Indian Horse

Indian Horse Summary and Analysis of Chapters 46-56


Saul is comfortable with Erv, but restless. The two men understand each other, and know there are certain conversations they cannot have. Saul sees Ervin as a friend, his first for a long time. Yet he’s unable to relax. He begins going on long walks, sitting silently in the bush as he tries to ground himself. Unable to shake the hopelessness he feels, he begins drinking again. At first, it is only a few sips, but soon it snowballs. When he realizes that giving up drinking will mean opening up to someone, that it is impossible for him to stay with Ervin as he is, Saul leaves his new home behind.

In Winnipeg, Saul keeps drinking, falling deeper into despair, completely cut off from the rest of the world. Even as he knows he needs to quit, he tricks himself, convincing himself he’s cutting down while staying just as drunk. It is only when he has a stroke and ends up in the hospital that things really change. The social workers tell him about the New Dawn Centre, the best place for Native alcoholics to get care. Saul is reluctant, but his doctor says that he’ll die if he doesn’t quit now.

When Saul arrives at the Centre, he only cares about getting out. Over time, though, sobriety clears his head and makes it possible to remember his past and write it down, starting at the beginning. When his recollections reach his downward spiral, he is finally able to break out of the darkness in his own mind. Yet Saul hoped for more. He hoped that by the end of his story, he would have found a way to heal. Instead, he gets stuck, and takes to wandering in the bush again. One day, he watches a family of beavers until the sun goes down. It's too late to return to the Centre, so he decides to sleep in the woods.

In the middle of the night, he’s woken up by a low droning noise that turns into a large figure floating towards him. He eventually recognizes it as his great-grandfather Shabogeesick, singing an Ojibway song. Shabogeesick draws a hand over his own body, and Saul sees each member of the family he lost. Then they walk away into the fog. When they are gone, Saul realizes he needs to leave again.

Saul takes the bus to White River, to St. Jerome’s. The school is abandoned and desecrated, Saul’s old hockey rink nothing but flat earth. An older man spots him on the land and tells him he needs to get out, but eventually wanders off, leaving Saul to muse. Standing by the rink, he begins to sob. Then suddenly, he remembers. He sees Father Leboutilier watching a game with him, but after the game, the priest pushes Saul to himself and kisses him. Saul wanted so much to be loved that he didn’t resist the priest’s touches, when he would sneak into the dormitory and rape Saul beneath the covers. Saul sobs, and when he stops, realizes that he loved hockey because it allowed him to shut out those memories, to protect himself from his past. He also realizes that he has to continue his journey.

Saul takes the bus north to Minaki. There he rents a boat and begins traveling downriver, towards Gods Lake. At night he camps on an island in the river, furious as he remembers again and again what Father Leboutilier did to him. Saul finds a stump and hacks at it until he’s exhausted and the rage has subsided, then bathes himself in the river and sleeps through the night. The next day, he reaches Gods Lake and begins walking around the perimeter. As he reaches his old campsite he sees a flotilla of canoes, each boat holding the lost memories of his family. Shabogeesick comes ashore and takes him to the top of a cliff. There, he tells Saul that he is here to learn how to carry Gods Lake within himself. Saul looks down and hears his family singing in low voices, as though praying, while the northern lights suddenly fill the sky. He weeps, finally mourning. Then he looks up at the moon. As he gazes, it becomes the face of a hockey rink, with little Indian boys skating over its surface.

Saul leaves Gods Lake and retraces his footsteps. He spends the winter at the New Dawn Centre, working closely with Moses and speaking openly about his own experiences for the first time. When he finally feels “strong, confident, [and] secure,” he departs and finally returns to the Kellys. He has a long conversation with Fred and Martha, who share their own traumas from the school and make clear how much they understood about Saul’s, more than even he knew about himself.

Fred fills Saul in on the changes in Manitouwadge. Virgil is married with three children. Many of the Moose have moved on, and the ones who’ve stayed have formed a new team, the Miners. Native players are no longer an oddity in the NHL. Fred invites Saul to join the Miners. In response, Saul tells him about Father Leboutilier. Saul breaks the silence by saying that he doesn’t want to play, he wants to coach, to teach young Native kids to find joy in the game like he did. Immediately, Martha tells him that Virgil has been trying to coach himself, but hasn’t found the time—and he’d be happy to turn the team over to Saul.

Saul tracks down Virgil’s team and watches practice from the sidelines, unnoticed. The team is good, better than when he was a kid, and Virgil is a dynamic coach. Finally, Saul says hello to his old friend. They joke for a while, until Saul mentions his time on the Moose. Suddenly stern, Virgil tells Saul how long ago that feels, and how angry he was when Saul left. He heads back into the dressing room to strategize with his team, but not before making Saul promise to wait for him. They sit in the stands and talk. Saul tells Virgil everything about St. Jerome’s, and Virgil tells him about his son Billy, the smallest kid on the team and the fastest skater. Then he tells Saul about the Moose who are still in town, and invites him out to the ice.

Saul arrives an hour early, giving himself space to reenter the rink. The minute he skates onto the ice, he realizes how much he’s missed it, and how little anything else has worked to fill the hole the loss of the game left in his life. He finds a ball of tape on the ground and pretends it's a puck, like he did with the horse turds back at St. Germs. Focused, he looks up to Virgil entering the rink, teasing him for failing to use a real puck. He’s not alone. The remaining members of the Moose are with him, but so are a whole crowd of boys and girls from Manitouwadge. Everyone skates onto the ice, and they all play, together.


Saul is able to trust Erv because he shares in Saul’s grief. Although their pasts look very different, both men are mourning lost family, and both understand that the other needs to be left alone. Erv is a foil to Fred and Martha Kelly, who also offer Saul a home. In both situations, Saul ends up abandoning his friends and turning back to drink. By the time he reaches Erv, Saul has become more self-aware, understanding that he is forcing himself to be alone so he can avoid knowing himself. The parallel between Erv and the Kellys suggests that Saul left Manitouwadge for the same reasons, although he wasn’t as sure then. It also foreshadows that Saul has more to realize about himself and his past—that he is not a fully reliable narrator of his own life.

In Chapter 47, the story Saul has been telling catches up with the frame narrative that opened the novel. When he introduced himself and opened the story, Saul declares that he’s only focused on getting out of the New Dawn Centre. However, now that he has written the story of his own life, his priorities have changed, and he realizes that writing his story has allowed him to “surface into the light.” Wagamese maintains the integrity of the frame story by portraying Saul’s writing process as linear, so that Saul grows in parallel. At the same time, this linearity once again suggests that Saul’s writing practice has a lot in common with storytelling—in an oral history, revision is impossible, and the reader’s experience of the story aligns with that of the person telling it. Storytelling thus has the power to transform the listener and the speaker at the same time and in similar ways; there isn’t the gulf between them that exists between author and reader.

Moses, Saul’s counselor at the New Dawn Centre, aids Saul’s healing by encouraging him to write. His name, like Saul’s and that of his grandfather Solomon, is a biblical allusion. In the Bible, Moses leads his people out of slavery and through the desert, to a new truth. However, Saul finds that while Moses claims he can lead him to “something new, something powerful that would heal me,” even the powerful experience of writing his story isn’t enough to bring him to that place. Instead, he has a vision of his great-grandfather, a spiritual leader born before Saul’s family began taking Christian names. Without rejecting Moses’s strategy, Wagamese emphasizes that to heal from a traumatic past one must still engage with that past, and attests to the power of ancestors in paving the way for that engagement.

Saul’s sense that he is still missing something even after reaching the end of his narrative leads him to continue his journey. This continuation undercuts the linearity of the story up to this point, inflecting what we have read so far with a sense of unreliability and an awareness that the past contains more than what we tell of it. Saul’s journey retraces the steps of his childhood in reverse, moving from an abandoned St. Jerome’s back to Gods Lake. This transforms the structure of the overall narrative into a cyclical one, and models the relationship between the past and the future that is so healing for Saul. St. Jerome’s, which Wagamese describes as at once desolate and full of the feelings, sights, sounds of Saul’s past, is a microcosm of this dynamic, in which the past is always present. Saul’s return to St. Jerome’s forces him to feel trauma he had been working so hard to protect himself from remembering.

Ironically, his unconscious attempt at self-preservation had been preventing Saul from healing. Although St. Jerome’s, and Father Leboutilier, made his boyhood into a scorched earth,” he doesn’t have to stop there. Now that the story can travel cyclically, Saul moves backward, beyond the trauma of his rape, to Gods Lake. He walks around the perimeter of the lake and finds his pain fading away; this circular walk symbolizes him closing the circle of his life, going back to the beginning. When Saul sees the moon transform into a hockey rink, hockey is able to reach beyond and around the school where he learned it.

Saul’s story, however, doesn’t end at the beginning—he goes back again, first to the New Dawn Centre and then to the Kellys. Even though he has to leave Gods Lake, he is able to bring the beauty of the place with him. His newly complete knowledge of his past, both its scars and its beauty, lets Saul enter these old places in new ways. Like Erv, the Kellys share grief with Saul, but unlike Erv, they also understand his specific experiences at the school. Now that Saul has reckoned with his past, he is able, for the first time, to speak candidly about it, and he has people to have that conversation with. Although the residential schools attempted to cut Native people off from family and community, once Saul is able to reconnect with his family through his vision of Shabogeesick, he twists the logic of the schools to use his shared experiences with the Kellys as a source of power and mutual understanding.