Throughout Indian Horse, Wagamese vividly describes the beauty of the natural world. The most important place in the wilderness, for Saul, is Gods Lake, where his family lives before he is taken to St. Jerome’s. He describes it as an “inkpot black” lake, ringed by pine trees and surrounded by grey-white granite cliffs. The sky is flecked with small white clouds during the day, and the bright, full moon at night. The land feels alive to Saul, and sometimes looks like it's breathing, moving in and out. It smells like rich earth, swamp and bog, and when Saul listens he can hear birdsong. Other times the sacred lake is eerily silent, and occasionally it echoes softly with the voices of his ancestors or with spirits. The vivid image is important because it highlights the power of wild spaces for Saul, their connection to his Indigenous heritage, and their ability to transcend the passage of time.
St. Jerome’s When Saul is a Child
Saul arrives at St. Jerome’s soon after leaving Gods Lake, and the image he creates of it contrasts sharply against the bush. St. Jerome’s is a tall brick building surrounded by small shrubs instead of trees. It sits in a clearing, which is marred by a gravel road and a white-washed staircase. Inside, the school smells strongly of bleach and disinfectant, and the windows are made of frosted glass, so that only pale, sickly light can get through. Everything about the school seems designed to remain untouched by any element of the natural world, to isolate itself from the bush. This parallels what the school does to the children, totally cutting them off from nature, along with their families, community, and traditions. It also speaks to the hyper-regimented, colorless nature of life at St. Jerome’s.
Saul describes his anger, rooted in his experience of racism and the trauma of his childhood, as a physical object. It presses up against his ribs, tastes bitter in his throat, and feels like a heavy weight on his back. He imagines it as a “frigid blackness inside” his body. By depicting his anger as a foreign object, Saul emphasizes that it is not an inherent personality trait but rather something imposed on him.
St. Jerome’s When Saul Returns as an Adult
Much of Chapter 49 is devoted to a detailed description of the ruins of St. Jerome’s. The old sign has been shot up and piles of human excrement surround its post. The ground is strewn with beer and wine bottles and the walls are covered in graffiti. The school is silent but for the flutter of birds' wings and their soft coos, and it smells of decay and rot. The blighted scene drives in how much time has passed since Saul left St. Jerome’s. It also parallels the emotional state of the First Nations children who survived it. The bottles of alcohol emphasize the connection between Saul’s alcoholism and his experiences at the school, and indicate that he is not alone in his reliance on it as a way to cope with his trauma.
Indian Horse Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Indian Horse is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
Wagamese's narrative links the soul of nature with the soul of Saul and his family. It is at God's Lake where Saul experiences a spiritual awakening at such a young age. He hears the trees whisper his name; he feels the mist in his bones; he hears...