The Round House


Louise Erdrich

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The Round House: Chapter 3 Summary & Analysis

Joe, looking at the files with Bazil, reads a court decision about a casino employee who was fired wrongfully. He is surprised by the petty minutiae of his father’s job, because he had always pictured Bazil making important and groundbreaking decisions. Joe and Bazil read another case, in which the court determined that the white owners of a gas station, George Lark and Grace Lark, had been charging tribal members extra. Bazil sets this case file aside as important, though it seems fairly normal to Joe. Bazil say he was proud that he claimed jurisdiction over that case, even though Chippewa people did not own the business.
In this scene, Joe begins to understand that, whereas he had thought his father’s work was made up of exclusively landmark cases, Bazil’s job is actually fairly boring. Over the course of the novel, Joe’s relationship to his father changes as Joe comes into his own adult self. Part of this coming of age results in Joe thinking less and less that his father, who he always had looked up to, is actually as powerful as a tribal judge as he once seemed.
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However, Bazil says, he set the Lark case aside because of the people involved, not because of his own legal victory. Bazil explains that George and Grace Lark are dead, but that their daughter Linda and their son Linden are still alive. Bazil describes the Larks as the type of people who pretend to have amiable relationships with their Chippewa neighbors in order to con and cheat them. Bazil tells Joe that the Larks were vocal opponents of abortion, but that when the twins Linden and Linda were born, they gave Linda up because of a birth defect. Betty Wishkob, a Chippewa woman, raised Linda instead.
Bazil introduces Joe and the reader to the Lark family for the first time through this court case. By describing George and Grace Lark as a particular “type” of person, rather than a few rotten individuals, Bazil and Erdrich both seem to suggest that the Larks’ racism is part of a problematic pattern rather than an exceptional case. This racism, rather than being overt, is insidiously cloaked in a veneer of amicability.
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Bazil pulls out another case, which describes how Linda Lark was informally adopted by the Wishkob family and, after her foster parents’ deaths, the other Wishkob children let Linda continue to live in the family home. Grace Lark then applied to become Linda’s guardian, stating that Linda was mentally incapable of managing herself. Grace did this because she wanted to develop the land that the Wishkobs had left Linda. The case was dismissed because Linda was not formally adopted, legally Native, or actually mentally impaired. Bazil tells Joe that after the Wishkob children found out what Grace Lark had tried to do, they organized a boycott of the Lark gas station and helped Whitey open his own, putting the Larks out of business. Linden Lark returned home around that time, and Grace Lark died soon after. Joe asks if Linden could be the attacker, and Bazil says he is not sure. Bazil explains that Linden was recently working for Curtis Yeltow, the governor of South Dakota. Linden now lives in Grace’s old house.
With this second case, Erdrich gives the reader a basic overview of the extremely complicated and painful story of Linda’s abandonment and adoption. In contrast to Linda’s long, personal and compelling account of her story later in the book, these files and Bazil’s bare-bones summary offer a sequence of events that is dramatic but dry and impersonal. Through these two different accounts of the same events—one which is only the facts, and one which is actually a story—Erdrich seems to be drawing attention to how stories, especially stories told about people’s lived experience, can touch readers and make them empathize in a way that other forms of conveying information cannot.
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When Bazil leaves to get more coffee, Joe reads the last case file. It describes how, during a ceremony at the round house, Vince Madwesin, the tribal policeman, was serving off-duty as a security guard. When Vince found some attendees drinking, he asked them to leave out of respect for the ceremony. One of the drinkers stumbled away and was later found dead from choking on his vomit. The man’s brother then brought charges against Vince Madwesin. The court found both men innocent. Joe asks why his father has pulled out that case, and Bazil says it is because of the round house. Joe asks if that’s where Geraldine was raped, and Bazil does not answer.
Bazil draws attention to the round house here because, as Joe surmises but Bazil refuses to acknowledge, he believes that it is where Geraldine was raped. The incident described in the case speaks to the round house’s significance in the Chippewa community as an important site of religious observance and cultural practice. Joe’s own interest in the round house’s meaning increases later in the book, as he thinks over how it represents Chippewa history.
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