Have library access?
  • Journals
  • OpenAccess

Narrative, Orality, and Native-American Historical Consciousness: The Critique of Logocentrism in Louise Erdrich’s Tracks




Parallel abstracts

In view of the rising interest in resurrecting forgotten or invalidated modalities of aboriginal discourse, it seems timely to return to a pivotal text in the debate between traditional Western historical narrative and Native-American historical consciousness. Nancy J. Peterson, in a 1994 PMLA article titled "History, Narrative, and Louise Erdrich’s Tracks," champions Erdrich’s novel as a praiseworthy compromise between two extremes: the representational claims of conventional documentary history on the one hand, and the linguistic abyss proffered by poststructuralist anti-representationalism on the other. Such an assessment is both meticulous and apt. My contention, however, is that Peterson underestimates the strength Erdrich gives one of the novel’s narrators, Nanapush, who refuses to capitulate to the Western paradigm of written discourse and instead celebrates the oral tradition of the Anishinabe Native Americans, giving it a place both outside and impervious to the hegemony of colonial written discourse. Peterson also seems to miss the extent to which Erdrich undercuts the validity of the narrative voice of Pauline (the novel’s second narrator). Peterson’s claim that "Erdrich’s novel holds Nanapush’s and Pauline’s antithetical views in tension," while certainly true on a formal level, is questionable in light of two key issues: first, the deceitful and alienating nature of her narratival recordings; second, the strength with which Nanapush’s narrative flourishes within an intersubjective matrix fostered by those within his community as well as the natural world itself. Consequently, Tracks may not be as bipartisan in its compromise as Peterson claims it to be. A richer reading of the text, proffered here, proposes exploring the embeddedness of Nanapush’s sense of identity and narrative voice within a sustaining and ever-nourishing multiplicity of human and animal life forms, a kind of democracy of animate life, to borrow and modify a phrase from contemporary material ecocriticism.


Allen, Paula Gunn(1986).The Sacred Hoop: Recovering the Feminine in American Indian Traditions.Boston:Beacon.
Beidler, Peter G.(2002).Madness and the Environment in Novels.American Indian and Culture Research Journal.26(3),113-24.
Castillo, Susan Pérez(1991).Postmodernism, Native American Literature, and the Real: The Silko-Erdrich Controversy.Massachusetts Review.32,285-94.
Chavkin, Allan(ed.),Chavkin, Nancy Feyl(ed.)(1994).Conversations with Louise Erdrich and Michael Doris.Jackson:UP of Mississipi.
Cox, Karen Castellucci(1998).Magic and Memory in the Contemporary Story Cycle: Gloria Naylor and Louise Erdrich.College English.60(2),150-72.