Critical Introduction

A short story that regards many different themes throughout its pages, “Saint Marie by Louise Erdrich is the story of a girl named Marie and the hardships that come with entering a nunnery as well as the conflicts that come from within, both mentally and physically. A tale regarding religion, history, culture, and the nature of humanity, this novel is one from which many deeper connections and themes can be found. These several analytical essays shall discuss the deeper meanings and ideas behind this story in every regard. With several personal takes and analyses of the stories, as well as deeper insights on already existent literary analyses of the work, each aspect within “Saint Marie shall be discussed in-depth and thoroughly.

Diving into the psychological analysis, we look to the driving force behind the actions of Marie and Sister Leopolda who are pitted against each other in a battle of wills, both spiritually and physically. In lacking a mother figure throughout her early adolescent life, Marie suffers from the consequences of her path to religious freedom and domination; instead of attempting to obtain these things in a healthy way, her obsession with God and the Devil lead to her believing that she embodies both. Jess Lupton digs into the subconscious mind and seeks to justify the complicated behavior displayed by both women in the story.

Kenzie Knutson tackles the feminist analysis and talks about contextual methods that can lead to abusive situations. The Catholic church still does not recognize women as ordainable to this day, leaving them only positions in serving men who are ordained. This is a tradition that has stood since the origins of Roman Catholicism- which provides clear evidence of sexist roots within their spiritual hierarchy. The normalization of sexist ideals and lack of accountability for leaders within the Catholic church leads to violence against women and particularly women of color.

“Taking Holiness by Force” is a New Criticism essay by Andrew Barbour that breaks down the purpose of good and evil, the tension between the internal and perceived self, and the reversal of the protagonist and antagonist in  “Saint Marie.” It makes the case that holiness, in the eyes of Marie, is a battleground of dominance, and whoever sits at the top of the hierarchy must be the highest of them all. It uses evidence from the text to support a narcissistic view of the protagonist, and her transformation from internal innocence and outward lowliness into internal corruption and outward holiness.

Starting in the late 1800’s American Indian children have been subjected to a boarding school system. This system stole their cultural identities and gave them new assimilated ones. “Saint Marie” is a product of that assimilation culture. The abuse and hatred Marie faces throughout the story is a retelling of the trauma Native children faced throughout their schooling. Lindsey Weaver explores her response as a Native woman to this tale of generational trauma in An Echo of Boarding School Assimilation.

Within “The Power of History and Belief, an Analysis of “Saint Marie”, concepts of historical value found within the cultural, religious, and beliefs are discussed and analyzed by Tobyn Shaw. Looking more in-depth into what concepts may affect the story and the overall background of where this story may have come from. This essay looks into what “Saint Marie” draws inspiration from, and its place in both historical, and new historical value as a whole.

Kassy Roberts’s essay covers “Saint Marie” and how gender and feminism drive the main character, Marie, through the story. This essay covers the reasons why this story is isolated to the female experience, and how religious guilt is a main factor in the story. Taking a look at quotes and moments that show the true intent behind the author’s work, this essay creates a conversation surrounding how two women in one story can be so influenced by their own gender roles, that they go against feminism itself.

Kenna McGerty’s essay covers the religious symbolism and the character traits and actions of the characters Marie and Sister Leopolda using a deconstruction lens. Using these, it shows that Marie is the more Christ-like one of the two, which is uncommon in stories such as this. The religous symbolism and mythology of both the Christian church and Native American culture show how each of the characters have symbols of both cultures. Marie, as the underdog in this story, takes the power from Sister Leopolda and is more merciful towards her adversary showing that she is a better representative of Christ than Sister Leopolda. The paradoxes shown in this story show how the balance of power can shift.

“Saint Marie” holds within it many deeper connections to the world throughout it. Covering concepts such as trauma, vengeance, faith, belief, and many other ideas that can be found within our modern world. Into the depth of this story, we have traversed, thinking about its religious, historical, cultural, and ethnic ties. Taking looks at concepts that matter in this modern-day world and many that can still be found all around us commonly. This story took a deeper glance into the life of the struggles both within and outside of a girl and gave each of us a new view of these issues and how deep they might go.





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Beginnings and Endings: A Critical Edition Copyright © 2021 by Liza Long is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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