The Round House

The Round House Chapter 5 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Bazil had hoped that when the lilacs opened in June, Geraldine would be feeling better. As the weeks go by, however, Geraldine does not improve and the garden grows wild. Bazil informs Joe that he is going to plant Geraldine’s garden for her. He buys flowers and directs Joe where to plant them. As Joe digs, he ponders his experience seeing the ghost. Once Joe has finished planting the flowers, Joe and Bazil plant onions and tomatoes in Geraldine’s vegetable garden.
This scene, in which Joe and Bazil garden, echoes the earlier scene of Joe and Bazil uprooting trees. By returning the reader’s attention to the earlier scene, Erdrich seems to be highlighting how different the atmosphere at the house is since before Geraldine’s rape, when the family home was a comforting space.
Themes
Women, Bigotry, and Sexual Violence Theme Icon
Bazil leaves to buy more plants. Joe makes himself a sandwich and then makes one for his mother, which he carries up to her on a plate with cookies and a glass of water. Joe knocks on the bedroom door and Geraldine tells him to enter. He sets the plate down and wants to leave, but Geraldine asks him to sit. She asks what he and Bazil were doing outside, and when Joe says they were digging, Geraldine asks if they were digging a grave. Joe, repulsed, tells her that they were planting her garden.
Geraldine is still very disturbed by her trauma, as evidenced by the fact that she suggests that Joe and Bazil might be digging a grave. It is unclear who Geraldine imagines would be put in this grave, but her near-death experience and her rape obviously make her think about death and life threatening violence much more frequently than before.
Themes
Women, Bigotry, and Sexual Violence Theme Icon
Geraldine pulls away from Joe. Joe tells Geraldine he needs to talk to her, and Geraldine says she is tired, but Joe gets frustrated, saying that Geraldine is always tired. He asks why she cannot get up and “come back to life,” and Geraldine says she does not know why, but she can’t. Geraldine begins to tremble. Joe then asks her about the file that she went to get on the day of her assault, but she denies the existence of the file. When Joe tells Geraldine he will find and kill her attacker, Geraldine sits up and firmly commands Joe not to. Geraldine authoritatively tells him that he must stop bothering her, asking questions, and threatening to kill her attacker. Geraldine tells Joe that he will not be a part of “all of this…violation.” Joe backs down and leaves the room. As Joe goes down the stairs, he begins to suspect that Geraldine does know who raped her but she is hiding his identity for some reason. This idea fills Joe with rage.
Joe, who misses Geraldine’s attentive mothering before her rape, tells Geraldine to “come back to life,” perhaps suggesting that he thinks Geraldine’s earlier comment about digging a grave referred to herself. Geraldine commands Joe not to be a part of “this…violation,” implying that, by refusing to let Geraldine heal on her own terms and by asking her to recount the story of her rape before she is ready, Joe is participating in the violation of her autonomy, similarly to the violation of her rape itself. Geraldine’s comment implies that the trauma of rape can be exacerbated if victims lack agency in the aftermath.
Themes
Women, Bigotry, and Sexual Violence Theme Icon
Parenthood, Foster Families, and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Related Quotes
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Bazil pulls into the driveway with more plants, and the father and son spend the rest of the afternoon gardening. Once they are done with their work, Bazil pulls out lawn chairs so they can sit and talk. Joe brings out the gas can he found in the lake and shows it to his father. Bazil is shocked. He tells Joe that he would like Joe to stop investigating the case because he is worried about Joe’s safety. Joe is frustrated, as he had expected his father to be proud of his sleuthing. Bazil tries to assure Joe that the police on the case are doing their best, but Joe asks why they did not find the gas can. He furiously tells Bazil that the police do not actually care about Geraldine. Bazil backpedals, telling Joe that he is proud of him and reiterating that he is worried for Joe’s safety. When Bazil tells Joe that he “gives [himself and Geraldine] life,” Joe jumps up and says that they gave him life, so he should be able to do what he wants with it. Joe runs for his bike and pedals away from his father.
In this scene we see that Joe has already begun to feel skeptical about the capacity of the mainstream American justice system to actually deliver justice, as he believes that the police do not care about his mother. Meanwhile, Joe and his father struggle for control over Joe’s actions, as Joe feels stifled by his father’s commands and Bazil worries about Joe’s safety and what it would mean to lose him. Bazil and Joe both seem to be figuring out how they will relate to each other now that Joe is old enough to act on his own, with Bazil unable to understand that Joe has independent desires and impulses, and Joe refusing to accept that his actions will also impact his parents.
Themes
Parenthood, Foster Families, and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Land, the Judicial System, and Justice Theme Icon
Related Quotes
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Joe, knowing that Bazil would call their relatives and Joe’s friends to try to find out where he went, rides to Angus’s house because Angus does not have a telephone. When Joe shows up at Angus’s house, Angus has a swollen lip, so Joe knows that his aunt or his stepdad has been beating him again. Together, Angus and Joe crush beer cans behind Angus’s hose while Joe tells Angus about the conversation between Bazil and Edward the night before about Father Travis. Joe and Angus decide to go to mass to investigate Father Travis further. Together, the two boys bike to the parish church just as mass is starting. They sit in the front-row pews. Joe observes Father Travis when he walks in to begin the ceremony, beginning to feel dizzy. Once the communion line forms, the two boys slip out of the church to smoke cigarettes on the church’s playground. Angus, realizing that Joe is upset, tells Joe he is going to find Cappy. Angus rides off. Joe lays down.
Joe seeks solace after his fight with his father at Angus’s house, where he finds that Angus has recently been beaten by someone in his family. By contrasting Angus’s situation with Joe’s, Erdrich seems to be drawing attention to how, despite Joe’s parents’ troubles, they always try to keep him physically safe in a way that Angus’s family fails to do. Afterward, the boys head to mass to scope out Father Travis. Throughout the novel, many of Erdrich’s characters, and Joe and his friends in particular, show a markedly cavalier attitude towards religion and religious spaces. In this instance, Joe and Angus go to mass and leave halfway through, unconcerned with their impropriety.
Themes
Chippewa Tradition vs. Catholicism Theme Icon
Parenthood, Foster Families, and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Joe begins to dose off when he hears footsteps and opens his eyes to see Father Travis walking towards him. Father Travis tells Joe that one of the nuns saw him smoking a cigarette on the playground, which is not allowed, but that he is very welcome at mass. Joe grunts in response and Father Travis recognizes Joe as Clemence’s nephew. Joe, feeling bold, asks Father Travis where he was on the afternoon of May 15th (the date and time of his mother’s rape). Father Travis says he was likely officiating and asks why, but Joe declines to answer. Father Travis then tells Joe that he should join the church’s youth group. They shake hands. Father Travis says goodbye and walks away.
In this interaction between Joe and Father Travis, Joe continues to investigate the case despite his father’s instructions not to do so. When Joe asks Father Travis for an alibi, he mimics the language of crime shows or books, suggesting that Joe is patterning his behavior on the stories he hears. Meanwhile, Joe experiments with more substances, like his cigarettes, which signal his interest in adult activities.
Themes
Storytelling, Formality, and Writing Theme Icon
Parenthood, Foster Families, and Coming of Age Theme Icon
When Father Travis is out of sight, Joe processes the interaction. Joe thinks he wants Father Travis dead if there is indeed definitely proof that Father Travis is his mother’s attacker. Angus finally returns with Cappy. Joe fills Cappy in on his father’s suspicion of Father Travis’s guilt. The boys hatch a plan to determine if Father Travis drinks Hamm’s beer (the same beer found at the crime scene) by spying on him in his house that night. In order to get to the house, the boys will have to ride their bikes through a cemetery where lots of Joe’s relatives are buried, which Joe finds unnerving because of his recent ghost sighting. Joe is not afraid of his ancestors’ spirits, but he does fear the “gut kick of [their] history.”
When Joe thinks about riding through the reservation’s graveyard in order to get to Father Travis’s s house, he feels afraid, and he attributes this fear not to the ancestors that are buried there, but to the “gut kick of [their] history.” Joe implies that, because so many of his relatives died either directly or indirectly as a result of the oppression they faced, it is the legacy of oppression, which continues to affect life on the reservation, that Joe finds unnerving to confront, not the ghosts.
Themes
Women, Bigotry, and Sexual Violence Theme Icon
Chippewa Tradition vs. Catholicism Theme Icon
Land, the Judicial System, and Justice Theme Icon
That night, the boys ride through the yard of a woman who owns a lot of dogs to get to the priest’s house. The dogs try to attack them, but together the boys fight them off. Once they make it to the cemetery, they walk through it towards Father Travis’s house. The boys arrive at the priest’s cottage, crawling under the windows so they will be out of sight. They listen as Father Travis goes to the bathroom, then Joe crawls to the living room window, where Joe can see Father Travis drinking a Michelob beer and watching a movie. Joe reports back to his friends.
As Erdrich describes Father Travis watching a movie and drinking beer in his house, she gives a portrait of a religious leader that is far from holy and dignified. As she does when she describes Randall’s womanizing and obsession with appearances, Erdrich shows the side of religion and religious leaders that is mundane and lowly rather than divine and lofty.
Themes
Chippewa Tradition vs. Catholicism Theme Icon
Next, Cappy ventures over to look in the window and tells the rest of the boys that the priest is watching Alien, a movie they all want to watch. The boys creep over and watch the entire movie through the window. After the movie is over, Father Travis gets ready for bed. The boys watch as he undresses. They notice intense scarring on and around his genitals. Disturbed, the boys begin to run away, but Father Travis hears them, runs out the door, and grabs Angus by the throat. Cappy and Joe walk back to help him.
Yet again, although the boys attempt to investigate, their teenage interests distract them. As the boys notice the scarring around Father Travis’s genitals, they find it disturbing, perhaps especially given their youthful anxieties about sex. They then assume that, due to the scarring, Father Travis would not have been capable of raping Joe’s mother (whether this is true or not).
Themes
Women, Bigotry, and Sexual Violence Theme Icon
Parenthood, Foster Families, and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Father Travis leads them into the house and forces them to sit down. Furious, Father Travis mocks the boys, asking why they were spying on him. He asks Cappy what his name is, and Cappy lies to him, saying his name is the “traditional” name “John Pulls Leg.” Father Travis curses at Cappy and yanks him off the couch so that he hits his head hard. Cappy then tells Father Travis his real name.
In this humorous moment, Cappy tries to tell Father Travis that his name is “John Pulls Leg” (a joke about “pulling someone’s leg”), assuming that Father Travis, as a white Catholic priest, does not know enough about Chippewa culture to know that that is not a name. Unfortunately, Cappy is wrong.
Themes
Chippewa Tradition vs. Catholicism Theme Icon
Father Travis tells the boys that he believes they were spying on him because Joe thinks Father Travis assaulted his mother, since earlier that day Joe asked him for an alibi. Father Travis, cursing at the boys, denies raping Geraldine, saying he would never do something like that since he has a mother and sister and he used to have a girlfriend. Cappy asks about Father Travis’s girlfriend curiously, and Father Travis tells the boys he was engaged. He then gives the boys dating advice, counseling them not to date “sluts.”
As she does throughout the book, Erdrich portrays Father Travis not as a lofty religious figure, but rather as a normal person, and exploits this discordance to humorous affect. When Father Travis curses at the boys and counsels them not to date “sluts,” Erdrich is hammering home how profoundly unpriestly Father Travis actually is.
Themes
Women, Bigotry, and Sexual Violence Theme Icon
Chippewa Tradition vs. Catholicism Theme Icon
Father Travis watches the boys silently for a minute before surmising that they want to know how his genitals got so scarred. The priest tells them he was at a U.S. embassy when it was attacked in 1983, causing his scarring, so he came home and got ordained. The priest asks if they have questions, and Joe comments on Travis’s gopher shooting. Father Travis dismisses them with a wave of his hand, lost in thought. The boys leave, shutting the door behind them.
Father Travis implies that the injuries he sustained would have prevented him from being capable of raping Geraldine, thus removing Father Travis from Joe’s suspicion. By emphasizing Father Travis’s unsuitability as a suspect due to his genitalia, Erdrich draws attention to the crime’s specifically sexual nature.
Themes
Women, Bigotry, and Sexual Violence Theme Icon