Karen Louise Erdrich is an American author of novels, poetry, and children’s books featuring Native American characters and settings. Erdrich is widely acclaimed as one of the most significant writers of the second wave of the Native American Renaissance. The present paper entitled Restorative Justice and Revenge aims to bring out that Revenge itself is a value emotion, which expresses a victim’s desire to punish the victimizer.  No matter what the circumstances are, being the party who endures a wrongful act, results in your seeking either of these two things Justice or Revenge. Justice is basically defined as the concept of moral rightness, which is based on the rules of fairness, ethics, equality and law. Revenge, on the other hand, refers to an action taken by an individual as a response to a wrongdoing. The nations will sometimes try to increase justice by operating courts and enforcing their rulings. The first necessity in fighting for social justice is simply noticing and caring about injustice. The jurisdictional issues between tribal, state and federal governments are confusing, and not intuitive. Erdrich by the issues in this novel gives the knowledge about the weight of the struggle and the price of each small victory. In The Round House Erdrich is creating space to feel, think, and imagine solutions to social problems. This is the power of literature in a fight for social justice it prompts mental and emotional commitment to issues and it provides a space in which one is free to imagine different endings.

Keywords: social justice; rationality; law; equity

Restorative Justice and Revenge in Louise Erdrich’s ‘The Round House’

Literature is entertaining and can distract us from the details of our own lives, but its real social value is in which how it reflects reality. Literature gives us tools that we use to interact with the world around us. It is a useful tool for social justice and the way it mingles with our expectations. The Round House is a work of fiction but it’s value lies in its truth. The quest for justice is shown in several plotlines of The Round House in which different individuals seek justice for the perceived wrongs done to them.

The novel The Round House explores the effects of a sexual assault on an Ojibwe reservation. This novel has been described as a balanced mystery, thriller story of the first-person narrator a thirteen-year-old boy named Joe Coutts. It brings out the awareness of the ongoing problems of violence against women on Native American reservations. This problem involves histories of legal jurisdiction issues and continuing injustice. These injustices continued to harm both women and men in indigenous communities. Erdrich believes that, through her writing, it increases the process of increasing safety for women on reservations and it helps to reduce the daily anxiety. Many women feel and fear the possibility or chance of being raped or attacked.

The story of the novel The Round House includes many types of twins, beginning with the two houses The Round House and the house where Joe lives with his father and mother. There is another twin character Linda Wishkob in contract to her twin brother Linden Lark, The Wiindigoo in Anishinabe tradition is a vampire like figure who was once a human but later becomes a cannibalistic monster with a frozen heart “Considered beyond reconciliation with the community, the only way to solve the problem the wiindigoo poses, for itself and others is to kill it” (Johnston 165).  Erdrich identifies herself strongly as Anishinaabe and is a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians. Her novels, her works of nonfiction, short stories, children’s book and poetry is the survival and strength of Anishinaabe and more importantly Indigenous culture. Throughout the novel The Round House, Erdrich explores the concept of justice and its converse of injustice. At the beginning of the novel, Bazil Coutts is introduced, who works as a tribal judge.  Due to his father’s profession and his distinguished role with the native community. Joe has enhanced his legal and moral understanding of justice and also Joe is simultaneously aware of the slavery of the indigenous population and the injustice in the American legal system.

As the novel goes by, Erdrich makes various historical allusions that address indigenous justice. In the opening of the novel, Erdrich mentions the United States, forty-three Galloons of Whiskey, a court case that decided that Congress has the power to control the possession and the sale of liquor in the Land belonging to and the land nearby the Native American tribes. It is described in the novel as “Forty-three gallons of whiskey, sundry peltries, and other goods and merchandise, seized as forfeited by virtue of the twentieth section of the Act of Congress approved June 30, 1834, as amended by the Act approved March 15, 1864” (The Round,93). The inclusion in the thing beginning of the novel shows that the borders and the complications therein particularly affect the indigenous life in the United States. Throughout the novel, Joe struggles to cope with the aftermath of his mother’s violent and brutal rape his mother Geraldine is traumatized while her husband Bazil and her son Joe try their level best to help her heal fast.

Throughout the novel, Joe struggles to cope, with the aftermath of his mother’s violent and brutal rape. His mother Geraldine is traumatized while her husband Bazil and her son Joe try their level best to help her heal fast. Because of Geraldine’s trauma and Bazil’s caring love and concentration on his wife, Geraldine’s leaves Joe without much parental oversight. Joe tries to figure out and identify the man who raped his mother. Finally, when Joe finds out the culprit Linden Lark, he came to know that he cannot be able to bring that criminal to trial because of a loophole and the solution for this with his father and friends and discusses the different kinds of justice. “My father and I had followed her to the doorway, and I think as we watched her we both had the sense that she was ascending to a place of utter loneliness from which she might never be retrieved” (The Round 33).

The narration describes Judge Coutts and Joe as they climb the stairs. Judge Coutts climbs up to sleep in the sewing room rather than with his wife. Joe climbs the stairs after killing Linden Lark. In all of these cases, climbing the stairs symbolizes the family members travelling into physical, emotional, or spiritual isolation where the others cannot reach or help them. Because of the broken system of the law, he starts to follow his own path to administer justice. As he does, he feels a bane quickly transforms his desire for justice into an obsessive need for revenge, especially for Linden Lark, his mother’s rapist, to go free. Joe says he wants to kill him over and over again and that angry and revenge mode eventually allows him to plan and carry out Linden Lark’s murder. After the murder, he feels that he may have become a kliindigoo, because of the monstrous man he killed. But his community defends him, turning it into another type of justice, the traditional justice for dispatching wiindigoes.

A corrupt form of a similar incident towards justice is played out by Linden Lark. He has convinced himself that he and his family have suffered injustice at the hands of Indians, but they have no standing under the law yet Linden Lark continued to diminish the white man and take his honour. He also sees Indian women as whores who have added to his humiliation by rejecting him. In his twisted view, he plans to achieve justice and make things right by making “ two Indian women suffer”.

From the government’s point of view, the only way you can tell an Indian is to look at that person’s history. There must be ancestors from way back who signed some document or were recorded as Indians by the U.S. government … after that, you have to look at that person’s blood quantum. In other words, being an Indian is in some ways a tangle of red tape. On the other hand, Indians know other Indians without the need for a federal pedigree, and this knowledge like love, sex, or having or not having a baby—has nothing to do with government. (The Round,123)

Linden Lark carries out his revenge in “The Round House”, which is supposed to be justice as well as the symbol of the sacred nature of women. He kidnaps and murders Mayla Wolfskin, as he feels that she shamed him, and he attacks Geraldine because her husband was the one who ruled against his family and forced them into bankruptcy. In the point of view of Lark’s thinking, he is achieving the justice, that the world denied him. In the eyes of the world, however, he is taking his revenge.

The Round House represents many different incidents of women being mistreated by both Native and non-Native men and also, the effects of colonialism and neo colonialism are illustrated through different characters , actions and discourses which reveal the racism within North American society. “With a savage thump he turned the casserole over onto the table. He lifted off the pan. The thing was shot through with white fuzz but held its oblong shape. My father rose again and pulled the box of cutlery from the cabinet counter” (The Round 78).

Joe narrates these words after he challenges his father on the effectiveness of the legal system to which his father subscribes. After Linden has been released from jail, even though Geraldine has named him as the attacker, she and Joe begin to lose faith in the law. Here, Judge Coutts puts a rotten casserole on the table and stabs it with various forms of cutlery until he forms a sculpture. He uses this as a symbol of Indian law: an unstable edifice of unjust and a few reasonable laws all balanced on top of a rotten base. In laying out the intricacies and contradictory elements behind Indian law, Judge Coutts reveals that he hopes to slowly overcome these laws’ injustices by building a better legal structure that will give the tribes more sovereignty over crimes committed on their land. The best way to spark this sort of change would be from within. Although Joe understands his father’s symbol, he cannot accept such small steps toward justice. Thus, he feels that he must pursue it on his own terms.

I suppose I am one of those people who just hates Indians generally my feeling is that Indian women are what he called us, I don’t want to say He said we have no standing under the law for a good reason and yet have continued to diminish the white man and to take his honour I won’t get caught, he said, I know as much law as a judge. Know any judges? I have no fear The strong should rule the weak. Instead of the weak the strong! It is weak who pull down the strong. (The Round, 196)

After killing Linden Lark, Cappy takes a moment to process his actions, dropping to his knees. Although Cappy shoots Linden with relative ease and in an attempt to fulfil justice, he obviously is profoundly affected by his crime. Throughout the novel, Erdrich seems to imply that some of the violence is justified, and that violence will always harm the person who is committing it. These certainly can be applied in Cappy did that, out of love for his best friend. A young boy’s family has suffered a terrible attack and assault which gives him a quest to solve the crime and at the same time to learn about life and himself. His search for identity and the quest for justice is not an easy one, it gives him a mix of cultures and religion which exists on the contemporary reservation.

It is significant that Erdrich voices social justice for both Indigenous and non-indigenous women. The Round House ends with a heartbreaking lack of resolution. Nothing is resolved and also no one is fulfilled. The first necessity in fighting for social justice is simply noticing and caring about injustice.

S. Dicxy
Ph.D. Research Scholar (Reg. No:21213164012044)
Department of English &Centre for Research
Scott Christian College (Autonomous)
Affiliated to Manonmaniam Sundaranar University

Dr. J. Chitta
Assistant Professor
Department of English &Centre for Research
Scott Christian College (Autonomous)
Affiliated to Manonmaniam Sundaranar University



Erdrich, Louise. The Round House, NewYork:Harper,2012.
Johnston, Basil. “Weendigo” in Ojibway Heritage. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1976, 165- 167.
“Difference Between Justice and Revenge.” Difference Between Similar Terms and  Objects, 26 January, 2010,