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Facharbeit: "The Bingo Palace", Louise Erdrich

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Gymnasium a. d. Karthause


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Term Papers

Louise Erdrich:

The Bingo Palace
Aspects of Native American experience as portrayed in Louise Erdrich’s ethnic novel „The Bingo Palace
Verfasser/in: Kerstin Hallbauer
Fachlehrer/in: Frau Luszczynski
Schuljahr: 2004/05
Abgabetermin: 07.06.2005

Contents
1. : Introduction --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 3
2. : A short summary -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 4
3. : The game of chance – “The Bingo Palace” ---------------------------------------------- 5
4. : Job situation on a reservation --------------------------------------------------------------- 6
5. : The situation of women in the tribe --------------------------------------------------------- 6
6. : Marriage on a reservation -------------------------------------------------------------------- 7
6.1 : Shawnee Ray Toose and Lyman Lamartine ----------------------------------- 7
6.2 : Zelda Kashpaw and Xavier Toose ------------------------------------------------ 7
7. : Religion and spirituality ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 8
7.1 : Powwow --------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 8
7.2 : Visions and dreams ------------------------------------------------------------------- 8
7.3 : Supernaturalism ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 9
8. : Identity ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 9
9. : Annotations --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 10

1. Introduction
If you think of the USA one of the first things that comes to your mind is Las Vegas, Reno or other cities where casinos attract the tourists. In these days casinos are an important part in the life of many people. Some people are addicted, some just like playing but the most have already played a game of chance or will play it some day. But few know that casinos are illegal in the USA and that the game of chance is only allowed to be played on reservations and that is why all these “casino cities” are built on reservations.
But the thing I am really interested in is what life is like on a reservation. There must be something beyond the moneymaking.
“The Bingo Palace” by Louise Erdrich is an ethnic novel, which describes life on a Chippewa reservation and especially links to the game of chance, as the title already announces. The Bingo Palace reveals many aspects of reservation life and I want to go into some of them further.
One of these aspects is the game of chance, the “Bingo Palace”. After this I want to deal with the job situation. With us it is a big problem and so it is elsewhere. So it will be interesting to see how it is on the reservation.
Then I want to go into detail about the situation of women in a tribe. The position of women in society has been an issue in Europe, too, until a few years ago. It is interesting to see how this point is handled on a reservation.
The next thing that interests me is marriage on a reservation. Marriage as it is shown between Zelda Kashpaw and Xavier Toose and also between Shawnee Ray Toose and Lyman Lamartine. What the woman has to do about it and what traditions the Chippewa’s have.
Religion and spirituality is another issue concerned in the novel I want to deal with. There have always been interesting stories about spirituality and the religion of Native Americans. But how is it shown by the novel?
And then I want to portray Lipsha searching for identity.
I do not write a biography of the author, Louise Erdrich, because the only thing that seems important to me concerning this work is that she herself is part Chippewa.

2. Summary
The novel “The Bingo Palace” takes place on a Chippewa reservation in North Dakota in the present time. It was written in 1994 by Louise Erdrich.
The book is the end of a series of four and it combines many issues concerned in the other novels.
Lipsha Morrisey, a young Chippewa comes back to the reservation and falls in love with a woman, Shawnee Ray Toose, who is said to get married to another man, his uncle Lyman Lamartine. While both men fight for her, the only thing she wants to do is to study.
Beside the aspect of love, game of chance is very important. Lyman Lamartine, an owner of a game room, wants to build a bingo palace on the traditional land of Fleur Pillager, Lipsha’s great-grandmother.
3. Game of chance – “The Bingo Palace
As the title already says the main issue regarding the novel is the game of chance especially bingo.
Gambling is an often discussed matter all over the world and illegal in the United States of America. But Indian reservations are separate and under U.S. law independent nations and that is why they are untouchable from regulations under the law. This also includes playing for money.
In 1988 the United States congress passed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act which means that the Indian tribes are allowed to establish gambling on their reservation as long as the state in which they are located has some form of legalized game of chance.1
So gambling is a very secure income for Native Americans and one can understand that they make use of it. You just have to look at Las Vegas or Reno and you see that you can make much capital in this trade.
No question that Lyman Lamartine, the owner of a gambling room on the Chippewa reservation is “an island of have in a sea of have-nots” 2.
His gambling room is a connection for the Chippewa Indians.
For example Lulu Lamartine, Lipsha’s grandmother, plays bingo in Lyman’s bar on a regular basis3, while Zelda Kashpaw, Lipsha’s aunt, only comes there if she gets annoyed in life just to sit and disapprove of her surroundings4. It is the place to meet, talk, play and drink.
But this includes only the tribe and does not go much beyond the border. So Lyman wants to open a bingo palace on traditional land which belongs to Fleur Pillager and is linked to the past. He wants to lure tourists and Americans and earn more money for himself and the tribe that way5.
That leads to the conflict of trying to secure traditions but to survive financially. On the one hand the reservation needs the money but on the other hand tradition is very important for the Chippewa.
“Land is the only thing that lasts to life. Money burns like tinder, flows off like water, and as the government’s promises, the wind is steadier.” Fleur Pillager6
For Lyman money makes pleasant but Lipsha thinks “money’s dead stuff”7. Another reason for him not to want the bingo hall being built is that he is related to Fleur Pillager who owns the land.
Since Fleur Pillager leaves her place at the end of the novel the Bingo Palace is opened on her former land8.
The game of chance is not the prettiest or the nicest way to make money, but it is the easiest and the one available right now9.
4. Job situation on a reservation
The job situation on a reservation is very bad. Most Indians want to go and work outside the reservation. Lipsha for example worked on a sugar plantation when he lived outside, then he returns and does not find a job until Lyman offers him the opportunity to work in his game hall10.
Shawnee leaves reservation to study design11 and Albertine goes to a medical school13.
To study is one of the only possibilities to get a good job, maybe even outside the reservation, if you do not have supernatural power to heal people and with it become a medicine man or to get into religion as Xavier Toose.
Lyman Lamartine for sure has had much luck to get into gambling business, for it is the best possibility to earn money at the moment.
5. The situation of women in the tribe
Until now the situation of women in society has really improved in the western world.
In most countries they are allowed to vote, more respected in higher jobs and working anyway.
In “The Bingo Palace” there are some aspects of the women’s life concerned. On the one hand there is June, Lipsha’s real mother. She was raped by her mother’s boyfriend. Lipsha was the consequence12.
Here you can see that young women could easily be suppressed and abused.
But women also have the same opportunity to go to school or university as man.
Albertine goes on a medical school13 and Shawnee, too, wants to study, although she has a child. But she is supported by Zelda and since she can combine both she leaves reservation14. Both want to have success like whites.
That is also why women are allowed to have a job.
But there is a very powerful woman portrayed in the novel, too – Fleur Pillager.
Due to her supernatural power she is one the most powerful persons on reservation. She can influence everybody and everything and the others are afraid of her and treat her with respect. There are not only men in religious positions as Xavier Toose. Power counts, not gender.
Lulu Lamartine is also portrayed as a woman with great influence. When she “pronounced herself awake” she “took on day’s business of running the tribe”15 what sounds as if she is the leader. Lulu attempts to reclaim tribal lands16.
And then there is Zelda who cares for nearly everybody. She has taken Shawnee, when her parents went away and she had secured Lipsha when his mother wanted to drown him17. She has a job, but most time she takes care of Shawnee’s child.
All these women do or try to do what they want. They want to achieve something and give the best they can and the possibility is given to them.

6. Marriage on a reservation
In “The Bingo Palace” especially two marriages, or rather the situation before the marriage, are portrayed closer – on the one hand the one of Shawnee Ray Toose and Lyman Lamartine and on the other hand the one of Zelda Kashpaw and Xavier Toose.
6.1 Shawnee Ray Toose and Lyman Lamartine
The relationship of Shawnee Ray Toose has started when Shawnee got pregnant. Lyman believes that the baby is of him while Shawnee is not sure about this18. Since everybody thinks the child is of Lyman, he and Shawnee are “semi-engaged”19, but in the end she tells Lyman, that she does not want to marry him20.
And then there is Lipsha who loves Shawnee and also wants to marry her but in the end she decides for her career, goes to study and leaves the men alone although she actually loves Lipsha, too.
One can see that the women are not totally dependent from the men. You might think that women were engaged by their father, or would take someone only for his money. But as you can see - on the reservation this is not use.
Shawnee puts career higher than love. She tries to figure out what is more important for her.
6.2 Zelda Kashpaw and Xavier Toose
Zelda explains Lipsha about her relationship with Xavier Toose, when she goes to Lyman’s Bingo place21, due to one of her life crisis.
Both had been deeply in love but she rejected him, because she wanted to marry a white man who would take her away from the reservation22.
He asked her three times to marry him, but since she wanted a white man she always refused. The fourth time a man asks is the last time, as it was in the old days. The woman can accept or refuse forever23. The last season he asks is winter and Zelda Kashpaw refuses. The desperate Xavier gets drunk in front of Zeldas house and looses his fingers when his hand freezes.
They do not get married, but in the end Zelda realizes that it was her fault and goes back to him.24
These examples show that it is often by the woman to decide whether to get married or not. You can also see how the women tried to manage to get out of the reservation – by finding white men. For them it can rather be a marriage of purpose.
This also shows that women have a nearly equal standing in the tribe as the man.

7. Religion and spirituality
Religion and spirituality is a very important part in the life of most Native Americans. Lipsha for example turns more to religion when he recognizes that it is very important for Shawnee
The Chippewa Indians are Christians.
There are three ways of expressing spirituality and religion concerned in the novel.

7.1 Powwows
When Lipsha comes back to the reservation the winter powwow is in process. But what exactly is a powwow?
'The whole point of the Pow Wow and Mass is to keep Native American spirituality alive within the church.' -- Father Tom Schweitzer, chaplain for the Native American ministry25.
The powwow is not only to express spirituality but also to keep community alive. You go there to talk, meet friends and to make new friends. You can dance and sing, or simply listen and watch.
Shawnee Ray and Lyman Lamartine often dance on powwows for money.

7.2 Visions and dreams
"It was the belief of the Chippewa that by possessing some representation of a dream subject one could at any time secure its protection, guidance, and assistance. There seems to be inherent in the mind of the Indian a belief that the essence of an individual or of a 'spirit' dwells in its picture or other representation" (Densmore 1979:79)26.
As you can see by the method of Xavier Toose meditation and isolation are important to obtain a dream. First Lyman and Lipsha pray in the sweat lodge and later they go to separate places, where they can be alone.27
The enduring properties make stone a favoured object to keep dreams.
"A picture can be destroyed, but stone endures, so it is good that a man have the subject of his dream carved in a stone pipe that can be buried with him. Many of his possessions are left to his friends, but the sign of the dream should not be taken from him"(older man).28
Pipes and sweat lodges are used to obtain dreams and visions. Pipes as Marie Kashpaw gives it to Lipsha who knows the way to use it, of his father.
Also drugs are sometimes used to get a vision. Peyote, a hallucinogenic cactus, for example is used sacramentally by many tribes for centuries. But these methods can lead to conflicts with the US court, because they are illegal29.
Visions are important for boys to become a man.30

7.3 Supernaturalism
Who would not like to have supernatural power? Fleur Pillager has it and everybody is afraid of her. When she comes into town everybody ignores her, because they think she could do something with them. Strange things always happen where she is appears. She is called a four-souled woman who affects other people’s life.31
But also Lipsha, who is somehow related to her is said to have supernatural power. As a baby his mother wanted to drown him but he survived although he was under water about twenty minutes long. Zelda Kashpaw who secured him could not explain this to herself.32 It is also said that he was able to heal people before he left the reservation, but has lost these powers outside the reservation.33
Native Americans believe that some people have supernatural powers with which they can heal and do good things, but also to commit revenge or punish.
Dancing and singing is the Indian way to influence the earth and the sky. There is for example the Sun Dance. But they also use it to fulfil dreams and visions.
8. Identity
“The Bingo Palace” includes Lipsha searching for identity. It starts directly when he comes back, after Lulu Lamartine has sent him a picture of his wanted father, Gerry Nanapush, her son. It is like a summons for him to return home and find his roots.34
Back on the reservation he has to deal with the difficulties of life and through the rivalry with Lyman he comes to understand the complexity of love, identity, success, and failure.
Lipsha finds his new sense in life, in loving Shawnee who is semi-engaged to his uncle Lyman. But when she rejects him for studying, his whole life has broken down.
He gets involved with his father, helps him to escape from the police and in the end dies through this.35
It is not easy for Lipsha to find his roots. His mother wanted to drown him after she was raped by her mother’s boyfriend. He himself has had supernatural powers before he left his reservation and he feels attracted by Fleur Pillager, his great-grandmother 36, who is also known for her power.
In the end he decides for his family, his criminal father even though he knows that he will get in trouble. I would say he found his identity.
9. Annotations
(1) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indian_reservation#Gambling
(2)  Erdrich, Louise; The Bingo Palace, (London 1994). p. 16
(3) The Bingo Palace p. 61
(4) The Bingo Palace p. 43
(5) The Bingo Palace p. 103
(6) The Bingo Palace p. 148
(7) The Bingo Palace p. 101
(8) The Bingo Palace pp. 273f
(9) The Bingo Palace p. 103
(10) The Bingo Palace pp. 29/39
(11) The Bingo Palace p. 268
(12) The Bingo Palace p. 59f
(13) The Bingo Palace p. 208
(14) The Bingo Palace pp. 208, 211, 267ff
(15) The Bingo Palace p. 1
(16) http://www.bookrags.com/shortguide-bingo_palace/
(17) The Bingo Palace pp. 49ff
(18) The Bingo Palace pp. 188f
(19) http://www.hapercollins.com/global_scripts/product_catalog/book_xml
.asp?isbn=006092585X&tc=rg
(20) The Bingo Palace p. 188
(21) The Bingo Palace p.
(22) The Bingo Palace p. 46
(23) The Bingo Palace p. 47
(24) The Bingo Palace pp. 241-147
(25) http://www.the-tidings.com/2003/0627/powwow.htm
(26) http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Acropolis/5579/ojibwa.html
(27) The Bingo Palace pp. 191-202
(28) http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Acropolis/5579/ojibwa.html
(29) The Lutheran; Church groups urge Court to rehear Ritual Drug Case, (Augsburg Fortress 1990)
(30) St Clair Robson, Lucia; Ride the wind (New York 1982) pp. 143/144
(31) The Bingo Palace p. 140
(32) The Bingo Palace pp. 49-51
(33) The Bingo Palace p. 7
(34) The Bingo Palace p. 3
(35) The Bingo Palace pp. 229-240, 249-259
(36) The Bingo Palace p. 128
Inhalt
Aspects of Native American experience as portrayed in Louise Erdrich’s ethnic novel „The Bingo Palace“

1. : Introduction
2. : A short summary
3. : The game of chance – “The Bingo Palace"
4. : Job situation on a reservation
5. : The situation of women in the tribe
6. : Marriage on a reservation
6.1 : Shawnee Ray Toose and Lyman Lamartine
6.2 : Zelda Kashpaw and Xavier Toose
7. : Religion and spirituality
7.1 : Powwow
7.2 : Visions and dreams
7.3 : Supernaturalism
8. : Identity
9. : Annotations (2999 Wörter)
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07.06.2005 von unbekannt
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