The Shawl By Louise Erdrich

  1. “Suddenly, he was my father again. And when I knelt down next to him, I was his son. I reached for the closest rag, and picked up this piece of blanket that my father always kept with him for some reason. And as I picked it up and wiped the blood off his face, I said to him, Your nose is crooked again. He looked at me, steady and quizzical, as though he had never had a drink in his life, and I wiped his face again with that frayed piece of blanket. Well, it was a shawl, really, a kind of old-fashioned woman’s blanket-shawl. Once, maybe, it had been plaid. You could still see lines, some red, the background a faded brown. He watched intently as my hand brought the rag to his face. I was pretty sure, then, that I’d clocked him too hard, that he’d really lost it now. Gently, though, he clasped one hand around my wrist. With the other hand he took the shawl. He crumpled it and held it to the middle of his forehead. It was as if he were praying, as if he were having thoughts he wanted to collect in that piece of cloth. For a while he lay like that, and I, crouched over, let him be, hardly breathing. Something told me to sit there, still. And then at last he said to me, in the sober new voice I would hear from then on, Did you know I had a sister once?”
  2. If you were like me, once you got to this passage you realize that the author didn’t start a new story in the middle of the passage. In this part of the story you see that the son that was left behind grew up and had children of his own. After his wife died he became a drunk that beat his children. His son decided he was big enough to fight his father. After the father suddenly became sober. When he told his son that he once had a sister is where you see that he was the son that was left behind. I feel as though  the author experiencing his mother leaving and being told his sister was eaten by wolfs along with his wife dying cause him to have PTSD. Which led to him drinking and beating his children.
  3.  I think the story is trying to show the importance of letting go. If the father had let his hatred of his wife leaving him for another man go, he wouldn’t have told his son that his mother thrown his sister to be eaten by wolves. If his son wasn’t told that story, he may not have kept that piece of blanket with his all those years along with the painful memory’s. If he had let go of the pain he held all those years, when his wife died it would be less likely of his becoming a drunk that beat his children.

2 thoughts on “The Shawl By Louise Erdrich

  1. Duane

    This was definitely, to me, the most symbolic/powerful passage from the story. I didn’t know that the father that was beating on his child was the son that had lost his sister until that part of the passage. Which, while we were reading it, I believed was the hidden depression, that you mentioned, from losing his sister since he was young. I also feel like that the death of his wife triggered that masked depression which he couldn’t mentally take so had to express in a different way which was the abusiveness seen in the reading. Which I also believe he wanted to make his kids feel his pain but couldn’t handle it until force to which is why when his son beat the sense into him only then he was forced to face it a different way. This passage shows how the same tragic incident can affect someones mental state and how they cope with it, as Brittny said. Also, how that person copes with it can affect someone close to them mentally and/or emotionally.

  2. Mahnoor Sheikh

    I do agree with your conclusion that the author wants the audience to take away that we need to grow and let go of painful aspects of our lives rather than hold onto them forever. This conclusion is also supported when the boy advises his father, “keeping his sister’s shawl was wrong, because we never keep the clothing of the dead. Now’s the time to burn it, I said. Send it off to cloak her spirit.” Something else that is worth mentioning is the son’s restraint, his father had abused him and his siblings for years but rather than fall down the same path as his father and deal with his pent emotions through violence the son chooses to forgive his father. Which is arguable more difficult than resorting to violence. This shows an admirable aspect of the son ending the cyclical hate which tore the family apart.


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