Trauma In The Night Watchman By Louise Erdrich

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Have you ever experienced a traumatic event that affected your thinking and acting? Trauma is defined as a deeply distressing or disturbing experience. In Louise Erdrich’s novel, The Night Watchman, the heavy emotional impact of trauma on one’s life is evident through the characters’ behaviors and interactions with others. The novel is set in rural North Dakota in the 1950s. It is based on the experiences of Erdrich’s grandfather, who fought against the termination of Native American tribes in the 1950s. The novel explores themes of family, identity, and trauma. It revolves around a group of Native American characters fighting against the government’s plans to terminate the tribe and displace them from their land. The characters’ experiences …show more content…

Thomas Wazhashk is a middle-aged man living on the reservation with his wife, Rose, his children, and his mother-in-law. He works night shifts at the local jewel-bearing plant as a night watchman. Thomas is a hardworking man who tries not only to provide for his family but his community as well. He is a chair member on the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa’s tribal committee. At a young age, he was sent to attend a boarding school to assimilate into American society. There Thomas learned the pledge of allegiance and became friends with a boy named Roderick. “A few weeks later, he’d come to wake Roderick in the dormitory. His friend was still and his skin gray; he was barely breathing in the bloody sheets. Oh, Roderick. Would these electric shocks of memory ever quit? Worst, he remembered teasing Roderick, daring him, even getting him in trouble, and Labette pointing his finger”(Erdrich 274.) Thomas feels severe guilt because he is under the impression that he contributed to Roderick’s death. He is consumed by the guilt and remorse from his traumatic experiences at the Indian boarding school. Thomas’ memories of teasing and daring Roderick lead to destructive behaviors that continue haunting him as he grows old. Thomas repeatedly sees the ghost of his old friend, “The boy veered away once Thomas reached town and Thomas drove carefully the rest of the way home. By then, the fright had awakened him so thoroughly that he was afraid he’d have trouble falling asleep. ‘I saw Roderick again’”(Erdrich 358). Due to experiencing trauma from being taken away to an Indian boarding school, Thomas is still haunted by the memories of his childhood friend Roderick. Thomas’ fear and inability to sleep demonstrate the lingering effects of the trauma he experienced with Roderick. This trauma has caused him to become anxious and somewhat delusional, in turn affecting his

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