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this is the paper i was supposed to write, but turned in late... it's adademic, you won't like it unless you plan to rip it for class, don't get caught
Realism is “nothing more or less than the attempt to write a literature that [records] life as it [is] rather than life as it ought to be” (Baym, 7). One might assume that a short story about a Chippewa Indian woman who possesses supernatural ability would be less than realistic. The concept of a Chippewa heroine who exacts revenge in the form of a twister may appear to some readers as commercial fiction. The short story “Fleur”, by Louise Erdrich, appears to be embellished with such Native American folklore. However, embellishment is not the motive. Erdrich masterfully disguises her naturalistic approach to the traumatic existence of Fleur Pillager by distracting one’s imagination with the Chippewa tales of Misshepeshu, and the shape-shifting girl this monster wants for his wife. The author’s unique approach to this painful, revealing story honors the code of realism. According to Baym, naturalism is an intensified extension of realism. Authors who incorporate naturalism into their literature commonly create “characters [who are] from the fringes and lower depths of contemporary society, characters whose fates are the product of degenerate heredity, a sordid environment, and a good deal of bad luck” (Baym, 9). Erdrich creates characters like Fleur Pillager, the heroine, and Pauline, the narrator, in this manner while conveying the mysterious intentions of “the waterman, the monster” who means to drag Fleur down to the bottom of a lake (Erdrich, 2563). The irony of situation within the plot subtly reflects the true source of Fleur’s mysterious power. Pauline’s perception and narration are skillfully limited, keeping the common characteristic of using limited point of view as a means to “create the illusion of everyday life […seen] through a clear class window” (Baym,7). And finally, Erdrich creates a paradox that is carefully structured and suggests that power most fearsome lies in those who fear the very same power.
First, it is apparent that Erdrich carefully named her characters’, using symbolism and irony, with the intention of establishing an image. Fleur Pillager’s name is an oxymoron. Fleur denotes a pretty feminity, while Pillager is another term for one who plunders. Erdrich characterizes Fleur’s reputation for destruction early in the story. The voice of Pauline retells the events that occurred “during that summer, when [Fleur] lived a few miles south in Argus, things happened. She almost destroyed that town” (Erdrich, 2564). “Even though she was good looking, nobody dared to court her” (Erdrich, 2563). Pauline’s name is notably less memorable than Fleurs’s, and she describes herself as “invisible”; “[she blends] into the stained brown walls, a skinny, big-nosed girl with staring eyes” (Erdrich, 2564). The male characters are a group of meat cutters: Dutch, Tor, Pete Kozka, and Lily. Judging these names, one may conclude they are all white males descended from Europe. Certainly, an element of cultural friction is illustrated as well. Lily’s character embodies elements that are a striking contrast to the innocence his name invokes. “He [is] fat, with a snake’s cold pale eyes and precious skin, smooth and lily-white” (Erdrich, 2565).
The story of Fleur’s is retold now through the voice of Pauline. Erdrich consistently reminds the reader that Pauline is a most passive observer. She is the “watcher on the dark sill” (Erdrich, 2571). “Because [she can] fade into a corner, or squeeze into a shelf, [she knows] everything” (Erdrich, 2564). Erdrich allows Pauline to describe herself in certain terms, which convey a meekness that in the end is disproved. Erdrich writes, “I put the coins in her palm and then I melted back to nothing, part of the walls and tables. It was a long time before I understood that the men would not have seen me no matter what I did. No matter how I moved, I wasn’t anything like Fleur” (2566). The paradox of “Fleur” lies in Pauline’s meekness. She’s believes the stories of Fleur’s mysterious past. Pauline’s own grandmother reinforces a “power that travels in the bloodlines, handed out before birth” (Erdrich, 2571). “It [goes] to show [the] grandmother [says]. It [figures] to her, all right. By saving Fleur Pillager, those two men had lost themselves” (Erdrich, 2563). The grandmother automatically assumes that young Fleur is somehow cursed. In this assumption one can conclude that the powerful reputation of the Pillager name precedes itself. This power has “no ending, no beginning”, and “comes down through the hands, which in the Pillagers were strong and knotted […]. It comes through the eyes, too, dark and belligerent, darkest brown, the eyes of those in the bear clan” (Erdrich, 2571). Pauline’s narration in this tragic story is a means by which Fleur’s power will continue to flow. More mystery surrounds the Pillagers, and will soon envelop the innocent life of Fleur’s child.
Erdrich characterizes Fleur as a distraction in order to emphasize the true source of power that lies in Pauline. Fleur’s ability to attract attention causes her much injury, but still she perseveres. She’s drowned twice, and is outcast, so she “[laughs] at the old women’s advice, and dresses like a man” (Erdrich, 2563). Fleur even manages to distract the attention of “Misshepeshu, the waterman.” “He appears with green eyes, copper skin, […but] if you fall into his arms, he sprouts horns, fangs, claws, fins” (Erdrich, 2563). She distracts the meat cutters in the nightly poker game in a sly manner in which she each time “won exactly one dollar, no more and no less, too consistent for luck” (Erdrich, 2566). It is safe to assume that Fleur’s distractibility is the reason she left town: she is pregnant with a mixed blood child. First time readers of this short story may not quite grasp the subtly hidden information, which tells the truth about Fleur’s condition. “August [closes] around the shop, […] and Pete and Fritzie leave. Night by night, running, Fleur [wins] thirty dollars and only Pete’s presence [keeps] Lily at bay” (Erdrich, 2567). Later, Pauline informs that “last winter, [she] went to help out in [Fleur’s] cabin when she bore” (Erdrich, 2571). Nine months from August, the month of the , is May, not winter. Fleur must have left the reservation at least three months pregnant. “Fleur Pillager [turns to Argus], and the first place she [goes] once she [comes] into town was to the back door of the priest’s residence” (Erdrich, 2564). The fact that Fleur comes to Argus with the intention of spoiling it is indeed an idea that Pauline and the others entertain in an attempt to keep the tradition of mystery that hangs over the Pillagers. Obviously, Fleur was seeking help in the light of her condition. This is also why she risks the consequences of winning a dollar every night. Fleur needs this money in order to prepare for her child. Perhaps Fleur knows that her child is white, therefore the reservation would shun her that much more. So, she leaves, and is a month later. Fleur’s perseverance is a characterization trait that is common among realists. They reservation confuses this perseverance with supernatural ability. How else could this girl escape Misshepeshu twice? And then a tornado rips through Argus the day after she is . Fleur Pillager is steadfast. Pauline can be manipulated. The invisible girl admits later that she “was no longer afraid of her, but followed her close” (Erdrich, 2567).
The most powerful act of this story is the moment when Pauline locks the in the lockers during the tornado. The destruction of Argus is a result of a random storm, not Fleur’s wrath. The ironically die within the lockers filled with the frozen water of Lake Turcot. They are betrayed by the only decisive action Pauline has taken in this story:
“Then [she hears] a cry building in the wind, faint at first, a whistle and then a shrill scream that [tears] through the walls and [gathers] around [her, speaks] plain so [she understand] that [she] should move, put [her] arms out, and slam down the great iron bar that [fits] across the hasp and lock (Erdrich, 2570).
Pauline becomes most powerful in this one act: sealing the deaths of three . Its appears that although Fleur is resilient, a survivor, her tragedies are an indication that she is supernaturally disturbed. As a result, Fleur distracts attention from modest girls, like Pauline, who are hardly noticed. The revenge building inside Pauline after the is never an issue the next day, and most certainly unexpected. Pauline’s reaction to the cry of the tornado is all it takes for her to conjure up a tremendous, short-lived spurt of power. Fleur is in conflict with the natural world surrounding her, and must constantly defend herself. Pauline is manipulated by the very same surroundings. Her inability to defend Fleur from the , her meekness, is the ironic source of power here. Pauline is coerced by the wailing wind into committing three vengeful murders. Ironically, Fleur is suspected of sealing the deaths of three men as well. This is the realistic explanation behind the “power” of Fleur. The Pillagers may always endure whispers and accusations. Erdrich suggests this will continue to manifest even after Fleur’s child is born, and writes:
[The] child, whose green eyes and skin the color of an old penny made more talk, as no one could decide if the child was mixed blood or what, fathered in a smokehouse, or by a man with brass scales, or by the lake. The girl is bold, smiling in her sleep, as if she knows what people wonder, as if she hears the old men talk, turning the story over” (2571).
However, without the Pillagers, how could the reservation maintain its moral compass? How might one measure one’s own morality without another to compare to? These accusations against Fleur are merely an attempt to redirect the prying from those who are judgmental. And hiding in the corners, ironically invisible, are the meek who are manipulated and then act with great passion.
Baym, Nina. “American Literature Between the Wars 1914-1945.” The Norton
Anthology of American Literature. Nina Baym. New York: W.W. Norton
Company, 2003. 1071-1084.
Erdrich, Louise. “Fleur.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Nina Baym.
New York: W.W. Norton Company, 2003. 2562-2571.