Describe the frame narrative in Indian Horse. Why did Wagamese use this literary device?
The main plot of Indian Horse is a coming-of-age story about the protagonist, Saul Indian Horse. That story is framed by a secondary narrative in which Saul is writing about his childhood as an adult, as part of a treatment for alcoholism. By situating the events of Saul’s childhood within the context of his adulthood, Wagamese emphasizes the connections between our experiences as young people and who we are as adults. Although the events of the past are over, through writing about it, Saul is able to transform his present by changing his relationship to the past.
Choose a character other than Saul from Indian Horse and explain their relevance to the novel’s themes.
Father Leboutilier illustrates a subtle, underhanded complicity with evil. Sister Ignacia and Father Quinney, the other administrators at St. Jerome’s, are self-evidently evil. Saul recounts the way they use physical and psychological abuse in order to force the students to give up their traditions. In contrast, Father Leboutilier appears much kinder: he befriends the students and seems to look down on his coworkers for their brutality. Nevertheless, there is never any evidence that he actually fights against the cultural genocide being carried out at St. Jerome’s. He continually pushes Christian ideology on Saul, which only reinforces the actions of the other priests and nuns, even if he uses friendship and affection, rather than physical violence, to encourage Saul to give up his old beliefs. And at the end of the story, by revealing that Father Leboutilier was an abuser, Wagamese emphasizes that those who choose not to challenge an unjust system are often those who benefit from it.
What is the significance of Gods Lake to Indian Horse?
Gods Lake is the place where Saul develops his profound connection with his grandmother Naomi. Although she dies before he reaches St. Jerome’s, her teachings return throughout the story to inform Saul’s outlook on the world. It is also where Saul has his first vision, when he sees the Indian Horse family on the shores of the lake and realizes that his family is rooted in this territory because they lived and died there. Indian Horse begins with Saul mourning the loss of his ability to see beyond the physical world; throughout the novel, we watch as Saul’s vision guides him, and then disappears which his slide into alcoholism. When Saul returns to Gods Lake, Shabogeesick calls it “a place of beginnings and endings.” It is the beginning and ending of the novel, but it is also the beginning of a new life for Saul, as he picks up his grandmother’s love of storytelling and teaching to become a coach.
Describe one significant image in Indian Horse in detail. Why is it important?
One significant image in Indian Horse is St. Jerome’s after Saul returns and finds it abandoned. The sign has been shot up, and piles of human excrement surround the post. The ground is strewn with trash, and the air smells of decay. Saul’s old hockey rink is completely gone, and only a flat patch of earth remains. The transformation illustrates the passage of time since Saul left the school. It also points to the hatred former students felt for the residential school—those who have returned have chosen to destroy it, and there is no one who cares enough to preserve it. Finally, it is a foil to Gods Lake, where Saul returns after leaving the school. Gods Lake is as beautiful as it was when Saul was a child, while the school is completely obliterated. The two contrasting settings illustrate the perseverance of Saul’s people and the land they love.
Why does Saul love hockey so much, and how is the sport relevant to the rest of the novel? Give at least two examples.
When Saul plays hockey, he becomes a shape-shifter, feeling as though he is a bird flying across the surface of the ice. This freedom contrasts with the ways St. Jerome’s endeavored to control his body through regimentation, abuse, and sexual assault. Saul is such a skillful hockey player because he is able to see through the chaos of the game and into its internal rhythms, the rules that govern the disorder on the ice. This sight is the same sense that lets him see Shabogeesick and his other ancestors. Saul describes his vision as a mystery, like the mysteries Naomi saw at the center of creation. It therefore connects him to his Ojibway heritage and ways of knowing the world.