From Revenge to Restorative Justice in Louise Erdrich’s The Plague of Doves, The Round House, and LaRose
In Louise Erdrich’s “Rape on the Reservation,” a February 26, 2013, op-ed piece for The New York Times, she brings readers’ attention to the complex history of the Violence Against Women Act and the struggle to persuade Congress to reauthorize the act with provisions that allowed for an expansion of Tribal authority in the prosecution of non-Native offenders. The article evidences her interest in bearing witness to this issue, which has plagued tribal communities for generations. How can a community find redress, and its attendant peace, without any means of official justice? On the reservation, then, the search for justice and accountability often looks like violent retribution or revenge. Violence against Native American women, with perpetrators acting with impunity, is the central theme in her National Book Award-winning novel, The Round House (2012). In fact, the theme of justice has been central to a trio of Erdrich’s most recent novels, which I refer to as the “Justice” trilogy: The Plague of Doves (2008), The Round House (2012), and LaRose (2016). Each novel takes up the situational complexities of vigilante justice and the enduring, even generational, consequences of such actions on Native American individuals, families, and communities. None of Erdrich’s novels is as focused on the theme of revenge as the “Justice” trilogy. The three works revolve around different moments of violence introduced in the opening chapters: The Plague of Doves investigates the murder of a local farmer and his family and the subsequent killing of three innocent Ojibwe men and one child from a neighboring reservation by a white lynch mob from the farming community; The Round House narrates the violent rape and attempted murder of an Ojibwe woman; and LaRose begins with the accidental shooting of an Ojibwe boy by his Ojibwe neighbor. Each novel then asks the reader to consider one central question: What are a person’s or a family’s or a community’s options for avenging an act of violence when no legal framework exists to mete out justice or accountability? This chapter explores Erdrich’s answer to that question through an analysis of the three novels.