The Master Butcher's Singing Club

Themes

  • Identity: Erdrich plays with modern notions of identity by not ascribing an inherent essential self to the characters of Master Butchers Singing Club, and not reducing them to one single experience or factor. Instead, identity comes from a mix of things, and many characters experience a kind of blurred identity, in which they exhibit or hold dear two traits that would seemingly appear to not go together. Fidelis' butchering profession suggests a potential for brutality, but he also has a beautiful voice that he uses to unite the men of the town in the singing club. Eridrich reminds us that this is a world "where butchers sing like angels" (p. 388). Delphine likewise exhibits a blurred identity—she feels the loss of her mother deeply and wants to know her mother's story, but is not distraught when she is unable to receive concrete answers from Roy. Instead, she is able to cultivate meaningful relationships with women that mirror a mother-daughter relationship. Cyprian feels sexually drawn to men but attempts to live a heterosexual life with Delphine; he must constantly balance these two opposing aspects of his personality. Roy also exhibits traits that would seem to not go together in the same person—he is both the bad guy (neglectful father and alcoholic) and the good guy (Eva's savior from pain in her darkest hour). The characters are not defined by one single event or one single heritage; instead, they draw their identities based on a complex set of experiences, relationships, heritage, and emotions.
  • Loyalty: In the novel some of the characters experience divisions in loyalty causing personal dissonance. Fidelis, the German native, experiences this most clearly when WWII begins. This is best illustrated when the singing club decides to quit singing Germans songs—instead they sing American songs. However, when alone Fidelis sings old German songs that "fill him with shame." Fidelis also has the awful knowledge that he has sons fighting for both sides. Delphine feels divided loyalty in regards to her father. She feels very protective of him and cares for him throughout her life. However, he was a raging alcoholic that forced her to be self-sustaining from a young age, and she suspects throughout the novel that he may be guilty of murdering the Chavers family.
  • Family:Erdrich examines the true meaning of family in The Master Butchers Singing Club. Biological relationships are often hidden or deceiving complications of traditional notions of family. Through Fidelis’ honor of marrying Eva and raising Franz after Johannes’ death, the relationship between Cyprian and Delphine, Delphine’s relationship with Roy and Step-and-a-Half, as well as the relationships between Delphine and the Waldvogels, Erdrich illustrates that family is not limited by blood. The characters are free to move in and out of their immediate biological family circles to create and sustain meaningful relationships that come to resemble familial relations, such as Delphine's motherly love and affection for Markus. Characters choose how to feel about one another and are not limited by their genetics.
  • Tradition: The defining theme of tradition stems from the traditions brought to the United States by Fidelis. Examples of this include the precision Fidelis takes in caring for his butcher knives, the perfection he achieves in his profession as a butcher, as well as the singing club itself. However, it should be noted that the singing club that is created in Argus is radically different from those in Germany. In Germany the singing club includes only master butchers as tradition dictates. However, in Argus there are only two butchers so it is necessary for Fidelis to extend the tradition to the rest of the town males.

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