Louise Erdrich' "Fleur"

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Louise Erdrich' "Fleur"

By | July 2005
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It's easy to find Louise Erdrich among the canon of what have come to be known as western writers. Her name (or names, given the mltiple pseudonyms) pops up right near the top along with Cormac McCarthy and Elmer Kelton. And as impressive as her notoriety is, one eventually wonders if "western writer" isn't an albatross hanging around the neck of her career. Maybe it's Tolkien's fault. After all, he's the one who created an entire genre in which setting is paramount to plot or conflict. But Erdrich doesn't share his negligence. Her sories are set in the west, but her truths are universal. "Fleur", specifically, speaks to two.

Beyond clothing, shelter, and food, human beings have one basic desire - To look good, and the inverse, to avoid looking bad. Whether that takes the form of acceptance through physical appearance or the more constant acceptance by 'the other', very nearly every word, action, and thought we have while in the company of others centers around what effect it will have on their approval. Every character in "Fleur", with the exception of Fleur herself, is involved in a constant search for acceptance. The men seek it from each other with cards and drink, the unnamed tribespeople seek it through myth and coercion, and even the narrarator seeks the inverse of acceptance. By disappearing, she guarantees avoiding overt rejection.

But what of Fleur? Her refusal to conform is central to the entire plot. She dresses like a man, plays cards with an eerie magic, and is generally thought of as "out of control". Her individualism is so pronounced an entire mythology is built around her. She is rare, in fiction and in life. Not just a rebel. Most individual rebellion, if examined closely, boils down to varrying degrees of vainglory. Hers is an authentic spirit of her own invention, devoid of pretense or the need for approval. But while rare, it isn't completely unique to the human experience. There have been others, and even if...

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