Craig White's Literature Courses

Critical Sources




notes for


The Round House


2012 novel by Louise Erdrich

Louise Erdrich (b. 1954), a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, is the author of fourteen novels, poetry, children's literature, and essays.


Erdrich's first novel, Love Medicine (1984, 1993, 2009), won the 1984 National Book Critics Circle Award and began a series of novels featuring characters related through its setting, a North Dakota Indian reservation.


Her 2009 novel, A Plague of Doves, was nominated for that year's Pulitzer Prize in Fiction. The Round House, a part-sequel to Plague of Doves, won the National Book Award for Fiction in 2012. 


Erdrich and her sister own Birchbark Books, an independent bookstore in Minneapolis that also serves as a community center for the city's Indian community.



Characters in The Round House (roughly in order of appearance or mention; central characters' names in large font; continuing characters in bold)


Mooshun: "grandfather" in Chippewa language: Mide priest; maternal grandfather to narrator Joe; father to Geraldine, Clemence, & Whitey; son of Joseph & Lulu (who appear in earlier Erdrich novels); married & widowed to Junesse. Mooshun's "sleeptalking" about Akiikwe ("Earth Woman") and her son provides a legendary background for Joe to understand his mission of protecting his mother by killing the wiindigoo or evil spirit threatening her


"Joe": Antone Bazil Coutts the 2nd; 13-year-old narrator / protagonist of The Round House; self-renamed after great-grandfather Joseph.


Judge Antone Bazil Coutts, "Dad": Joe's father, tribal judge on reservation. (Judge Coutts is a leading character in Erdrich's previous novel, A Plague of Doves, 2009).


Geraldine Coutts, "Mom": Joe's mother, Bazil's wife, Mooshun's daughter; victim of rape at Round House, the action that starts the novel's plot.


Clemence Milk: Geraldine's sister; Joe's aunt; married to Edward Milk.


Vince Madwesin: tribal policeman; stepfather to Joe's friend Zack Peace


Dr. Egge: white medical doctor who treats Geraldine after her assault. His description conforms to minority literature's frequent representation of dominant-culture characters as grotesque, cold, and inhuman.


Whitey, "Uncle Whitey": Joe's maternal uncle, married to Sonja; owns and manages Mighty Al's, a reservation convenience store / grocery,


Sonja, wife to Whitey; former stripper, co-manageer of reservation convenience store / grocery; Joe's aunt by marriage and forbidden love-interest



Joe's friends:


"Cappy": Virgil Lafournais: Joe's best friend; boyfriend to Zelia from Montana; Cappy's family:


     Doe Lafournais, Cappy's father, announcer at Powwow, owner of rifles


     Randall Lafournais,Cappy's older brother, powwow dancer and student-priest in Mediwiwin Medicine Society


     Suzette & Josey, Cappy's aunts; unmarried sisters, powwow dancers


Zack Peace, stepson to tribal policeman Vince Madwesin; related to Corwin and Carleen Thunder; grandson to Ignatia Thunder, who feeds Joe and friends in her apartment while she and her friend Mrs. Bijiu discuss past and potential sex partners.


Angus Kershaw a.k.a. "Starboy": lives with Aunt Star and her partner Elwin



Pearl, dog brought to Coutts's home to protect Geraldine during her recovery.



Chilboy Snow


Gabir Olson, a judge or legal expert in Bismarck, the North Dakota capital, with whom Joe's father, Judge Coutts, consults


Opichi Wold


Ghost at edge of Coutts's yard (pp. 79-80)



The Lark & Wishkob families


George and Grace Lark, white owners of Vinland Supermart, which closes after Indians boycott it in favor of Mighty Al's; parents of fraternal twins, son Linden and daughter Linda.


Linden Lark, first-born twin; resentful of loss of Vinland Supermart; possibly possessed by a Wiindigoo; jealous of twin sister Linda's happy adoptive Indian family life;


Linda Lark Wishkob, second-born twin, abandoned by Lark family on account of birth defects, adopted by Indian nurse Betty Wishkob; family nickname: "Tuffy"; works at reservation post office; pressured by her biological mother, Linda donates a kidney to her brother Linden.


In chapter 6, Linda describes her twin Linden as her doppelganger, a ghostly double or spiritual presence who alternately sympathizes with or bedevils her. Recall twins in American Indian Origin Stories.



Horace Whiteboy


LaRose, Geraldine's school friend


Father Travis Wozniak: Catholic priest, former U.S. Marine injured in 1983 U.S. Embassy bombing during Lebanese Civil War


Mrs. Bineshi, keeper of many reservation dogs


Soren Bjerke, FBI agent, friend of Judge Coutts


Cedric and Cheryl


Bugger Poirier, homeless drunk who steals Joe's bicycle and later tells him a dream that helps solve a mystery.


Curtis W. Yeltow: (fictional) governor of South Dakota; fathers a child with Mayla Wolfskin and later tries to adopt the child.


  Mayla Wolfskin, daughter of George & Aurora Wolfskin (grand-daughter of Crow Creek?); Mayla is at the Round House with her infant daughter when Geraldine is raped there; Mayla disappears and is presumed murdered by the rapist.


Akiikwe ("Earth Woman"), a.k.a. Akii: a legendary woman possessed by a Windigoo or Wendigo as told in Mooshin's "sleeptalking" stories to Joe; Akiikwe's husband is Mirage.


Neal, young white epileptic man associated with "Youth Encounter Christ—YEC." As with Dr. Egge, Neal's description conforms to minority literature's frequent representation of dominant-culture characters as grotesque, weird, or pathetic.


Zelia a.k.a. Dream Girl, Mexican-American girl from Montana associated with Youth Encounter Christ. Her relationship with Cappy angers Father Travis and leads her parents to forbid further contact.


Ruby Smoke


Liver Eating Johnson


Snow Goodchild (waitress at Might Al's?)



Places / settings in The Round House


Time: 1988. The Round House takes place at an unnamed Chippewa reservation in North Dakota.


the round house: a community structure built for traditional Indian spiritual ceremonies. (Potential symbol: Earth itself = the round house? Akikwe / Akii is "Earth Woman.")


Vinland Supermart, owned by George and Grace Lark, a white family, before going out of business due to Indian-owned competition. (Potential symbol: Vinland = name for North American coastal area given by Norse Viking explorers and part-settlers beginning in 1000AD, five centuries before Columbus.)


Whitey's Place: convenience store / grocery owned and managed by Joe's Uncle Whitey & Aunt Sonja; Joe works there for part of the summer


Hoopdance, nearby town


Dead Custer Bar (named for Custer's Last Stand at the Battle of Little Big Horn during the Indian Wars.


Mighty Al's, a small restaurant.


Vert's Supper Club: restaurant where Grace Lark meets Linda Lark Wishkob to ask her to donate a kidney for her twin Linden.


Puffy's Place: Indian-owned, Indian-employed grocery store

Ojibwe / Chippewa peoples originally around Great Lakes
but migrated west to Plains in 1700s, 1800s, where they fought with Sioux
over land and resources. The Chippewa reservation in Round House is in
contemporary North Dakota, where the left arrow above points.



definitions / terms in The Round House


Algonquian: A major language group of North American Indians including the Anishinabe / Chippewa / Ojibwe represented in The Round House.


Sweat lodge: a hut prepared for ceremonies of purification and healing. Water is poured over hot stones to create steam; the resulting sweat purifies the participants. Originally sweat lodges were a feature of Plains Indian culture (e.g., the Sioux peoples), but as with powwows, sweat lodges have become popular pan-Indian ceremonies and have also been appropriated (sometimes improperly) by New Age religious practitioners.


Mide, Midewiwin: Grand Medicine Society of some North American Indian nations.


Metis, mixed-race culture descended from Native Americans (mostly women) and Europeans (mostly French and Scots-Candadian fur traders). (See Louis Riel below.)


Michif: language (+ culture?) of Metis people combining Cree and Metis French (variety of Canadian French) + borrowings from Ojibwe and other Indian languages.


Cree: a major First Nation of North America; Algonquian language group; active in North American fur trade; now concentrated in Montana.


Louis Riel (1844-1885) (mentioned in ch. 5): Canadian politician, leader of Metis people in rebellion against Canadian government. (The Metis people developed their own distinct Indian culture as mixed-race descendants of Native Americans and European settlers.)


Wiindigoo, Wendigo, Windigo: a mythical cannibal monster or evil spirit in Algonquian folklore.


Shananobinesi: Southern Thunderbird, south wind


doodem: Anishinabe word for "clan." The word was adapted into English as "totem" for the symbol or guardian animal of a clan. In The Round House, Joe's mother is from the Turtle Clan, his father from the Crane Clan. Since Anishinabe clans are patrilineal, Joe's protector animal is a crane or another water bird, in one case a heron.


doodemag: luck?


Haskell: Haskell Institute, now Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kansas; founded 1884 as an industrial training school for American Indians, which in the 20th century transitioned to become a high school, then a junior college, now a university.


Frybread: a semi-traditional pan-Indian food originally developed from flour provided by U.S. government to support Indian peoples. (Wheat is not native to the New World / Americas.)


Swamp tea: Native American tea made from leaves of Labrador plant growing in swampy areas. See T Ching on Swamp Tea.


Kinnikinnick: herbal smoking mixture


BIA or Bureau of Indian Affairs, U.S. federal government agency, established 1824.



Bench notes (ch. 6): "A laboratory analyst's recorded notes" (Termwiki) but "bench" can also refer to a judgeship and thus to Judge Coutts's notes on a case.


doppelganger (ch.6): see note above under Characters: Linda Lark Wishkob


gundog (ch. 8): a hunting dog



LitCharts: Round House study guide