Dueling Narrators: Exploring Narrative Distance In Tracks

It is difficult to read Tracks, a novel filled with complex and often confusing references. The discord in the story between Pauline Nanapush. The differences in distances between narrators’ accounts and those of the characters, narrators’ accounts and that of the reader and narrators work together to encourage the reader to choose one over the others. The reader’s relationship with each narrator is affected by the narrative distance and closeness of both narrators in terms intellect, emotion and time. Nanapush, despite being a trickster and having a strained relationship with Pauline, can be seen as the most trustworthy and likable narrator.

Pauline is a dual character who narrates the story. This creates an emotional distance and an intellectual distance from her other characters. Pauline can escape emotional turmoil in her Ojibwa society by embracing a self-imposed Catholic martyrdom. Pauline is emotionally and intellectually separated from the other characters despite the fact that it offers a psychological break from the strife caused by the government. She admits to her distance from the Matchimantos: “I said Superior that this was going to be my last trip…They would not have missed me.” After completing the task, I no longer had any interest in this lost tribe of Israel. She is expressing her dissatisfaction with her relationship by saying that this will be her last visit. She has always taken the Christian identity she holds to the highest level. By doing so, it is clear that her characters are not able to grasp or commit themselves to God the way she has. This is why they won’t miss each other. She is so determined to be separate from her Ojibwa past that she becomes frustrated with other characters who are not as religious. It is because of the religious dissonance that she has an intellectual and emotional distance. Combining her disconnection from the characters’ reality, she is able to create a story that is tinged by unreliability.

Pauline’s alternating between her experience at the convent in France and her time back home creates a time fracture in her account. In addition, the fact that some of her recollections are not clear, as in “In The Years To Come, I learned Her” (92), or the period of time covered by each chapter, make it harder to accept the account. It is confusing for the reader to understand when Pauline is receiving information and when she decides to share it with the reader. As long as Pauline is telling the story of the community, it’s easy for the reader to rely on her. But when Pauline decides to join the convent to separate herself from the rest of the world, she loses that sense of timing Nanapush can provide. Nanapush is able to become more close in time as Pauline distances herself. This is apparent when she begins narrating chapter 8. Nanapush narrates that Nector took the money at the end Chapter 7, but Pauline details her own self-proclaimed martyrdom in the beginning of Chapter 8. This transitional positioning in the narrative shows the clear difference between the two narratives. The reader is influenced to choose Nanapush because of this.

Nanapush is more relatable than Pauline at first glance, and it appears to be due to his wit and sincerity. If we look closely at his character, his relatability seems to be based on his closeness with the other characters, both emotionally and intellectually. As he has more time to spend with them, he can relay more information to them about the government problem. His concern for the circumstances in which his people find themselves is a sign of his intellectual and emotional closeness. Quotes like the one below show how emotionally close he was to Lulu or Fleur. The uncertainty of living in a world without a homeland was now a reality for me. I recognized Fleur’s signs” (187). He is willing to go out of the way to speak with Moses Pillager about how to comfort Fleur. Nanapush’s care and concern for the other characters mediates Pauline’s division. Nanapush’s active expressions of his care for the others mediates the divide that Pauline creates to split herself as a distinct entity.

Nanapush has the best overall reputation as a trustworthy and likable character. He can show a closeness to the characters that he interacts with, and to the reader. His assertions about Pauline’s untrustworthiness only make the reader want to believe in him even more. Nanapush’s statement further implies that Pauline is untrustworthy because her separation from religion was a selfish act. He is more concerned about the collective’s well-being than Pauline is. Nanapush’s interconnectedness to the Ojibwa Community allows him, in spite of Pauline’s claim that Nanapush “arranges secrets” and creates “manufactured embarrassments” (196). He is able convince the reader of his ability to convey the most realistic, factual, and appropriate narrative.


  • camdynelliott

    Camdyn Elliott is a 35-year-old educational blogger and school teacher. She has been writing about education for nearly a decade, and her work has been featured on sites like The Huffington Post and The New York Times. Camdyn is the founder of the education blog Education Week, and she is also the author of the book "How to Teach Like a Pro: A Guide to Effective Teaching Methods for College and Career Students."

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