Tracks

Tracks Study Guide

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

Brief Biography of Louise Erdrich

Erdrich was the oldest of seven children born to a German American father and Chippewa mother, who both taught at a boarding school set up by the Bureau of Indian Affairs in North Dakota. Erdrich’s grandfather was a tribal chairman for the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians. Erdrich was in the first class of women admitted to Dartmouth, where she earned an English degree in 1976. At school there, she met her future husband, Michael Dorris, the director of the new Native American Studies program, and began to examine her own ancestry. Two years later, she enrolled in Johns Hopkins University to earn an M.A. in the Writing Seminars. She remained in touch with Dorris and they began to collaborate remotely on stories together, winning the Nelson Algren Fiction Prize for a story they would later expand into the novel Love Medicine after marrying in 1981. They raised six children together, three of them adopted, until they separated in 1995 and Dorris committed suicide in 1997. Erdrich’s novels are complexly interwoven with one another, set primarily on a single reservation and in the surrounding towns. For these novels she’s received two National Book Critics Circle Awards, a National Book Award, and a Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction; she was also a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize. She lives in Minnesota, where she owns a Birchbark Books, an independent store that focuses on Native American culture and community.
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Historical Context of Tracks

Set between 1912 and 1924 in North Dakota, in the novel Native Americans are fighting both to keep ownership of their land and to remain strong in the face of the consumption (tuberculosis) epidemic. The characters struggle with whether they will assimilate to the white western culture flourishing in the towns surrounding the reservation, or continue living their native traditions secluded on the reservation land, despite diminishing resources. The character of Fleur is the clearest example of a person who attempts to remain firmly tied to her native roots, while Pauline is an example of the other extreme, leaving the reservation to join a convent, and eventually denying her native heritage. The Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians are a faction of the Anishinaabe people, and have likely inhabited the area in which the book is set since the late 17th century, when much of the land was covered in forest. In the early 19th century, the Chippewa battled with white fur trade companies to maintain their rights to their land and the animals on it. In 1882 the reservation was established, but the United States greatly reduced the size of the reservation in 1884. By the time the book is set, the logging industry had taken over as the primary threat to the Chippewa land.

Other Books Related to Tracks

Most of Erdrich’s novels are complexly interwoven with each other, sharing settings and characters, and Tracks is the third book in what’s known as the Love Medicine series, following Love Medicine and The Beet Queen, and preceding The Bingo Palace, Tales of Burning Love, The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse, Four Souls, and The Painted Drum. Despite being the third in the series, Tracks takes place first chronologically in the world of the novels. Widely acclaimed as one of the most important writers of the second wave of the Native American Renaissance, Erdrich has also drawn criticism from other Native writers, such as Leslie Marmon Silko (Ceremony), who claimed that Erdrich concerns herself more with postmodern techniques than the struggles of Native people. The interwoven nature of Erdrich’s novels also draws comparisons to William Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha novels (which include The Sound and the Fury and As I Lay Dying).
Key Facts about Tracks
  • Full Title: Tracks
  • When Written: 1980s
  • Where Written: Minnesota
  • When Published: 1988
  • Literary Period: Contemporary, Native American Renaissance
  • Genre: Literary Fiction, Magical Realism
  • Setting: North Dakota
  • Climax: Nanapush and Fleur find out that Margaret and Nector only had enough money to pay the taxes on Kashpaw land, so the others have lost their property.
  • Antagonist: White oppression of Native Americans
  • Point of View: Alternating first person, Nanapush and Pauline

Extra Credit for Tracks

A nickel’s worth of story. As a child, Louise Erdrich’s father would pay his children five cents for every story they wrote. Perhaps as a result of this, two of Louise’s six siblings are also writers: Heid E. Erdrich is a poet and Lise Erdrich writes children’s books, fiction, and essays.

Team effort. Louise Erdrich and her husband Michael Dorris collaborated on all their writing together, but you won’t find both of their names on every book. When both wrote an approximately equal amount of a draft, they shared the credit, but if one of them wrote the entire first draft, then that person was deemed the author, but both of them worked on all of the writing they each produced in their time together.