Louise Erdrich

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Windigo Term Analysis

A windigo is a mythical cannibal monster or evil spirit from Algonquian folklore. The monster is known have at least some characteristics of a human, or it could be merely a spirit that inhabits the body of a human, making them monstrous and causing them to murder and/or eat other humans. In the context of Tracks, the transformation is milder. Moses Pillager, Fleur’s only relative who also survives the consumption plague, is said to have gone windigo, suggesting he possibly ate the bodies of his dead family members to survive. Later, though, he becomes primarily a medicine man to the other Native Americans on the reservations. When Fleur and Nanapush grieve their loved ones, they are said to go “half-windigo,” which in this case means that they lose their tie to the physical world, ignoring their bodily needs, a condition that looks very much like modern depression.

Windigo Quotes in Tracks

The Tracks quotes below are all either spoken by Windigo or refer to Windigo. For each quote, you can also see the other terms and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Tradition, Assimilation, and Religion Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Harper Perennial edition of Tracks published in 2011.
Chapter 1 Quotes

Within us, like ice shards, their names bobbed and shifted. Then the slivers of ice began to collect and cover us. We became so heavy, weighted down with the lead, gray frost, that we could not move. Our hands lay on the table like cloudy blocks. The blood with us grew thick. We needed no food. And little warmth. Days passed, weeks and we didn’t leave the cabin for fear we’d crack our cold fragile bodies. We had gone half windigo. I learned later that this was common, that there were many of our people who died in this manner, of the invisible sickness. There were those who could not swallow another bite of food. Because the names of their dead anchored their tongues. There were those who let their blood stop, who took the road west after all.

Related Characters: Nanapush (speaker), Fleur Pillager
Page Number: 6
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 6 Quotes

As a young man, he had guided a buffalo expedition for whites. He said the animals understood what was happening, how they were dwindling. He said that when the smoke cleared and hulks lay scattered everywhere, a day’s worth of shooting for only the tongues and the hides, the beasts that survived grew strange and unusual. They lost their minds. They bucked, screamed and stamped, tossed the carcasses and grazed on flesh. They tried their best to cripple one another, to fall or die. They tried suicide. They tried to do away with their young. They knew they were going, saw their end.

Related Characters: Pauline Puyat (speaker), Nanapush
Page Number: 139
Explanation and Analysis:
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Windigo Term Timeline in Tracks

The timeline below shows where the term Windigo appears in Tracks. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1: Winter 1912, Manitou-geezisohns, Little Spirit Sun
Self-Destruction vs. Outside Influences Theme Icon
Birth, Death, and Survival Theme Icon
The Importance of Nature in Indigenous Life Theme Icon
...fear that the retaliation of Pillager spirits (Pillager is the family’s name) might turn them “windigo.” Inside the cabin, Nanapush finds the dead bodies of an old man and woman (Lulu’s... (full context)
Self-Destruction vs. Outside Influences Theme Icon
Birth, Death, and Survival Theme Icon
...and avoid leaving the cabin, allowing themselves to sit silently in their grief and go “half-windigo.” (full context)