James Welch

The section of Welch's novel Winter in the Blood that you read, "The Earthboy Place," features, in Vizenor's words, a narrator with "an intense presence without a name" (164). Other character besides the narrator have "no" names, only ciphers, markers that function as kinds of codes. Recall the action of the passage. The narrators is returning home, "to a mother and an old lady who was my grandmother. And the girl who was thought to be my wife" (166). Where is "home"? How much of the chapter's "action," as it were, takes place at home?

When the narrator is in the bar in Malta, he meets the brother of the woman he is looking for. The brother has a name: Dougie. Why does he ask Dougie about the whereabouts of Dougie's sister? What, ultimately, do Dougie and the narrator do? What sort of cast of characters begins to develop in the bars the narrator visits in this chapter? Do you get a clear idea of the narrator's sense of belonging or isolation or purpose?

Consider the "airplane man." Where is he from? What does the narrator make of his stories? As we discussed in class, there is much talk in the Pomp Room, the bar in which the airplane man and the narrator talk, about whether there are or are not fish in the river. The narrator and the other men in the bar have very different things to say about whether there are or are not fish. What does this difference of opinion or experience communicate to you about the legitimacy of local knowledge? The narrator is Native and the people with whom he speak in the bar are not. They are also the ones who claim to have caught fish. Can you extrapolate anything from this difference? Does this impugn the narrator's own "local knowledge" of the region that is supposed to be his "home"?

One of "the suits" (the men wearing suits) proclaims to the "airplane man" that he just doesn't "understand these people around here"; to this the "airplane man" replies "neither do I . . . Hell, it's uncanny" (172). What, exactly, is uncanny about the people in the bar and in the town and region?

The chapter ends with a bizarre exchange between the airplane man, the barmaid, and the narrator. The airplane man expresses that he knows that barmaid from somewhere and, in effect, the barmaid explains to the narrator, privately, how the airplane man might know here. Does her story seem legitimate? Surreal?

All together, the confusion of the first chapter of Winter in the Blood makes some comments about Welch's impression of a Native person's search for identity in the modern world and, in fact, the search of many people seeking to find "identity" in a mixed-up environment. As Welch himself said, in a 2001 interview with Mary Jane Lupton, "My first two novels, Winter in the Blood and The Death of Jim Loney, were about a couple of Indian men who had problems with identity." How does the chapter you read support this claim? How do the features of namelessness, abstraction, shifts in setting, and the root issue of "coming home" mark this "problem with identity." From what you've read, is it only the narrator that has a "problem with identity"?