Firekeeper’s Daughter

Firekeeper’s Daughter

by

Angeline Boulley

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Firekeeper’s Daughter: Chapter 1  Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The narrator (Daunis) dresses in running clothes before sunrise and leaves a pinch of semaa (tobacco) on the eastern side of a tree. She prays to Creator and asks for zoongidewin, courage, today—she’ll need it after her run. Then, Daunis stretches and recites the anatomical names for all her muscles (in preparation for her college Human Anatomy class in the fall) before running through Sault Ste. Marie and the Lake State campus. She pauses to admire Sugar Island, her favorite place, and recites the Anishinaabemowin name for it, like her dad taught her.
The novel’s opening shows readers what’s most important to Daunis: honoring her Anishinaabe spiritual beliefs and language skills, anatomy, and Sugar Island. It’s not yet clear what Sugar Island’s significance is, but the novel will get to this in due time. The note that Daunis will need courage later suggests that even at this early point, her circumstances require her to deal with difficult things that test her resolve.
Themes
Ceremony, Pride, and Healing Theme Icon
Family and Community Theme Icon
Daunis continues on until she reaches EverCare, a long-term care facility. She greets the head nurse, Mrs. Bonasera, and heads for her grandmother, GrandMary’s, room. GrandMary had a stroke six weeks ago, and she’s been here since then. Daunis’s mom is already here, rubbing rose-scented lotion into GrandMary’s arms. At first, GrandMary rolls her eyes at Daunis’s skimpy shorts under an oversize t-shirt, but then, her gaze goes vacant. Daunis studies the photographs in the room, including the last one taken of the four Fontaines: Mom, GrandMary, Uncle David, and Daunis. It was taken at Daunis’s last hockey game. Soon after, in April, Uncle David died and GrandMary had her stroke. Mom doesn’t smile now. She stays up all night cleaning the house and talking to David in the secret language she and her brother created—unaware that Daunis can understand it.
The fact that GrandMary suffered a stroke and is now living in a nursing home may explain why Daunis needs courage: it sounds like life has been really difficult for her family since Uncle David’s death and GrandMary’s stroke. Mom, in particular, seems to be struggling a lot. That Daunis can understand Mom and David’s secret language —unbeknownst to her mother—suggests that Daunis may be doing more to care for Mom than is perhaps normal for a teenage daughter to do. Daunis’s love for and loyalty to her family also shines through here. It seems important to her to work visiting GrandMary into her daily schedule, even if GrandMary isn’t always aware of the visit.
Themes
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Family and Community Theme Icon
Daunis applies lipstick to GrandMary’s lips and moments later, GrandMary seems to come back. Quickly, Daunis announces that she’s deferring admission to University of Michigan and enrolling at Lake State for freshman year. GrandMary has always wanted Daunis to be a doctor; this, GrandMary believed, would redeem her after the “Big Scandal of Mary and Lorenzo Fontaine’s Perfect Life.” Daunis wants to be a doctor and has been happy to play along, but it doesn’t seem right anymore after David’s death and GrandMary’s stroke. GrandMary seems to understand, and Mom embraces Daunis—Daunis staying home is what Mom has wanted all along.
Again, it shows how connected Daunis is to her family that she decides to stay home and attend a local college rather than go away for school. Though GrandMary understands, Mom seems the main beneficiary of Daunis’s choice. This suggests that Daunis feels some responsibility to care for her mom. Mentioning the “Big Scandal” that destroyed Daunis’s grandparents’ “Perfect Life” creates some tension, as what exactly this scandal is seems somewhat shrouded in secrecy. 
Themes
Generational Trauma and Bigotry Theme Icon
Family and Community Theme Icon
Suddenly, a bird flies into the window. Gramma Pearl, Daunis’s Anishinaabe nokomis, would say this is a bad sign; GrandMary would say it’s just chance. Daunis has been caught between these two worldviews her whole life. Once, Gramma Pearl poured Daunis’s urine into Daunis’s ear to cure an earache. Daunis felt ready to die when she excitedly detailed how clever Gramma Pearl was at the next Fontaine Sunday dinner and saw how embarrassed Mom was. Sometimes it’s safe to be a Firekeeper, but other times, Daunis must be a Fontaine.
Daunis comes from a white family on her mom’s side and a Native family on her dad’s side. This has made life somewhat difficult for her, as it seems like her Fontaine family members don’t accept Native wisdom or medicinal knowledge as real—they find it embarrassing. So, Daunis constantly feels like she must hide parts of her identity in order to please and comfort those around her. Still, she clearly believes and finds solace in Native traditions; the bird hitting the window seems very significant to Daunis.
Themes
Generational Trauma and Bigotry Theme Icon
Ceremony, Pride, and Healing Theme Icon
Family and Community Theme Icon
Quotes
Get the entire Firekeeper’s Daughter LitChart as a printable PDF.
Firekeeper’s Daughter PDF
Daunis watches Mom lotion GrandMary’s legs. Mom is convinced that GrandMary will recover, and a week ago, Daunis overheard Mom telling David that she’ll fade away when Daunis goes to college. Daunis knows she’s all Mom has left; Daunis’s birth changed (and possibly ruined) Mom’s life 18 years ago. Daunis also knows, thanks to Gramma Pearl, that bad things come in threes. Uncle David died, GrandMary had a stroke two months later, and now, if Daunis stays home, she can stop the third bad thing from happening. Daunis kisses Mom and GrandMary, then she sprints home.
Daunis casts herself as the wiser, more pragmatic one between her and her mom: she believes GrandMary isn’t going to recover, while Mom seems to believe in miracles. Part of this practicality, it seems, is believing that she has the power to stop the third bad thing from happening. However, the bird hitting the window ominously suggests that Daunis might be incorrect, if it indeed is a sign of bad things to come.
Themes
Ceremony, Pride, and Healing Theme Icon
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Family and Community Theme Icon