The Round House

Themes and Colors
Women, Bigotry, and Sexual Violence Theme Icon
Chippewa Tradition vs. Catholicism Theme Icon
Storytelling, Formality, and Writing Theme Icon
Parenthood, Foster Families, and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Land, the Judicial System, and Justice Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Round House, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

The Round House, which examines an instance of sexual violence against Joe’s mother Geraldine, explores the particular difficulties faced by Native women and how those struggles stem from an often-toxic culture surrounding sexuality, tribal identity, and gender.

Although Erdrich’s book is a work of fiction, Geraldine’s violent rape is part of a real phenomenon: Native women are far more likely to experience sexual violence than non-Native women and men. Often, the perpetrators of…

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As characters in The Round House engage in religious and spiritual practices, they straddle two different traditions: the Native Chippewa religion and the Catholicism that was brought to the reservation by Europeans. As these two traditions come into each other’s orbit, the two religions, which are ideologically different, sometimes clash with or eclipse one another.

Chippewa religion is a large presence in the novel, which is itself named after the reservation’s round house, a…

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In addition to Joe’s retrospective narrative, The Round House features many stories-within-stories: references to mythology, to novels, and to television, as well as factual and fictional stories told second- or third-hand. These stories affect people in multiple ways, but most importantly, they provide their listeners with behavioral and emotional models to teach them how to act in difficult situations and how to talk about their lives. As story consumption becomes insufficient to help people…

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The Round House takes place on a reservation teeming with overlapping family connections, connections that are even more important to the characters because of the small size of the Chippewa community and its strong national identity. Although the families in The Round House are well established, many of these families are not nuclear, and some are not even genetically linked. On the reservation, the reader encounters a plethora of different kinds of families whose dynamics…

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The Round House explores a tricky concept: how to ensure justice for people belonging to a culture—the Chippewa culture—that the legal system has been built to disadvantage and ignore. After Geraldine’s rape, Joe and Bazil want to bring her rapist to justice, but this process is full of bureaucratic complexity and infuriating roadblocks. Ultimately Joe turns to an old Chippewa tradition of justice to supplement the law’s shortcomings, though this comes at a cost…

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