A Saga Evolving Somewhere between Gossip and Myth:

The Novels of Louise Erdrich

(Selected American Authors After 1910)

Fall 2005


English 4308-001                                                  Office Hrs: T/TH: 11-12:30 or by appt.

Instructor: Dr. Roemer                                     405 Carlisle Hall;  817-272-2729 voice mail

T/TH 9:30-10:50          Please schedule all appts.; on voice mail, leave name and phone #.

Preston Hall TBA                                      roemer@uta.edu;  ww.uta.edu/english/roemer




Winner of a National Book Critics Circle Award and many other awards, Louise Erdrich (1954 -  ) is an internationally known contemporary American author. Although she is recognized as a poet, essayist, and children's fiction writer, she is best known for her North Dakota saga: eight novels consistently compared to Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha saga. We will examine seven of the novels, along the way encountering Sister Leopolda (who may be a saint or a monstrous sinner), Nanapush ( a trickster who can lie, laugh, fumble, and with compassion, get into and out of almost any situation), lovers (whose ages ranges from the teens to the hundreds), traditional Ojibwe Indians (who can marshal the force of the winds), modern Indians (who can manage modern bureaucracies) -- some times we find both traditional/modern in one person -- and casts of characters that would delight any fan of Chaucer or Dostoevski. 




1.  An intensive study of seven of Erdrich's eight North Dakota Saga novels including all of her  "reservation" or "Matchimanito" novels. [readings, class discussion, exams]

2.  A selective introduction to Erdrich criticism [readings in Approaches to Teaching the Works of Louise Erdrich and in the course packet]

3.  An examination of issues relevant to fiction by Erdrich, American Indian novelists, and contemporary American novelists; for example, raising questions: about definitions of relationships between "ethnic" and "mainstream" literature; about genre (e.g., written texts inspired by oral traditions), about gender (e.g., intersections of gender and culture), about structure and narrative voice (e.g., Erdrich's multiple narrators), about authorship (the implications of stages of Erdrich's collaborative writing with Michael Dorris), and about the ethics and politics of fiction labeled as Native American. [class discussions, exams paper]

4.  An opportunity to improve research writing skills [prospectus, paper]

5.  An opportunity to improve oral discussion and presentation skills [class and small group discussions and presentations; note: class pedagogy includes lectures, class discussion, and small group discussion followed by informal group presentations that address questions assigned during the previous class


For specific means of assessment and grading, see Examinations, Paper, and Approximate Grading Weights, Warnings and Encouragement




Course Packet (CP) at Bird's Copies; Sarris, Jacobs, and Giles., eds, Approaches to Teaching the Works of Louise Erdrich  (A); see page numbers below; and novels by Erdrich: Love Medicine (1993 edition), Beet Queen, Tracks, Bingo Palace, Tales of Burning Love, Last Report of the Miracles at Little No Horse, Four Souls. Handouts distributed in class.





Introductions to the Course and Erdrich                                            8/23, 25

            Reading: Beidler, "Erdrich" (CP);  Rainwater, "Erdrich" (CP);

                        In Approaches (A): Preface (1-3), Introd. (5-7), Materials

                        (11-20), "History" (23-30), "Collaboration" (147-57);

                        browse appendices


Short Answer Exam                                                                          8/30



From Short Story to Series: The Early North Dakota Saga Novels


Love (and Hate) Medicine [focus - 1934 - 1984 ]                            8/30, 9/1, 6, [8]

            Reading:  Love Medicine (1984; 1993 ); (A): "Family" (77-82);

                        "Does Power Travel" (83-87)


The Off-Rez Sagas, First Episodes (focus - 1948 - 1972)                9/[8],13,15

            Reading: The Beet Queen  (1986);  (A): "Reading" (175-82),

                        "Gender" (1983-90) [For other major episodes.

                        see Antelope Wife (1998) and  The Master Butchers

                        Singing Club (2003).]


Tracking Historical Origins (focus 1912 - 1924)                              9/20,22,27

            Reading: Tracks  (1988); (A): "Doubling" (158-69); "Tracing"



Review for Exam                                                                                9/27


First Examination (proctored)                                                        9/29



Contemporary Life On and Off the Rez


Gambling the Real (Estate/Heritage/Vision) (focus - early 1990s)  10/ 4, 6, 11

            Reading: Bingo Palace (1994); (A): "This Ain't Real Estate"



Women Talk, Men (and women) Change (sometimes)

            (focus - June 1994 - Aug. 1995, esp. Dec. 31- Jan. 5,

            with flashbacks to the 1960s)                                              10/13,18,20,25

            Reading: Tales of Burning Love (1996); (A): "Tracking" (118-29)


Review for Exam                                                                                10/25


Second Examination (proctored)                                                    10/27


Required Conference with Paper Prospectus                                11/1, [2]



Backtracking: Revisiting the Origins


A Report that Can Never be Last (focus 1910-1996)            `          11/3,8,10,15

            Reading: Last Report (2001); (A): "Gender" (140-46)


Thanksgiving                                                                                      11/24


Cross-Cultural Revenge and Healing (focus - mid-1920s)              11/17,22,29

            Reading: Four Souls (2004); (A): "Tracking Fleur" (66-76)


Research Paper Due                                                            12/1


Review for Final                                                                                12/1


Third Examination                                                                          TBA [12/3-9]







Except for the short answer exam (based on the introductory readings and class discussions), all the exams will consist of two parts: a short answer (closed book) and  an essay section (open book). I will draw the short-answer and essay questions from the readings, lectures and discussions. My primary criteria for the essay questions are: (1) Does the essay directly address the questions? (It's often useful to use variations of the question to construct topic and thesis sentences.) (2) Is every claim supported convincingly with significant and relevant examples from Erdrich's novels, and, if relevant, examples and ideas from the criticism? I encourage students to prepare outlines for possible questions. The class before the exam, I will handout detailed exam guidelines that indicate the natures of the short and essay questions.




Research Paper


Length: approximately 2,500 words (approximately ten pages); due date: December 1, 2005. The paper should demonstrate your ability: (1) to select a focus and argument that you can justify as being significant to readers; (2) to integrate your own ideas and the ideas of scholars and critics (at least six);  i.e., enter the critical conversation about the text(s); (3) to support  arguments adequately and to organize them in logical and convincing ways;  (4)  to master basic mechanics of writing (grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc.). (The Writing Center, 4th floor Library, can offer assistance. Bring this syllabus to inform them about the paper.) The focus should be strongly influenced by the length requirement. Too broad a focus will invite a superficial paper; focusing too narrowly can lead to repetition.  Students may wish to concentrate on one text or to do a comparative study. The comparisons can be between or among Erdrich's novels or involve comparisons with other authors (e.g., McWilliam's excellent essay in Approaches ).  The methodological approach is open;  for example, New Critical detailed readings, cultural, feminist, biographical, ethnic, postcolonial, or historical studies are all acceptable.


For the conference on November 1 [or Nov. 2, if we have a large class], I require students to bring a short prospectus that I can examine. Although the prospectus will be graded, it should not be perceived as a straight jacket. Major changes are appropriate if they will improve the quality of the paper. The prospectus (approximately 1 - 3 pages typed) must include:

            1. A one-to-three sentence statement of the thesis that defines the primary question(s) addressed and the focus of the paper.

            2. A one-to-four sentence statement of the significance of the thesis/question.

            3. A one-to-five sentence statement of the anticipated method(s) used (e.g., biographical, feminist, ethnic studies, New Critical) and why the method(s) are appropriate.

            4. A one-to-five sentence initial and tentative description of the organization of the paper.

            5. A brief, short-title list that indicates the major critical sources (indicate any problems anticipated obtaining these sources).


Critical sources on Erdrich's fiction are abundant. Pages 17-20 of Approaches list many important examples (books, journals, essays, interviews, audiovisual materials); the editors complement these lists with the Works Cited section (245-58). The bibliographic sections of the Beidler and Rainwater essays in the Course Packet are also useful, as is the bibliography in Beidler and Barton's A Reader's Guide to the Novels of Louise Erdrich. Students interested in writing about Last Report and Four Souls will have some difficulty finding critical sources because both books are so new, especially Four Souls. But numerous reviews are available. Furthermore may of the issues and characters significant to these two recent novels are discussed in articles and chapters about the earlier novels (e.g., the implications of the "unrealistic" events or magical realism, narrative structure, narrative voice, the impact of tragic historic events, the import of family and community, survival issues, the powers of love, Nanapush, Fleur, Sister Leopolda, etc.).


The MultiCultural Collection on the second floor of the Central Library is an excellent place to search for written and Internet sources. One excellent general source is the Web site for the Association for the Study of American Indian Literatures (ASAIL): <http://oncampus.richmond.edu/faculty/asail>. Another useful initial site is <http://nativeauthor.com>.



Approximate Grading Weights


Short Answer Exam    5%

First Exam                              20%

Second Exam                          20%

Third Exam                            20%

Research Paper                      35% [of which 5% is the prospectus]




Professors cannot drop students for excessive absences. If you plan to withdraw, you must follow Universities procedures; otherwise the computer will give you an F. Sept. 30 is the last day to drop with an automatic W. Thereafter the grade will be W or F for students withdrawing depending on their performance and attendance. Excessive absences will affect semester grades; each five unexcused absences lowers the semester grad by a half grade. In the past I have had few problems with plagiarism and other forms of academic dishonesty. For excellent guidelines on plagiarism, see chapter 2 of the MLA Handbook. I have little tolerance for plagiarism; University policies will be followed.




Consistent and constructive class participation and improvement can elevate semester grades significantly.  Also I am very willing to work with students who have disabilities.  At the beginning of the semester, these students should provide me with documentation authorized by the appropriate University office. Students seeking academic, personal, and social counseling should contact their departmental advisors and/or the Office of Student Success (817-272-6107).