Quote 1

My father and I had followed her to the doorway, and I think as we watched her we both had the sense that she was ascending to a place of utter loneliness from which she might never be retrieved.

In Chapter 2, Geraldine climbs the stairs in the family home and retreats to her bedroom after attempting to come out and rejoin the family. Later in the novel, the narration describes Judge Coutts and Joe as they climb the stairs. Judge Coutts climbs up to sleep in the sewing room rather than with his wife. Joe climbs the stairs after killing Linden Lark. In all of these cases, climbing the stairs symbolizes the family members traveling into physical, emotional, or spiritual isolation where the others cannot reach or help them. Although Joe’s family has been close and supportive throughout his childhood, the traumatic event drives them apart and reveals the ways in which even loving family members are unable to reach or support each other in in dire situations. This quotation thus foreshadows the eventual separation and loneliness of Joe and Judge Coutts by defining the stairs as a transitional place where Geraldine’s loneliness is highlighted.

Quote 2

Now we are gone, but as you have once sheltered in my body, so now you understand. The round house will be my body, the poles my ribs, the fire my heart. It will be the body of your mother and must be respected the same way. As the mother is intent on her baby’s life, so your people should think of their children.

Mooshum, possibly in his sleep, tells a story about Nanapush in Chapter 9. He describes how the round house, a central image of the novel, was created. Old Buffalo woman, who saved Nanapush’s life when he killed and ate her, gave him instructions on how to build it. She also saved the lives of Nanapush’s mother and his brothers and sisters. Though she was killed, she represents the connection to nature held by the Ojibwe people, who followed laws when hunting buffalo. Old Buffalo Woman also mentions how there are laws that govern how one should seek justice against a wiindigoo. This quotation shows how the round house symbolizes the traditional rules and rituals of the Ojibwe. Geraldine follows these rules when she refuses to name her attacker in order to protect Mayla’s baby. Joe continues following the traditional rules when he kills Linden as a form of justice reflective of the justice taken against the wiindigoo. And the community continues to follow these rules once it becomes apparent that they know who killed Linden Lark. The quote lays out the central theme of tribal lands, law, and justice.

Quote 3

With a savage thump he turned the casserole over onto the table. He lifted off the pan. The thing was shot through with white fuzz but held its oblong shape. My father rose again and pulled the box of cutlery from the cabinet counter.

Joe narrates these words in Chapter 9 after he challenges his father on the effectiveness of the legal system to which his father subscribes. After Linden has been released from jail, even though Geraldine has named him as the attacker, she and Joe begin to lose faith in the law. Here, Judge Coutts puts a rotten casserole on the table and stabs it with various forms of cutlery until he forms a sculpture. He uses this as a symbol of Indian law: an unstable edifice of unjust and a few reasonable laws all balanced on top of a rotten base. In laying out the intricacies and contradictory elements behind Indian law, Judge Coutts reveals that he hopes to slowly overcome these laws’ injustices by building a better legal structure that will give the tribes more sovereignty over crimes committed on their land. The best way to spark this sort of change would be from within. Although Joe understands his father’s symbol, he cannot accept such small steps towards justice. Thus, he feels that he must pursue it on his own terms.