A Review of the Literature
The focal character in this novel had many different characters throughout this touching narrative. Though the main focus was on the priest, Father Damien Modeste, he began and was actually a woman. Beginning as a young girl, Agnes Vogel née DeWitt, was also known as former Sister Cecilia of a convent in Wisconsin, widow of Berndt Vogel and lover of the piano and, more specifically, the Polish music composer, Chopin. I am going to focus on her particular love of music, piano playing and her interest in Chopin which seemed to have caused many therapeutic effects on her. Being a pianist myself, I was compelled to ask the question throughout the book, how can music have such an impact and truly influence the consciousness and perception of a person like we see in DeWitt's life story? I would like to conclude by paralleling this to my own experience using this instrument. Agnes Vogel DeWitt
This novel begins with Agnes as young girl, around the age of eighteen who seems to be searching for her purpose and place in this world. We aren't told much of her family or background but it seems that she was one is need. This is when she ends up at her future lover, Berndt Vogel's barn hungry and exhausted. Even in these moments of desperation she is thinking of finding a piano to play (Erdrich 19). Throughout the book when Agnes is facing difficult times and moments of utter desperation, we see her turn to Chopin, her music, her piano. After a series of tragedies with a flood, Agnes becomes Father Damien Modeste by placing his clothes on her. From this time forward Agnes/Father Damien lives the life of a priest giving of herself to a Native tribe. She is shown to mix the cultures and learn so much from them (Erdrich 276). But throughout this time and the remainder of her life she is also secretly torn apart inside with her own identity. This is where music seems to come in and play a major role for her, helping her to deal with life. It seems that her religious background in Catholicism caused her to constantly be at war within herself over her love of this instrument. She saw the piano as something that she thought God would disapprove of in her life. Something that she even thought would bring her to hell. When the devil appeared to her in the form of a dog, the author significantly had the dog speaking to her on top of the piano. The dog tries discouraging her, telling her that she wants to die. She responds tiredly asking if there is a "good piano in hell" and the dog responds that the "devil owns all of the finest makers of musical instruments" (Erdrich 309). This gives the reader a sense of understanding that Agnes actually had a guilt and shame associated with her enjoyment of music.
If Agnes could have only better understood the nature of music and had a proper perception of how it possessed a positive aspect on a person and could actually be used to help strengthen her spirit as well as others she could've felt even more liberated. Her ability to performing music was given to her as a beautiful gift and was used as an asset to others in a positive way. This could and should be seen as something which God looks down upon favorably. Music: Therapeutic Effects Throughout History
"Canst thou not minister to a mind diseased. Pluck from the memory a rooted sorrow. Raze out the written troubles of the brain, And with some sweet oblivious antidote, Cleanse the full bosom of that perilous stuff, Which weighs upon the heart..." - Macbeth, reflecting on music, In Macbeth, Shakespeare (Campbell 121)
Throughout history, music has been understood and used in various ways for therapeutic purposes. Consider for instance that the very word "music" derives from the Greek Muses, which were nine goddesses of the fine arts and sciences, all of which they saw were divinely inspired to bring love, pleasure, passion, heavenly sound, harmony...