Professor Rob Summers
25 March 2014
Collectiveness and Storytelling in Louise Erdrich’s “Bidwell Ghost”
“Bidwell Ghost” by Louise Erdrich, on one particular level, is a ghost story. The piece describes a story of a young girl, killed in a house fire twenty years ago located on an orchard field. The girl’s presence is still apparent after her death, where she haunts the road next to her home and occasionally makes her way into vehicles that pass by. The themes of nature, womanhood and Native American philosophy & tradition in the piece are unique extensions of Erdrich’s life experiences raised in a Chippewa household and the thematic elements in the piece create a steady, rhythmic flow within the narrative that portrays the ghost’s inner need for companionship and camaraderie. Erdrich’s Native American heritage combined with her rich family background in storytelling shapes and informs her ability as a writer. Therefore, it is not surprising that the allegorical quality of this "ghost story" is in keeping with Erdrich's distinct background. Likewise, in many Native American traditions, storytelling is not only one of the most common forms of entertainment amongst Native American communities, but is also a major way of organizing social groups, unifying the everyday lives of citizens and as an outlet for initiative. Richard Erdoes and Alphonso Ortiz, Native American authors of American Indian Myths and Legends, explain that stories are "magic lenses through which we can glimpse social orders and daily life: how families were organized, how political structures operated, how men caught fish, how religious ceremonies felt to the people who took part, how power was divided between men and women" (34). Erdrich draws upon the popular use of storytelling in many of her works, including “Bidwell ghost”, where the piece carries a feel of a tale that continues to be passed along orally from generation to generation. Like any good ghost story, “Bidwell Ghost” has a communal feel to it. Readers might imagine a group of friends seated around a campfire, retelling the story due to its spooky and imaginative elements throughout the work. As the title suggests, the main character in the piece is a ghost, one that represents the soul of a young girl after her tragic death. The opening stanza of the poem creates an image and mood of loneliness; the setting where the young girl waits by the road which has been abandoned for quite some time: "It has been twenty years / since her house surged and burst in the dark trees / Still nobody goes there” (4-6). The first line of the piece describes the young girl’s customary routine of waiting by the road night after night: "Each night she waits by the road" (1). Afterwards, Erdrich vividly explains to readers that the girl’s death was a result of a house fire, where the young girl’s house “surged and burst in the dark trees” (5). "Surged" can be represented as a flow, gush, stream, or flood, whereas "burst" is more suitably likened to eruption, tear, or explosion. It is the young girl’s "house" that has undergone such violent change and if the house represents the girl’s womb, then the surging and bursting of "her house" represent the onset of the female menstrual cycle, something that indicates youth, fertility and an early life that has continued potential to bear more life, if not for the fire that caused the girl’s sudden death. Furthermore, the blazed trees in the background are symbolic of female energy, where Dr. Clarissa Estes, in her discussion of myth and tradition in Women Who Run With the Wolves, expounds on the image of trees and womanhood: "it grows, it lives, it is used up, it leaves its seeds for new, it loves us" (19). Keeping with the theme of womanhood, Erdrich predominately uses the colours of white, red and black throughout the work, be it the cold white blossoms blooming, the blazing red fire destroying the girl’s home or the darkness of...
References: Erdoes, R. and Ortiz, A. (1985). American Indian Myths and Legends. New York, NY: Pantheon.
Erdrich, Louise. “Bidwell Ghost.” Baptism of Desire. New York. HarperCollins. 1989. p. 34. Print
Estes, S. (1996). Women Who Run with the Wolves. Toronto, ON: Random House Inc.
Fast, R. R. (2000). The Heart as a Drum: Continuance and Resistance in American Indian Poetry. Detroit, MI: University of Michigan Press.
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