The Round House by Louise Erdrich Analysis
What is worse than listening to tragic stories of victims is knowing that many more victims will never say anything about their struggles due to their trauma, pain, and inability to believe their words will be heard. The Round House, an award-winning novel written by Louise Erdrich, follows the story of Joe Coutts recounting his experience living on the North Dakota Ojibwe reservation as a 13-year-old adolescent. Although the novel's focal point is centered around Joe Coutts and his journey of becoming an adult, Erdrich also incorporates stories about a diverse group of women characters with different struggles and experiences. Through many examples of abuse and neglect of women, Louise demonstrates the impact of how a toxic and sexist culture always results in the worsened mental health and the well-being of native and non-native women.
Through the legal system's failings regarding the victims of sexual violence on reservations, the plaque of injustice continues to flourish as abusers continue to commit violence against native women without consequences. The novel begins with Joe enjoying an average life with no apparent struggles. However, he is suddenly launched into the harsh reality of the injustice against victims of sexual violence have to face as his mother becomes a victim of rape, shattering his innocence. The devastating effects of Sexual Violence are emphasized when Geraldine finally recounts and shares her story about her rape, and readers are given more context about her rape. Her attacker Linden Lark believes that "the strong should rule the weak. Instead of the weak the strong! It is the weak who pull down the strong" (161). This evidence proves that Linden's violent actions result from his misogynistic beliefs and white supremacist ideology. Linden takes advantage of his privileges; he feels empowered by the legal system and ultimately uses his position to harm others, having no shame admitting his hatred against Native Americans and women. Erdrich proves Linden's warped sense of superiority is supported by the legal system as despite committing the crime, Lincoln boasts about how he will not suffer any consequences for his crimes which inevitably turns out to be true. The legal system reveals the frightening reality that many natives have to face as abusers can evade punishment due to the legal loopholes that stem from moral and judicial failings in the legal system. Because the legal system supports and empowers abusers to continue harming others, many abusers make it even harder for victims to have the confidence to share their stories.
Frequently, perspective interferes with how people confront these issues of sexual violence. When prejudices are in play, it is often harder for victims to share their experiences and for their abusers to be reprimanded for their actions. Linda is an example of a victim that has a story. Erdrich even writes a part of the novel where the perspective is purposely shifted from Joe to Linda to help readers understand her story. Despite her described facial deformities, when she is allowed to share her story, readers can understand that Linda was another tragic victim of abuse formed from a toxic culture. In her story, we learn that Linda's interactions with her brother resulted in her being degraded as a human as Linden's disgusting character is implemented in a different context as he says, "I have an aversion to ugly people. I don't want a piece of you inside me. I'd rather get on a list. Frankly, you're kind of a disgusting woman" (125). Ironically, despite being a morally disgusting human being himself, Linden still dares to take advantage of Linda's congenital deformity and use it to insult her. By morally degrading her, Linden's words have hurt and dehumanized her and paralyzed her in humiliation. Despite the fact that Linda may not have been a victim of sexual violence, the culture that she is surrounded by leaves little to no consequence for Linden's actions. Her story should not be silenced. When her story of being a survivor of verbal abuse and manipulation is given the spotlight, she retells her trauma and the effect that patriarchal and ignorant people around her have created. By giving power and spotlight to her voice, Edirch crafts Linda's story to help bring another perspective into the story, which not only helps Joe on his journey of becoming an adult but also helps readers understand the drastic and consequential effects that a society that ignores its violence against women has on their mental health and well being. With many influential people that are a part of Joe's life ignoring the despicable behavior against women, it eventually becomes evident that Joe starts to adopt their values.
Nevertheless people who either continue to support or ignore a toxic culture's problems believe they are impartial and pure. Their actions continue a ripple effect that impacts the younger generation to continue learning and emulating behavior, resulting in a worsened toxic culture. As Joe's awareness about the harsh reality of gendered violence victims increases, Erdrich broadens her stance on the injustice against women with Sonja's character's expansion. Sonja is Whitey's Girlfriend, but she is also a victim of domestic abuse. At one point, Joe becomes a witness to his uncle's abuse and defends Sonja. At the time, Joe never perceives his uncle as an abuser. His shock at revealing this fact, however, does not stop him from defending Sonja. Despite initially appearing to have a clear stance against abuse, Joe later blatantly blackmailed Sonja and coerced her into doing a striptease for him to watch. After Joe's despicable actions, Sonja finally breaks her silence and recounts her story, her trauma, and experience, overwhelming Joe with feelings of guilt: "You're crying, aren't you? Cry all you want, Joe. Lots of men cry after they do something nasty to a woman… I thought of you like my son. But you just turned into another piece a shit guy. Another gimme-gimme asshole, Joe. That's all you are" (222-223). Ultimately Sonja's story ends as a positive experience in Joe's life despite it altering their relationship for the worse. Sonja's character's significance is to show how strong victims of sexual violence are and how much courage they need to share her story. Her story brought Joe's attention to her pain and struggle and ended up being the one Joe needed to hear to understand how the behavior he learned was unacceptable. Despite starting the novel as someone who defended others against sexual violence by ignoring his prejudices, he crosses over to a type of behavior that will lead to him down a path no different than Whitey and Linden. Although abusers are the devils of this world, those that refuse to educate themselves or understand the problem continue to empower them to pursue their crimes. Erdrich strongly drives home the theme of a sexist culture is damaging the mental health and well-being of native and non-native women, yet it is through the creation of Sonja's story that readers understand Edirch's real message. Louise Erdrich understands that many boys grow up influenced to do the same damage to others as they grew up in an environment that allowed for those actions to be unpunished. However, by learning about the harsh realities that women face and listening to their stories, individuals can break their behavior to educate themselves and create change in their communities to stop the ripple of sexist toxicity. More than that, Erdrich wants readers to begin a new ripple built on values of equality and acceptance so that all women can truly feel safe.
Geraldine, Linda, and Sonja are all examples of women created by Louise Erdrich to demonstrate the actual harm that a sexist and toxic culture has on women's mental health and well-being. From Geraldine's story, Erdrich demonstrates how harmful the legal system is against native women. By listening to Linda's story, readers understand the importance of empowering victims to share their stories and to listen. With the creation of Sonja's story, Erdrich drives home the message that although it may be difficult to heal from gendered violence, the harsh reality of sexual violence must be taught to everyone to prevent injustice and cruelty for future victims. Many believe that there are many things they should be silent about and believe life to be much more comfortable by denying the pain that others experience instead of taking action. However, individuals who continue to ignore the injustice fail to recognize the number of hardships of violence and trauma victims must endure due to the lack of change. They fail to see that so many victims of sexual violence continue to suffer in silence because of fear. Although the novel depicts many painful and violent stories, readers must remember all of these ideas stem from issues in the real world. When women speak, we should listen regardless of their ethnicity; everyone deserves the right to be treated as a human being and understand that their voice can change the culture they are surrounded by and help other victims speak out, and inevitably, the change will happen.