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Home » The Round House (2012) Literary Analysis: Understanding the Work of Louise Erdrich

The Round House (2012) Literary Analysis: Understanding the Work of Louise Erdrich

Louise Erdrich’s novel, The Round House, is a powerful work of literature that explores themes of justice, identity, and the complexities of Native American life. Set on a North Dakota reservation, the novel follows the story of a young boy named Joe who is trying to solve the mystery of his mother’s brutal attack. Through Joe’s journey, Erdrich delves into the cultural and historical legacy of Native Americans in the United States, while also examining the impact of violence on individuals and communities. In this article, we will analyze The Round House and explore the rich themes and motifs that make it such a compelling and important work of fiction.

Themes in The Round House

One of the central themes in Louise Erdrich’s The Round House is the concept of justice and its limitations. The novel explores the ways in which the legal system fails to provide justice for Native American communities, particularly in cases of sexual assault. The protagonist, Joe, is determined to find justice for his mother, who was brutally attacked on tribal land. However, he quickly realizes that the legal system is not equipped to handle cases that occur on Native American reservations, and that the perpetrator may never be brought to justice. This theme is further explored through the character of Judge Coutts, who is torn between her duty to uphold the law and her loyalty to her community. The Round House ultimately raises important questions about the role of justice in society and the ways in which it can be improved to better serve marginalized communities.

Character Analysis

One of the most compelling aspects of Louise Erdrich’s The Round House is the depth of character development throughout the novel. The protagonist, Joe Coutts, is a thirteen-year-old boy who is forced to confront the harsh realities of life on the Ojibwe reservation in North Dakota. Joe’s journey is one of self-discovery and growth as he grapples with the trauma of his mother’s rape and the subsequent legal and emotional fallout.

Erdrich’s portrayal of Joe is nuanced and complex, highlighting both his strengths and weaknesses. On the one hand, Joe is a fiercely loyal and protective son who will stop at nothing to defend his mother. He is also intelligent and resourceful, using his knowledge of the reservation and its inhabitants to piece together the events surrounding his mother’s attack. However, Joe is also prone to impulsive behavior and can be quick to anger, particularly when he feels that justice is not being served.

Through Joe’s experiences, Erdrich explores themes of identity, justice, and the legacy of colonialism. Joe’s mixed heritage – his father is white and his mother is Ojibwe – is a source of both pride and confusion for him, as he struggles to reconcile his two identities. Similarly, the legal system’s failure to prosecute his mother’s attacker highlights the ongoing injustices faced by Native Americans in the United States.

Overall, Erdrich’s character development in The Round House is masterful, drawing readers into Joe’s world and immersing them in the complex realities of life on the reservation. Through Joe’s journey, Erdrich offers a powerful commentary on the ongoing struggles faced by Native Americans in the United States, while also celebrating the resilience and strength of the Ojibwe people.

Narrative Structure and Point of View

The narrative structure and point of view in Louise Erdrich’s The Round House are crucial elements that contribute to the overall impact of the novel. The story is told from the first-person perspective of Joe, a thirteen-year-old boy who is trying to make sense of the violent crime that has been committed against his mother. This point of view allows the reader to experience the events of the novel through Joe’s eyes, which creates a sense of intimacy and immediacy that draws the reader into the story.

The narrative structure of The Round House is also noteworthy. The novel is divided into three parts, each of which is further divided into chapters. The first part of the novel sets the stage for the crime that will drive the rest of the story, while the second part focuses on Joe’s investigation into the crime and his growing understanding of the complexities of the legal system. The third part of the novel brings the story to a dramatic conclusion.

Erdrich’s use of multiple narrators within the novel also adds to its complexity. While Joe is the primary narrator, other characters, including his father and mother, also have their own sections of the novel where they tell their own stories. This allows the reader to see the events of the novel from multiple perspectives, which adds depth and complexity to the story.

Overall, the narrative structure and point of view in The Round House are essential elements that contribute to the novel’s impact. By using a first-person perspective and multiple narrators, Erdrich creates a story that is both intimate and complex, drawing the reader into the world of the novel and allowing them to experience the events of the story in a powerful and meaningful way.

Symbolism in The Round House

Symbolism plays a significant role in Louise Erdrich’s novel, The Round House. One of the most prominent symbols in the book is the titular round house, which serves as a physical representation of the Ojibwe culture and tradition. The round house is a sacred space where the tribe gathers for ceremonies and rituals, and it is also a place of refuge and safety.

Another symbol in the book is the eagle feather, which is a symbol of honor and respect in the Ojibwe culture. The feather is passed down from generation to generation and is often used in ceremonies and rituals. In the novel, the eagle feather becomes a symbol of justice and retribution as Joe seeks to avenge his mother’s attack.

The lake is also a significant symbol in the book, representing both life and death. It is a place of beauty and tranquility, but it is also the site of the attack on Joe’s mother. The lake serves as a reminder of the fragility of life and the constant presence of danger.

Overall, the use of symbolism in The Round House adds depth and complexity to the novel, highlighting the importance of culture, tradition, and spirituality in the lives of the Ojibwe people.

Historical Context

The Round House, a novel by Louise Erdrich, was published in 2012. The book is set in the late 1980s on a Native American reservation in North Dakota. The historical context of the novel is important to understanding the story and its themes. The late 1980s were a time of significant change for Native American communities. The Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act of 1975 gave tribes more control over their own affairs, including education and healthcare. However, many Native Americans still faced discrimination and poverty. The novel explores the impact of these issues on the characters and their community. Additionally, the novel touches on the history of violence against Native American women, which has been a longstanding issue in the United States. Understanding the historical context of The Round House is crucial to fully appreciating the novel’s themes and messages.

Gender and Power Dynamics

Gender and power dynamics play a significant role in Louise Erdrich’s novel, The Round House. The story is set on a Native American reservation in North Dakota and follows the life of a 13-year-old boy named Joe Coutts. Joe’s mother is brutally attacked and raped, and the novel explores the aftermath of the assault and the impact it has on Joe and his family.

Throughout the novel, Erdrich highlights the power imbalances that exist between men and women, particularly within Native American communities. Joe’s mother, Geraldine, is a tribal judge and holds a position of authority within the community. However, when she is attacked, her power is stripped away, and she becomes a victim. The men in the community, including Joe’s father, are unable to protect her, and she is left to deal with the trauma on her own.

Erdrich also explores the power dynamics between different generations of women. Joe’s grandmother, Mooshum, is a respected elder in the community and holds a great deal of knowledge and wisdom. However, she is often dismissed by the younger generation, including Joe’s mother, who sees her as outdated and irrelevant. This dynamic is further complicated by the fact that Mooshum is a man who identifies as a woman, adding another layer to the gender and power dynamics at play in the novel.

Overall, The Round House offers a nuanced exploration of gender and power dynamics within Native American communities. Erdrich’s portrayal of these issues highlights the complexities of power imbalances and the ways in which they can impact individuals and communities.

Racism and Discrimination

In Louise Erdrich’s novel The Round House, racism and discrimination are central themes that are explored through the experiences of the Native American characters. The novel is set on a North Dakota reservation and follows the story of Joe Coutts, a 13-year-old boy whose mother is brutally attacked and raped. As Joe and his family navigate the aftermath of the attack, they are confronted with the harsh realities of racism and discrimination that exist within their community and the wider society.

One of the ways in which Erdrich explores racism in the novel is through the character of Linden Lark, a white man who is suspected of committing the crime. Despite the evidence against him, Linden is able to use his privilege and connections to avoid being held accountable for his actions. This highlights the systemic racism that exists within the justice system and the ways in which white people are often given preferential treatment.

Discrimination is also explored through the experiences of the Native American characters in the novel. Joe’s mother, Geraldine, works as a tribal enrollment specialist and is responsible for determining who is eligible for tribal membership. This puts her in a position of power, but also makes her a target for discrimination from those who are not eligible for membership. Additionally, Joe’s grandfather, Mooshum, recounts stories of the discrimination he faced as a young man, including being denied service at a restaurant because of his race.

Through these experiences, Erdrich highlights the ongoing impact of racism and discrimination on Native American communities. The Round House serves as a powerful reminder of the importance of acknowledging and addressing these issues in order to create a more just and equitable society.

Religious and Spiritual Themes

In Louise Erdrich’s novel, The Round House, religious and spiritual themes play a significant role in shaping the characters and their actions. The novel is set on a Native American reservation in North Dakota, where traditional beliefs and practices are still prevalent. The protagonist, Joe Coutts, is the son of a tribal judge and a strong believer in the Catholic faith. However, as he delves deeper into the mystery surrounding his mother’s brutal attack, he begins to question his faith and turns to traditional Native American spirituality for answers. The novel explores the tension between Christianity and traditional beliefs, as well as the role of spirituality in healing and justice. Through Joe’s journey, Erdrich highlights the importance of cultural identity and the power of spirituality in overcoming trauma and finding a sense of belonging.

Community and Belonging

In Louise Erdrich’s novel, The Round House, the theme of community and belonging is a central focus. The story takes place on a Native American reservation in North Dakota, where the characters are deeply connected to their community and culture. The protagonist, Joe, is a young boy who is trying to make sense of the world around him after his mother is brutally attacked. As he navigates his grief and anger, he relies on the support of his family and community to find a sense of belonging and purpose. Through Joe’s journey, Erdrich explores the importance of community in shaping our identities and providing a sense of belonging. She also highlights the challenges and complexities of navigating cultural traditions and expectations while also trying to find one’s own path in life. Overall, The Round House is a powerful exploration of the ways in which community and belonging shape our lives and identities.

Language and Style

Erdrich’s language and style in The Round House are both intricate and powerful. She uses a combination of vivid imagery, poetic language, and colloquial dialogue to create a rich and immersive reading experience. One of the most striking aspects of her writing is her ability to seamlessly blend different narrative perspectives. The novel is primarily told from the perspective of Joe, a thirteen-year-old boy, but Erdrich also weaves in the perspectives of other characters, including Joe’s mother and father. This allows the reader to gain a more complete understanding of the story’s events and the complex relationships between the characters. Additionally, Erdrich’s use of Ojibwe language and culture throughout the novel adds depth and authenticity to the story. Overall, Erdrich’s language and style in The Round House are a testament to her skill as a writer and her ability to create a truly unforgettable work of literature.

Erdrich’s Writing Career and Influences

Louise Erdrich’s writing career spans over four decades, during which she has published numerous novels, poetry collections, and children’s books. Her works often explore the complexities of Native American life, identity, and culture, as well as the impact of historical trauma and colonization on indigenous communities.

Erdrich’s writing is heavily influenced by her own experiences as a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, as well as her upbringing in North Dakota. She has cited the works of William Faulkner, James Joyce, and Virginia Woolf as major literary influences, and her writing often incorporates elements of magical realism and surrealism.

In addition to her literary achievements, Erdrich is also a co-owner of Birchbark Books, an independent bookstore in Minneapolis that specializes in Native American literature. She has also been a vocal advocate for Native American rights and environmental issues, and her activism is reflected in her writing.

Overall, Erdrich’s writing career and influences have played a significant role in shaping her unique voice and perspective as a Native American author. The Round House (2012) is a prime example of her literary prowess and ability to tackle complex themes with nuance and sensitivity.

Reception and Criticism of The Round House

The Round House, a novel by Louise Erdrich, was met with critical acclaim upon its release in 2012. The book won the National Book Award for Fiction in the same year, and was praised for its exploration of themes such as justice, identity, and the effects of trauma. However, some critics also noted that the book’s portrayal of Native American culture and traditions was not entirely accurate. Despite this criticism, The Round House remains a widely-read and highly-regarded work of contemporary literature.

Comparisons to Other Erdrich Works

In comparison to other works by Louise Erdrich, The Round House stands out for its focus on the legal system and the impact of violence on Native American communities. While many of Erdrich’s other novels also explore themes of identity, family, and tradition, The Round House delves deeper into the complexities of the justice system and the ways in which it fails to protect marginalized communities. Additionally, the novel’s use of a first-person narrator and its focus on the coming-of-age of a young boy make it a unique addition to Erdrich’s body of work. Overall, The Round House showcases Erdrich’s versatility as a writer and her ability to tackle difficult and timely issues with nuance and sensitivity.

Adaptations of The Round House

One of the most notable adaptations of Louise Erdrich’s The Round House is the 2018 film adaptation directed by Chloé Zhao. The film, titled “The Round House,” stars Jesse Eisenberg and Tantoo Cardinal and follows the story of a young boy named Joe who seeks justice for his mother’s brutal attack on a Native American reservation. The film received critical acclaim for its powerful performances and poignant portrayal of the effects of violence on Native American communities. Another adaptation of the novel is a stage play adaptation by playwright Mary Kathryn Nagle, which premiered at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2019. The play, also titled “The Round House,” explores themes of justice, trauma, and healing through the lens of Native American culture and tradition. Both adaptations demonstrate the enduring impact and relevance of Erdrich’s novel, which continues to resonate with readers and inspire new interpretations and adaptations.

Erdrich’s Impact on Native American Literature

Louise Erdrich is a prominent figure in Native American literature, and her impact on the genre cannot be overstated. Her work has been praised for its vivid portrayal of Native American life, its exploration of complex themes such as identity and cultural heritage, and its powerful use of language. Erdrich’s writing has also been credited with helping to bring Native American voices and perspectives to a wider audience, and for challenging stereotypes and misconceptions about Native American culture. The Round House, published in 2012, is a prime example of Erdrich’s skill as a writer and her commitment to telling stories that are both deeply personal and universally relevant. Through its exploration of the aftermath of a violent crime on a Native American reservation, The Round House offers a powerful commentary on issues such as justice, trauma, and the enduring legacy of colonialism. As such, it is a testament to Erdrich’s enduring impact on Native American literature and her ongoing contribution to the literary landscape.

Analysis of the Ending

The ending of Louise Erdrich’s The Round House is both satisfying and unsettling. On one hand, justice is served as the perpetrator of a brutal crime is finally brought to trial and convicted. On the other hand, the aftermath of the trial leaves the protagonist, Joe, and his family with a sense of loss and uncertainty. The novel ends with Joe’s realization that the justice system is flawed and that there are some crimes that cannot be punished by the law. This realization is a powerful commentary on the state of the justice system in America and the impact it has on Native American communities. Overall, the ending of The Round House is a poignant and thought-provoking conclusion to a powerful novel.

Significance of the Title

The title of Louise Erdrich’s novel, The Round House, holds significant meaning throughout the book. The Round House refers to a sacred space on the Ojibwe reservation where the protagonist, Joe, and his family spend time together. It is a place of healing and spiritual connection for the community. However, the title also alludes to the circular nature of the story, as Joe seeks justice for his mother’s brutal attack and the novel comes full circle in its resolution. The Round House is a powerful symbol of both the strength and vulnerability of the Ojibwe people, and the title serves as a reminder of the importance of community and tradition in the face of adversity.

Setting and Landscape in The Round House

The setting and landscape in Louise Erdrich’s The Round House play a significant role in the novel’s overall themes and tone. The story takes place on a Native American reservation in North Dakota, where the harsh realities of poverty and violence are juxtaposed against the natural beauty of the surrounding landscape. Erdrich’s vivid descriptions of the reservation’s physical environment, from the rolling hills to the winding river, create a sense of place that is both familiar and foreign to readers. This setting serves as a backdrop for the novel’s exploration of identity, justice, and the complexities of modern Native American life. Through her use of setting and landscape, Erdrich invites readers to consider the ways in which our surroundings shape our experiences and shape who we are.

Family and Relationships

In “The Round House,” Louise Erdrich explores the complexities of family and relationships within the context of a Native American community. The novel centers around the brutal attack on Joe’s mother, Geraldine, and the subsequent search for justice. As Joe navigates the legal system and tries to uncover the truth about what happened to his mother, he also grapples with his own relationships with his father, his friends, and his girlfriend. Erdrich portrays the bonds of family and community as both powerful and fragile, and she highlights the ways in which trauma can both strengthen and strain these connections. Through Joe’s journey, readers are invited to reflect on their own experiences of family and relationships, and to consider the ways in which these connections shape our lives.