121 pages 4 hours read

Louise Erdrich

The Night Watchman

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2020

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Character Analysis

Thomas Wazhashk

Thomas Wazhashk is the night watchman of the novel’s title (and is based on Erdrich’s grandfather). Thomas is also the chair of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa’s tribal committee. His introspection and actions while off, reveal that this role is of primary importance to him.

Thomas is the character who suggests referring to House Concurrent Resolution 108 as the “Termination Bill.” Exemplifying themes of the continued struggles to survive and the trauma of boarding schools, he draws from the history of his people, and he is often haunted by other traumas of the Indigenous experience, including the continued dispossession of land and the assimilationist, and (as seen in Roderick’s case) murderous effects of Indigenous American boarding schools. Thomas’s encounters with Roderick’s ghost haunt him as he remembers how Roderick caught tuberculosis while in the cellar of their school while being punished.

As Thomas develops throughout the novel, he expends much of his energy fighting the Termination Bill. He has a stroke on their way home Washington, DC, after the hearing. As the novel closes and Thomas finds himself trying to remember words, readers see the lasting effects of Thomas’s struggle. Thomas’s name comes from his grandfather, the “original Wazhashk” (17).

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