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The theme of duality and dichotomy is present near constantly in Richard Wagamese’s novel Indian Horse. While there are multiple possible identities of the two worlds, the most prominent would be the difference between Indigenous and European culture. This divide is present in the protagonist’s (Saul Indian Horse) personal development, and is the root cause of the main plot conflicts.
To begin, the disagreement between the two worlds is one of the main causes of conflict in the novel. More specifically, the conflict between these two worlds is an effort from one world to eradicate and remove another, and the effects of this shape the plot of the story. A testament to this would be the residential schools that the Ojibway children are forced to attend. Sister Ignacia (a nun from the residential school) explicitly explains that the Indigenous culture was to be eliminated. “At St. Jerome’s we work to remove the Indian from our children so that the blessings of the Lord may be evidenced upon them.”
This conflict is further emphasized with the way that Saul and several side characters (also Native) are attacked for their race later on in the story. After Saul’s hockey team (the Moose) is assaulted behind a bar and urinated on, he talks with a team member (Virgil Kelly) about why they were attacked. Virgil explains that the team ‘crossed a line’ by being in the same restaurant as white people saying that ‘The white people figure they got the right to make the Moose pay for it.”
Virgil’s explanation of racism and xenophobia is a key moment in the story, highlighting the injustice faced by Indigenous people. The heavy influence of disparity between Two Worlds drives the story, always present in
Saul Indian Horse, the protagonist, is impacted by the relationship between these two worlds. He changes often throughout the story, changes brought on by the aforementioned conflict. His family and friends are often in emotional turmoil due to this cultural gap. This is established when his grandmother and parents argue over religious differences, and his parents adamant views on the gap between cultures.
“‘He would have said that all gods are one.’
‘She won’t hear that.’
This conflict in such a personal area, and the similar conflicts between european and indigenous culture causes Saul to become withdrawn with others, fearing further hostility. When said hostilities are rooted in identity prejudice, Saul, who possesses aspects of both cultures, experiences responses from alienation to animosity from those 2 worlds.
“At St. Germs the kids called me Zhaunagush because I could speak and read English.”
“Then Saul and the Moose ran into the black heart of northern Ontario in the 1960s and we were hated. Hated.”
There is hatred between these two cultures, and there is little to no middle ground. As stated previously, this leads him to feel very lost and emotionally disconnected, a huge change in character. Saul dissociates from his self-identity as to ‘rid himself’ of the 2 worlds present in him, hoping it would prevent conflict.
“That would never stop, never change, so long as that school stood in its place at the top of that ridge, so long as they continued to pull Indian kids from the bush and from the arms of their people. So I retreated. That’s how I survived. Alone. When the tears threatened to erupt from me at night I vowed they would never hear me cry. I ached in solitude. What I let them see was a quiet, withdrawn boy, void of feeling.”
Saul was sent to some of the worst times of his in the residential school. The residential school, however, would not cause all the mental changes to Saul’s character. As he interacts more with the world, and he connects more with other Ojibway and experiences more harassment from white people. Another crucial moment of character development – Saul becoming angry and losing his (spiritual) sight, is due to the accumulation of all the racism and violence has faced due to the antagonism between the two worlds. As explained previously, some of this antagonism comes from the residential school and from other teams, but some of this comes from the bush camp where he worked at his first job. He describes this, saying “When I came out, I brought the intensity of the bush camp with me”, and becomes prone to anger. After facing so much aggression and violence, Saul becomes jaded and vengeful, throwing back that same agression and violence. There is “no joy in the game now, no vision” for Saul. He eventually ends up losing contact with many of his loved ones, becoming reclusive again.
After so much change in the protagonist in the world he was born in, caused by the world he was pushed into; Saul ends up feeling empty and damaged. His character is one that faces an enormous amount of pain and change. At the worst part of his life, he was stricken to the point of lashing out indiscriminately at everyone else for what people had done to him. However, Wagamese’s purpose in writing Indian Horse was not to write a book about rage and rage alone. The distance between two worlds, and the hatred it caused the protagonist is not present solely to tell a story about how tragic it is.
The actions against Saul and the other Ojibway characters could be unjust, but the reactions previously analyzed (bottling up emotions, hurting everyone else) were demonstrated by the author to be a poor response to the adversity they faced from the ‘other world’. The final development in Saul is how he learns to heal from what the world has done to him. He and his people were “not responsible for what happened to them”.
After all the hatred from the European culture, it is easy to see how the Ojibway characters and Saul wanted retribution. In fact, Virgil asks Saul if he wants him to hurt the people who hurt him.
“‘Did you want me to hunt the fucker down? Make him feel some of the same pain?”
To this question, Saul refuses the offer. It is likely that Saul understands what anger can bring, as he had acted on anger before and ended up pushing everyone away and hurting people he didn’t want to.
“Then, the more we got into it at the centre the more I realised it was more than just him. I’d be hunting a long time if I lashed out at everyone. In the end, I learned the only one who I could take of was me.”
Saul knows that the issue of one world oppressing the other is bigger than just him and his loved ones. He also knows that revenge often ends up triggering more revenge, creating an endless cycle. After all that has happened, he knows that his own anger has to be dealt with first.
The key word in the term two worlds is ‘worlds’. Saul’s breakdown happens because he tries to act all on his own, in his rage. He is too troubled to attempt this, and so are many others. The great conclusion is about how the protagonist recovers from pain, from hatred. Saul states this himself, saying that there are “better ways than running, abandoning people, fighting, drinking,” to deal with what the white people did to him and his loved ones. He finds his way to heal, he finds it in going home, and rejoining his friends.
In the end, the divide between the two worlds seems to trump the importance of those two worlds themselves. Wagamese has crafted a story with pain, about healing. The dissonance between the two worlds causes one world so much suffering, constantly destabilizing the protagonist, causing him to get angry. But the resolution of this issue would not be following through with vengeance, it would be recovery. Saul accomplishes this by returning home, and by telling his story. This is the true purpose of the book when it details the effects of 2 worlds and cultural divide. It is evidenced right from the beginning of the book: “If we want to live at peace with ourselves, we need to tell our stories.”
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