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Discontinuous Narrative, Ojibwe Sovereignty, and the Wiindigoo Logic of Settler Colonialism: Louise Erdrich's Marn Wolde

Published inStudies in American Indian literatures, vol. 28, no. 3, p. 23-51
Publication date2016

The dominant consensus among interpretations of Louise Erdrich's novel The Plague of Doves (2008) represents Marn Wolde as a victim figure, abused by her husband Billy Peace (Hudson 47-52, Strehle 119, Valentino 131-2, Roemer 122-3, 129). This characterization of Marn emerges coherently when the novel is read continuously and linearly, and especially when Marn's story is interpreted independently of other narrations within the novel and in isolation from its earlier form as “Satan: Hijacker of a Planet,” first published in The Atlantic (August 1997). A rather different profile of this narrator-character emerges when Marn is read discontinuously, across the narrations offered by five distinct narrators, across Erdrich's wider oeuvre, and across her extraordinarily wide range of intertextual allusions to Ojibwe stories, the Bible, the midrashim, the Kabbalah, and Paradise Lost. The tension between covert symbolic convergence and overt narrative discontinuity, I argue, is key to the demand that her writing be interpreted in ever-widening contexts, in order to reveal the possessive logic of settler sovereignty, on the one hand, and to constitute Ojibwe sovereignty, on the other. Framed by Marn's traumatic story of domestic, sexual, and spiritual abuse at the hands of her husband, it is easy to forget that the narrative she tells is the story of how she came to murder her husband and walk away with sole possession of their money and land. The fragmented and unreliable nature of her narration reveals the ways in which she rationalizes her entitlement to kill in order to possess; that is, the ways in which her discourse exemplifies the possessive logic of settler sovereignty. At the same time, the very unreliability of her narration opens discursive opportunities which reveal the repressed meaning of her actions as a traumatic repetition of the historic lynching with which the novel begins. Settler land hunger, symbolized here and elsewhere in Erdrich's writing in Ojibwe terms as a wiindigoo psychosis, emerges in the interstices of Marn's narration to disrupt the logic of settler entitlement to indigenous land.

  • Louise Erdrich
  • Native American Literature
  • Settler-colonialism
  • Indigenous sovereignty
  • Unreliable narration
  • Discontinuous narrative
  • Trauma
  • Psychosis
  • Wiindigoo
Citation (ISO format)
MADSEN, Deborah Lea. Discontinuous Narrative, Ojibwe Sovereignty, and the Wiindigoo Logic of Settler Colonialism: Louise Erdrich’s Marn Wolde. In: Studies in American Indian literatures, 2016, vol. 28, n° 3, p. 23–51.
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Article (Accepted version)
  • PID : unige:92015
ISSN of the journal0730-3238

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