The Round House


Louise Erdrich

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The Round House Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Louise Erdrich's The Round House. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Louise Erdrich

Louise Erdrich was born in 1954 in Little Falls, Minnesota. Erdrich’s father, a German-American man, enjoyed telling stories to his children, which Erdrich would later cite as one of her major writerly influences. Erdrich’s mother, from whom she derives her Chippewa heritage, was an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians. Erdrich attended Dartmouth College in the 1970s, where she met her future husband, writer Michael Dorris. Dorris became Erdrich’s writing and romantic partner. The couple married in 1981, raising six children together before their separation in 1995. Erdrich, a National Book Award recipient, has authored fifteen novels as well as numerous other works, and she owns a famous Native-focused bookstore in Minneapolis.
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Historical Context of The Round House

Louise Erdrich’s work refers explicitly to various events in the history of the Ojibwe people, and in the history of indigenous people in the United States and Canada more generally. These include the vast catalog of Supreme Court cases dealing with Native rights and autonomy that Joe finds in his father’s Handbook, starting as far back as the early 1800s. Generally, these decisions have centered on land rights. Erdrich links Mooshum’s personal history to the Métis rebellions in Canada in the 1800s, led by Métis politician Louis Riel. Louis Riel was born in the Red River Settlement, a primarily Catholic and First Nations and Métis-inhabited area spanning present-day Manitoba and parts of the surrounding territories. During the mid-1800s, an influx of white protestant settlers moved to Red River, claiming formerly First Nations and Métis lands as their own. Louis Riel, emerging as a leader of the resistance to this injustice, tried to diplomatically come to an agreement with the Canadian government about land rights. After failing to do so, Riel and his followers rebelled, establishing an independent government that was later quashed by the Canadian one, forcing Riel to flee. He landed in Saskatchewan Valley, where eventually more white protestant settlers began to filter in. Ultimately, this led to a second rebellion, the North-West rebellion, that ended with Riel being executed by the Canadian government. Louis Riel’s execution and the actions of the Canadian government towards the First Nations and Métis people during these rebellions continues to be a source of controversy in Canada’s history. Erdrich also refers to historical cultural events, such as the attempted conversion of the Ojibwe people to Catholicism through boarding schools and missionaries. Established primarily in the 19th and 20th centuries, these boarding schools eventually came under the supervision of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which, at the time, sought to assimilate Native people to white American culture rather than conserving Native cultures. The BIA-approved boarding schools were plagued by neglect, abuse, and misconduct. Ultimately, after the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act of 1975, boarding schools became less and less prominent. Nowadays, in response to the terrible legacy of these boarding schools, many reservations have recently begun to prioritize community-based schools and culturally appropriate learning for Native students, even opening colleges specifically geared towards teaching Native students within the context of their cultures.

Other Books Related to The Round House

Louise Erdrich’s work is frequently classed with other contemporary Native American authors, such as Sherman Alexie (author of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian) and Leslie Marmon Silko (author of Ceremony), whose work explores the social and political realities that Native Americans face in daily life. Although frequently lumped together as writers of the Native American experience, Silko has publicly criticized Erdrich for what she sees as a preference for postmodern style over advancing the political interests of Native Americans, suggesting that the two authors actually approach their craft and their community in very different ways. Thematically, Louise Erdrich’s novel, which focuses on Joe’s coming-of-age, would be classed as a bildungsroman—a book that focuses on the transition from childhood into adult society. Bildungsromans are a common genre of literature, with notable examples being Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, and James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Stylistically, Louise Erdrich’s work is frequently compared to magical realist writers like Gabriel Garcia Marquez (author of Love in the Time of Cholera and One Hundred Years of Solitude) because of Erdrich’s use of fantastical or spiritual elements in otherwise realistic stories. Erdrich, however, rejects the magical realist label. Erdrich cites the oral stories that her family used to tell during her childhood as her biggest writerly influence. The impact of oral storytelling on Erdrich’s work can clearly be seen in The Round House, which prominently features storytelling both thematically and in its content.
Key Facts about The Round House
  • Full Title: The Round House
  • When Published: 2012
  • Literary Period: Contemporary American
  • Genre: Contemporary Native American Literature
  • Setting: Unnamed Chippewa reservation in Minnesota
  • Climax: When Joe and Cappy shoot and kill Linden Lark on the golf course
  • Antagonist: Linden Lark
  • Point of View: Joe’s retrospective first-person viewpoint

Extra Credit for The Round House

Work and home. Louise Erdrich was formerly married to chair of the Native American Program at Dartmouth College and fellow author Michael Dorris, with whom she collaborated on several books before their divorce in 1996 and Dorris’s death in 1997.

Coed trailblazer. Erdrich was a member of the first class of women to attend and graduate from Dartmouth College.