Historical/New Historical

The Power of History and Belief, an Analysis of Saint Marie

Tobyn Shaw

When we take a look at Saint Marie, it is very much a story about belief. Overall, that faith will bring judgement to those who you find issue with life. However, alongside this, we see human nature as it ties in more deeply with the overall story. Things like vengeance, anger, and hatred are shared amidst characters to bring forth conflict. We see how these mingle with the concepts of religious history, but the primary question is; what are the primary historical values present in this story and how are they represented? Saint Marie incorporates concepts of religious faith, particularly that of the catholic church through the representation of the beliefs held by the convent of nuns of heaven and hell, as well as acts of vengeance and the devil.

Saint Marie follows the story of a girl named Marie who is a member of a convent of nuns. Within this convent is the abess named Sister Leopolda, a religious woman that Marie has mixed feelings about at the start, but quickly dissolves into a hatred shared between the two. If we look deeper at the values of religious communities in Catholicism and Christianity as a whole, we can perhaps draw even more from what historical values can be found. A convent is typically a community overseen by the Christian church in which people undertake religious vows to spend their lives serving the church. Typically, abbeys are tight-knit communities, and the word convent is used to describe a group of women or nuns. These communities of course value the faith of the bible above anything else, factoring in things like sin, repentance, as well as heaven and hell. These are values that have existed for as long as any human can recall, thousands of years, and have influenced our world in dramatic ways. The values in which the church holds can be seen plenty throughout the text. From Marie’s desire to get into heaven before Sister Leopolda to shut her out, to the infatuation that Sister Leopolda has with the devil. As well as through the extreme actions she takes to act against this so-called “devil” growing within all around her.

Human nature plays a lot into the concepts of religion, as well as emotion in this regard. With the use of Leopolda’s belief that the devil lies deep within those beneath her drawn from the bible and history, she is often seen giving into her fears of Satan mulled by these emotions. It gives this almost witch trial feel to it, where Maria is singled out for most of these actions because of the fear throughout the convent of the devil. A message that even Leopolda seems to believe fully, that it exists in people and that it must be purged through often extreme measures. We see elements of the concept of ruling via fear of religious persecution that have been often seen throughout history. Also, the concept of vengeance, a tale as old as time, plays a major part as Maria and Leopolda find themselves locked in a repeating conflict driven by deeper hatred. Vengeance is enacted, retaliation for each vice committed by the other, until finally, a resolution draws around. Ironically many of these actions go against what is taught in the bible, therefore making most of the belief portion obsolete, or ironic in a way.

The overall historical value that lies within this story lies primarily with the religious text, however, in some parts it also lays with the deeper background of the characters. In the article, The Devils of Cultural Conflict in Louise Erdrich’s “Saint Marie” by Rachel Leahy, discusses the deeper meanings and a deeper look at the historical representation between the story and “the conflict between the Anglo-American (Christian) colonizers’ and the Native American, or colonized, ways of life.” (Leahy 1) through the heritage represented by Maria, and the Anglo-American colonizers being represented as Sister Leopolda and her beliefs. This is an interesting take on the story that provides a deeper view into perhaps the historical basis in which it is represented. Stating that its meaning is an analogy towards the conversion of the native population to Christianity with the colonization of America. A process that has often been forced, with little regard to the beliefs of said people. The behavior of Sister Leopolda as such a tyrannical and controlling person further backs this point and adds to both the historical and new historical value of the story.

THE RELIGIOUS SYMBOLISM OF LOUISE ERDRICH by Marie Balsley Taylor, provided an interesting thesis paper written about symbolism in many of Louise Erdrich’s works. This article brought up the religious symbolism throughout, the importance of the religious value in which the Virgin Mary, a subject of desire from which the characters wish to draw from. Something pure and ideal from which to draw from. As stated by Balsley in her paper; “The Virgin Mary’s image has historically been seen as a standard of female perfection and ideal sexuality which makes the perception of the Virgin Mary, as statue of idol, intimately tied into ideas of gender and female sexuality.” (Taylor 25) It is an icon that is commonly seen in these ways, tying back to the concepts of the devil and ideals being represented both historically and personally. This story covers far more values in history than the simple conflicts between nuns, but also religious values in culture, equality, and religion.

Showing the prior struggles of people as well as the ideals forced upon them often by the church, we see throughout this story that it is a matter of a battle between the changing of the world and cultures. This story draws its historical values from the deeper connotations and messages found in the writer and her overall works, as well as this piece. We have seen representation to the Christian shifting of the Native American communities in the past, the concepts of past beliefs of women held within the church and the idealization of what they should be, as well as how it has shifted with time, and overall, just the effect of passed ideals of religion and their effects on the beliefs and actions of a convent of nuns.

But what can be taken from all of this? Well, one message that can be drawn overall from all of this is the power of belief. Relating back to the ideas of Sister Leopolda’s tyrannical and extreme actions against the devil she saw around her, and the actions of Marie of vengeance, we see just how powerfully the influence of religion has on the characters. The ideals of purity found within as well as the deeper historical meanings that all tie together to make this story about the sudden changes in the world that have been overall driven by the strength of religion. In conclusion, we saw the ways that Saint Marie incorporated concepts of religious faith, particularly that of the catholic church through the representation of the beliefs held by the convent of nuns of heaven and hell, as well as acts of vengeance and the devil, and how it tied into the overall historical value of the story.

Works Cited

Leahy, Rachel. “The Devils of Cultural Conflict in Louise Erdrich’s “Saint Marie””. Faculty Mentor: Diya Abdo, Guilford College. https://uncw.edu/csurf/explorations/documents/volume%209%202014/leahy.pdf

“Louise Erdrich.” Poetry Foundation, Poetry Foundation. https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/louise-erdrich

Taylor, Marie Balsley. “THE RELIGIOUS SYMBOLISM OF LOUISE ERDRICH”. 2009. Lucy B. Maddox, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences of Georgetown University. 2009. https://repository.library.georgetown.edu/bitstream/handle/10822/553055/taylorMarie.pdf?sequence=1


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