Saul compares St. Jerome’s to a black hole, stating that it stole all the light from his own world. More specifically, the school stole everything he had known before he arrived. Throughout Saul’s time at the residential school, Wagamese emphasizes that it is specifically aimed at obliterating the children’s connections to family, tradition and the natural world—to everything they knew before they arrived. By comparing the school to a black hole, the author makes clear that the assimilationist project, and the war it wages against one’s connection to the past, makes indigenous children’s lives darker.
The first time that Saul skates onto the ice without holding onto something, he states that he “became a bird” (Chapter 17). Throughout Indian Horse this metaphor returns in various forms, equating the experience of playing hockey with flight, and in Chapter 35, while encouraging Saul to pursue the NHL, Virgil explicitly names him a shape-shifter. The use of metaphor rather than simile also endows the image with a sense of physical shape-shifting. Shape-shifting is one way to think about the kind of freedom hockey gives Saul: it's a way for him to assert total control over his own body, in opposition to the ways that St. Jerome’s tried to control and regulate him. It’s especially poignant in light of Saul’s rape; part of his survival is finding a way to change forms, to leave the bounds of his physical body behind. Shape-shifting also speaks to an Ojibway way of looking at the world in which animals and people are intimately connected, and the spiritual is an immanent part of everyday life.
From the minute he begins playing hockey, Saul realizes that he has the unique ability to see behind the motion of the game and understand its patterns and drives. After joining the Moose, he describes “just breathing until the vision descended like a cloud of light” (Chapter 27). The simile continues the motif of darkness and light that Wagamese establishes when Saul arrives at St. Jerome’s. Where the school is a black hole, Saul’s vision is a way to bring back the light. The simile also echoes the worldview Saul expressed earlier in the novel, when he attributes his vision to the Creator, as an inherently mysterious ability. In this image, the “cloud of light” is external; vision isn’t something within himself, but a place he has access to.
Saul’s anger (simile)
Saul compares the anger and hopelessness that begins to overwhelm him to the cold water caught underneath an iceberg. The metaphor is specific to Ontario, the northern border of which is defined by the icy Hudson bay. By describing Saul’s mental state through the landscape, Wagamese emphasizes the intimacy between the character and the specific natural world he was born to. The image of the cold water caught beneath the iceberg speaks to the larger metaphorical absence of light Saul is experiencing at this point in the novel, which refers back to the "black hole" of St. Jerome’s that first stole the light out of his life. Cold connotes a lack of intimacy, and conveys the internal emotion that corresponds to Saul’s self-imposed solitude in the world. The ocean suggests drowning, especially as the frigid blackness is pressed beneath the surface of the water; later, Saul will describe himself as “drinking down” when his alcoholism becomes most severe. Finally, the iceberg floating over the surface of the sea parallels Saul’s aimless motion around Ontario as he searches for work.
The River (metaphor)
Most of the figurative language in Indian Horse takes the form of similes, explicit comparisons between one thing and another. Therefore, it's important to pay special attention to the places in the novel where Wagamese uses metaphor instead. When Saul returns to Gods Lake, he observes that the river running into it turns “into a huge, serpentine creature, undulating and curving” (Chapter 50). It is reminiscent of Saul’s own shape-shifting on the hockey rink, when he turns into a bird, as well as the many moments in the novel where the land is personified. Seeing the river as a living creature with its own motion, Saul lets go of his own role as navigator and allows the water to carry him. Saul’s return to Gods Lake is hence guided not by his own initiative, but by his willingness to let go and listen to the land, as he did to his great-grandfather. This resonates with the broader theme of community and ancestry in Indian Horse, which values cooperation over individualism and sees our connections with each other as extending seamlessly to the land.
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...