In Louise Erdrich’s “Tracks”, the readers discovers by the second chapter that there are two narrators, Nanapush and Pauline Puyat. This method of having two narrators telling their stories alternately could be at first confusing, especially if the readers hasn’t been briefed about it or hasn’t read a synopsis of it. Traditionally, there is one narrator in the story, but Erdrich does an effective and spectacular job in combining Nanapush and Pauline’s stories. It is so well written that one might question as he or she reads who is the principal character in this story? Being that there are two narrators, is it Nanapush, the first narrator, him being a participant in the story, who tells his story in the “I” form? Or is it Pauline, the second narrator, who also narrates in the “I” form? Upon further reading, the motive for both narrators’ stories become more evident, and by the end of the book, it becomes clear that one character is the driving force for both of the narrators’ stories. This central character is Fleur Pillager. She in fact is the protagonist of “Tracks”. Even though she is limited in dialogues, her actions speak more than words itself.
Structurally speaking, Fleur is mentioned in every chapter of the book, either being referred to by the two narrators or being part of the story. In fact, after researching the novel several times, no other character including the two narrators is consistently mentioned in every chapter. In the first chapter, Nanapush tells Lulu, his granddaughter, about the fate of the Chippewa Tribe. He then spends most of the chapter discussing the beginning of Fleur, who is Lulu’s mother, and how he saved her life. In the second chapter, Pauline, the second narrator, begins her story gossiping about Fleur to an unknown listener in detail. Pauline continues to focus her story on Fleur’s life, discussing in length of incidents about her. Pauline’s obsessive behavior becomes more evident when she’s in Argus with Fleur. “Since that night (in Argus), Fleur puts me in the closet, I was no longer jealous or afraid of her, but follow her close as Russell (Pauline’s cousin), closer, stayed with her, became her moving shadow that the men never noticed…” (22).
Therefore, in these two chapters both narrators set the stage for telling their stories on their account of Fleur. Not only does Fleur “starts off” the novel, she also “ends” the novel with the climax of her standoff with the Turcot Company at Matchimanito. The unsuspecting lumbermen frightened by the mysterious falling of the trees around them while Fleur smiles on knowing that she is the catalyst of the falling trees.
With the importance of Fleur throughout “Tracks”, she can be symbolized as being the nucleus of an atom. Fleur, being the nucleus while the two narrators are like protons and electrons orbiting around Fleur. Without the nucleus of an atom, there wouldn’t be an atom; just as if there were no Fleur, the two narrators wouldn’t have someone to focus on. On the other hand, if the atom were missing some electrons or protons, there would be an imbalance, but there would still be some form of an atom. In other words, each narrator’s story can be considered a separate entity. It might not be as complete if the two stories were together, but because each story has a subject, a motivation and a conclusion. It can “survive “ on its own. But, because of Fleur’s importance in both stories, she cannot be excluded from either story without afflicting it detrimentally. If we relate this to the novel and eliminate Pauline and her story, we still have Nanapush telling the history of Fleur and the Chippewa’s to Lulu. However, what is the significance of Nanapush telling Lulu about the history of both her tribe and her mother?
The reasons are two-fold. First, to reunite Lulu and her mother, Fleur. It seems that right from the beginning, Nanapush tells Lulu, “Fleur, the one you will not call mother” (2) implies there is friction between Lulu and Fleur. And that Nanapush takes on the role of peacemaker. By telling Lulu about the history of Fleur, he tries to make her understand why Fleur had to send her away. It wasn’t because she didn’t love Lulu. On the contrary, it is because Fleur loved her so much she sent her away in order to save her from the worst. Secondly, to dissuade Lulu from marrying a Morrissey. Nanapush forewarns Lulu by telling her the history of the Morrisseys, and the relationship between the two families. He tells Lulu, “so take a lesson from what an old man knows and think about this Morrissey twice! Let me tell you how that pack of dogs existed” (180). Obviously, the tone of his statement reveals a feeling of anger and animosity with what his granddaughter is about to do. Because of the bitterness between the two families caused by betrayal of each other and the decline of status of the Morrissey’s, Nanapush continues to discourage Lulu. He says, “granddaughter, if you join this clan, I predict the union will not last. Listen to experience and marry wisely. I always do”(182).
While Fleur and Lulu are the main reason for Nanapush’s story, Pauline plays only a minor role in his story. Her role of being an antagonist to Fleur. But, from Nanapush’s point-of-view, “Pauline was unnoticeable, homely if it must be said, Pauline schemed to gain attention by telling odd tales that created damage” (39). Her presence to him is more like a pesky fly that won’t go away. It is this lack of attention by others in which drives Pauline to tell her story.
Looking back at the atom theory stated earlier, if we exclude Nanapush and his story from “Tracks”, what we have left is Pauline’s obsession with Fleur. In Pauline’s eyes, as well as others, Fleur is good- looking, mysteriously powerful and dangerous. In contrast to her who is “a skinny, big-nosed girl with staring eyes” who is also so “poor-looking” (15). Pauline notices these differences and in effect becomes jealous of Fleur because of all the attention she receives from people. She sees herself in “competition” with Fleur. At first, Pauline just wants to be close to Fleur, but by the end she wants to be “better” than her. Within her story, the argument that Pauline is the protagonist and that Fleur is her antagonist could be valid, but if you look at the novel in its entirety, meaning the structure and content, the principal character that emerges from it is Fleur Pillager.
Erdrich, Louise. Tracks
New York: Harper & Row, 1988