Toward the end of Indian Horse, Saul Indian Horse remembers some information that he’s been repressing for many years. As a child, his beloved mentor at St. Jerome’s, Father Gaston Leboutilier, sexually abused him. Saul’s shocking realization cements trauma as one of the key themes of the book. Wagamese shows how trauma, particularly when it’s caused by abuse, as it is in Saul’s case, can be a crippling burden for its victims.
It’s crucial to understand why Wagamese presents Saul’s abuse years after the fact, instead of portraying it in the present tense. To begin with, his decision to do so emphasizes the psychological realism of the novel. In many cases, victims of sexual abuse, particularly if the abuse began when the victims were small children, repress or forget about it for many years as a defense mechanism. Such a response is especially common when the abuser is a person the victim had a close relationship with. Father Leboutilier’s apparent kindness toward Saul seems to have caused Saul a great deal of confusion and doubt, leading him to bury the memories of abuse altogether. But Wagamese focuses on Saul’s recollection of traumatic abuse for another reason: in doing so, he wants to emphasize the point that the aftermath of abuse can be as painful (and in some ways more painful) than the experience of abuse itself. Over the years, Saul seems to repress all memory of Father Leboutilier’s contemptible behavior. And yet, like many abuse victims, he becomes depressed and frustrated. He cuts himself off from other people—in part because of the racism he experiences among white Canadians, but also in part, it’s implied, because he believes that other people wouldn’t understand what he’s been through. Again, Saul’s behavior is consistent with that of victims of sexual abuse in many cases. Because of the horrific crime that Father Leboutilier committed, Saul goes through years of loneliness, isolation, and self-loathing.
Indian Horse comes to a cautiously optimistic conclusion about trauma and abuse. It’s possible for abuse survivors to lessen their burden by finding the courage to talk about their experiences. Years after his time at St. Jerome’s, Saul comes to stay with his two adopted parents, Fred Kelly and Martha Kelly, both of whom went to St. Jerome’s as children. Saul finds the courage to tell Fred and Martha about his abuse, and Fred and Martha admit to him that they experienced similar abuses at school. It’s unfair that Saul should have been put in a position where he has to summon the strength just to talk about his feelings. Nevertheless, the experience of doing so undeniably proves helpful to him—since, instead of burying his pain as he’s done for years, he communicates it to other people, thereby lessening his burden. Wagamese is not saying that talking cures Saul of his trauma. Rather, Wagamese suggests that healing from trauma is an ongoing process, with no definite endpoint. Saul will continue struggling with Father Leboutilier’s abuse, but the support of his friends and loved ones means that he stands a better chance of living a happy life.
Abuse and Trauma ThemeTracker
Abuse and Trauma Quotes in Indian Horse
Sometimes three or four boys would be visited like that. Sometimes only one. Other times boys would be led from the dorms. Where they went and what happened to them was never spoken of. In the daylight we would look at each other blankly, so that we would not cause any further shame. It was the same for the girls.
"God's love," Angelique Lynx Leg whispered one day.
"Hockey is like the universe, Saul," he said one day. "When you stand in the dark and look up at it, you see the placid fire of stars. But if we were right in the heart of it, we'd see chaos. Comets churning by. Meteorites. Star explosions. Things being born, things dying. Chaos, Saul. But that chaos is organized. It's harnessed. It's controlled.
I looked around at all those adult faces, lingering on Father Leboutilier's. I'd never been offered choice before.
'All right," I said. "I'll go."
"My dad never talks about the school," he said. "Mom neither. And they don't say anything about what happened before that. Maybe someone just gave you a chance to rub the shit off the board once and for all."
I punched him in the head with everything I had, and he crumpled onto the floorboards. I turned to face the rest of them. I was frigid blackness inside, like water under a berg. I wanted another one to stand, wanted another one to swing at me, invite me to erupt. But they stayed seated, and nobody spoke as I walked slowly over to the table and picked up Jorgenson's discarded hand of cards. I studied the cards, then smirked and tossed the hand back on the table.
"Game over," I said. They never bothered me again.
He'd told me I could play when I was big enough. I loved the idea so much that I kept quiet. I loved the idea of being loved so much that I did what he asked. When I found myself liking it, I felt dirty, repulsive, sick. The secret morning practices that moved me closer to the game also moved me further away from the horror. I used the game to shelter me from seeing the truth, from having to face it every day. Later, after I was gone, the game kept me from remembering. As long as I could escape into it, I could fly away. Fly away and never have to land on the scorched earth of my boyhood.
"Did they rape everyone?" I asked.
There was a long silence. In the distance I could hear the sounds of the mill and a train. I waited and they both looked at the floor.
"It doesn't have to be sexual to be rape, Saul," Martha said.
"When they invade your spirit, it's rape too," Fred said.
"They scooped out our insides, Saul. We're not responsible for that. We're not responsible for what happened to us. None of us are." Fred said. "But our healing-that's up to us. That's what saved me. Knowing it was my game."
"Could be a long game," I said.
"So what if it is?" he said. "Just keep your stick on the ice and your feet moving. Time will take care of itself."
"Did you want to hunt that fucker down? Make him feel some of the same pain?" Virgil asked. He still couldn't turn away from looking at the ice.
'At first, yeah. Then, the more we got into it at the centre the more I realized it was more than just him. I'd be hunting a long time if I lashed out at everyone. In the end, I learned the only one I could take care of was me."
"Even up here in the sticks, we like to use a hockey puck to play hockey," Virgil said and pushed out onto the ice.
"Old habits," I said when he reached me. "New days," he said.
"The guys here?"
"Them and more," he said.