characters in these stories are shaped by their culture. In many of these stories, she writes about the negative aspects of their culture. Drinking is one of these and it usually leads to destruction and loss for the characters. Delmar’s drinking in “The World’s Greatest Fishermen” leads him to destroy his new car. In “Scales” Gerry’s drinking is what lands him in jail, “He felt he had paid for his crime, which was done in a drunk heat” (Erdrich, 16). Also, in this story, it talks about how Gerry’s Indian friends do not have identification and that they disappeared to go to the powwow instead of testifying for him. She writes, “But they are terrible witnesses to have against you, almost as bad as having Indians witness for you” (Erdrich, 17). In “Love Medicine”, the narrator believes he is a healer and “knows the tricks of mind and boy inside out without ever having trained for it, because I got the tough” (Booth, 369). It also discusses that “love medicines are an old Chippewa specialty” (Booth, 375). Louise Erdrich also touches on her Norwegian heritage in several of her stories as well. The main character in “Tales of Burning Love” states “That’s the Norwegian way to get trough touch times-denial, hard work, and more denial” (Erdrich, 279). The short stories “The Blue Velvet Box”, “Pounding the Dog”, and “Knives” revolve around characters of German descent. Erdrich gets her knowledge of these cultures from her own background. Her father was German-American while her mother was French and Anishinaabe (Ojibwa). In an interview with Nan Nowick, Erdrich states that she believes that her work is necessarily influenced by both familial and tribal traditions of storytelling. Storytelling was a family pastime; Erdrich says, “I loved my parents’ stories . . . I was hungry for knowledge about their lives before I knew them” (Chavkin, 72).
I have found that Louise Erdrich almost always writes her short stories in the first person narrative. Sometimes the character narrating the story are the not the ones who the story is about. In “Anna”, the narrator is looking on from the side lines and telling the story of her friend. “Scales” is another example of the narrator telling a story about the main characters. In the short story, “The Blue Velvet Box”, the storyteller is the main character of the story. Mary is the one who the story is about and she is telling it from her own perspective. In “Saint Marie”, the main character is also the one telling the story from her view. Erdrich’s use of first person narrative helps to understand the characters and their motives.
Louise Erdrich has written many interesting stories during her career. She has stories that are American-Indian based and she also has a group of stories that are Euro-American based. I enjoyed reading many of her stories, but I did like the ones with American-Indian overture more. All of her writings had a common theme, though. She wrote in the first person narrative, the stories had cultural aspects in them, they had a reoccurring theme of loss, and her characters were either destructive to themselves or to those around them. She was consistent throughout the stories that I read with this criteria.
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