Tracks Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:
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Nanapush, an older Native American, is sharing the past with Lulu, also Native American, in hopes of preventing her from making mistakes. He begins talking about 1912, and how natives are dying, and whites are trying to buy their land. After her parents die, He and Pukwan rescue a sick Fleur Pillager from her family's cabin. Nanapush helps her bury her family. They mourn for their lost families, but Father Damian, a priest on the reservation, revives them. Even though Nanapush asks her to stay with him, Fleur wants to go home, despite knowing the land is in danger. Having lost her mother and sisters, mixed-blood Pauline lives with her aunt Regina and Dutch. Pauline, who is suspicious of Fleur and her magical powers, works with Fleur in a butcher shop in Argus. Fleur keeps winning card games with men who work there, and they attack her. In retaliation, Fleur causes a storm that destroys the areas associated with her. The men are found dead in a locker, but Pauline reveals she locked the door.
After Argus, Fleur comes back pregnant. She meets and lives with Eli Kashpaw, much to her mother Margaret's dismay. Fleur gives birth to a girl named Lulu. Nanapush gives her his name and names her after his dead daughter. Nanapush tells adult Lulu how they try to fight starvation and losing their land. After Argus, Pauline hates living with Regina and Dutch who is sick because of Argus. She lies to Bernadette Morrissey and gets to stay with her and her family on their farm. She helps Bernadette with the dead. She starts going to Mass where she sees Margaret and Lulu. She is obsessed with Eli and Fleur, but after they pay her no attention, she turns to Napoleon, Bernadette's brother. With Fleur's cousin Moses' help, she bewitches Eli and Bernadette's daughter Sophie to get together. As a result, Sophie has a breakdown in Fleur's yard, and Fleur is distant from Eli for a while until Nanapush tells him how to win her back. The statue of the Virgin appears at Sophie's breakdown, and Pauline has a religious transformation. Nanapush and Margaret grow closer, and they are attacked by Clarence, Bernadette's son, and Lazarre for the Eli-Sophie incident and other matters. Fleur gets her own revenge on Clarence and Lazarre. Nanapush and Nector, Margaret's son, try to snare Clarence, but they have mercy on him.
Pauline learns she is pregnant by Napoleon, and Bernadette stops her from getting rid of the baby. Bernadette has to force the child out of Pauline and agrees to keep the baby who is named Marie. Pauline goes to the convent and punishes herself in the name of religion. She tries to convert those at Fleur's, but is unsuccessful. Fleur become pregnant again, and the baby's father is a mystery. Pauline is there when Fleur loses the baby and is involved with Fleur's magic. Nanapush helps heal Lulu after she gets frostbite from running to get help while Fleur is losing the baby. Those at Fleur's are starving and behind in their land payments. Fleur's cousin Moses helps Nanapush to cure a despondent Fleur, but Pauline interferes with trying to save them. Pauline is burned. She recovers from her injuries at the convent and has a religious struggle. She has a breakdown as she floats in Nanapush's boat on Lake Matchimanito. After coming back to shore, she thinks she is confronting the lake monster, who she thinks has always helped Fleur and may have been the father of her second child. It turns out she murdered Napoleon, and she runs back to the convent. After recuperating from her breakdown, she becomes a nun and gets a new name, Leopolda, and is going to teach at a Catholic school in Argus.
Nanapush thinks Nector and Margaret paid for all their land but learns there was enough money for only Margaret's land. Eli tries to get Fleur to marry him and live at his mother's, but Fleur refuses. She is accused of murdering Napoleon, and it is a certainty she will lose her home. Before she leaves, Fleur gets revenge on the men from the lumber company with her magic. She sends Lulu to boarding school to protect her. Nanapush finally gets involved with the government and is able to take Lulu away from the school with Margaret.
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This novel is the third in a projected four-novel cycle by the author. Erdrich’s two earlier works, Love Medicine (1984) and The Beet Queen (1986), share a North Dakota setting and certain characters with Tracks, but this third novel takes place earlier than the two previous books. Tracks seeks to examine the struggle of Native Americans during the first two decades of the twentieth century. It is an era marked by natural obstacles, including plague and famine, and by encroaching “progress,” the white man’s euphemism for a dwindling Indian share of land and for political and economic servitude for all but the craftiest and strongest of Native Americans.
The facts of the era portrayed in the novel take on a highly personal feel through the voices of Erdrich’s dual narrators. The events unfold through the alternating perspectives of Nanapush and Pauline Puyat. Nanapush is about fifty when the story begins; he has survived three wives and is considered a wise elder statesman. Pauline, on the other hand, is only twelve when the story begins.
The conflict between their points of view is clear from the very beginning. Nanapush wants to save his way of life; Pauline wishes to escape hers. They represent different generations, different faiths, different goals, yet each is drawn into the web of events that surround Fleur Pillager, the mythic woman who fuels both of their stories.
The winter of 1912 brings a tuberculosis epidemic to the reservation in North Dakota where Nanapush and Pauline both live. Nanapush, working with a companion from the tribal police, rescues Fleur, then an adolescent, from her family’s cabin near Matchimanito Lake. The rest of the Pillagers are dead, so Nanapush credits himself with saving the last of the clan. The listener for his portion of the story is Lulu, child of Fleur and Eli Kashpaw. Nanapush considers Lulu his grand-daughter. In fact, because of difficulties between Fleur and Eli, he is listed on her birth certificate as her father. His goal for telling his portion of the story is to persuade Lulu to recognize and accept Fleur as her mother.
Rescuing Fleur is an act of some courage on Nanapush’s part. His companion wants nothing to do with Fleur or the corpses of her family because of their reputation for supernatural powers. Fleur has already drowned twice when Nanapush rescues her from the icy cabin in which she is slowly starving to death. When she was a child, two fishermen pulled her from the waters of the lake, only to lose their lives as a result, or so the common belief holds. In the words of Pauline, “By saving Fleur Pillager, those two had lost themselves.”
The second drowning occurs when Fleur is fifteen. This time no one rescues her, but a passerby, George Many Women, bends down to observe that her chest is moving when she washes up on the lake’s shore. For his interference, he suffers Fleur’s challenge, “You take my place.” A careful man, George Many Women thereafter avoids water, only to drown in the new bathtub brought to his home by his own sons.
Thus, the community reasons, Fleur has been chosen by Misshepeshu, the water man, a monster, for his own. The water monster is believed to have a hunger for young girls, especially those, such as Fleur, who are known to be strong and daring. Drowning is a death most feared by the Chippewas, so Fleur’s victory over it is all the more impressive, as is Nanapush’s willingness to save and shelter the monster’s chosen one.
The paths of Pauline and Fleur cross early, when they both wind up living and working in a butcher shop in the city of Argus. Fleur is the object of the fantasies of the men at the shop, and Pauline plays the part of voyeur, watching the men watch Fleur. Erdrich uses vivid details of the slaughtering of animals and the preparation of meats and sausages to capture the brutal physicality of this environment, and she brings the situation in Argus to a terrifying climax when the three men who work at the shop turn against Fleur, who beats them at cards and does not respond to their fantasies.
Natural disaster in the form of a tornado strikes Argus, and Fleur and Pauline both return to the reservation, Fleur to take up residence at her old family home on Matchimanito and Pauline to drift closer and closer to insanity in the guise of religious fervor. Fleur becomes a wife and mother; Pauline seeks to become a nun, in fact, a saint.
Fleur is not a realistic character. Erdrich is writing, in this novel, about forces that extend beyond...
(The entire section is 1882 words.)