Revenge and Justice in the Round House

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When discussing the topics of justice and revenge, we find that these acts are usually on the opposite side of a spectrum. In Louise Erdrich’s novel, The Round House, Erdrich uses her main character Joe, to show the effects of how justice and revenge can work together to help him rebuild the damage that has been put on his family. Her main focus is not so much the attacker but more on the survivor and the effects that can happen both short and long term. In this paper I will discuss how Erdrich uses the act of revenge to propel justice as they work together while Joe takes on the role to judge the crime and punishment of Linden Lark.

Louise Erdrich tackles a difficult topic that she believes needs to be discussed more. The Round House explores the topic of bringing justice to the Chippewa culture since the reservation has a difficult time with the legal system that continuously ignores them and the help that they need. Erdrich who uses the theme of justice as a central idea for her novel, discusses how the attack and the rape of the main character’s mother leads to a fight of gaining the justice that should be given. Focusing on the theme of justice, Erdrich does discuss some topics that are quite heavy such as rape, which is described from the Amnesty International states, “1 out of 3 Native women will be raped in her lifetime” (Erdrich 219). And there are more cases that are not reported. Like her interview with PBS News, she tells the reporter that “there is a legacy of violence against native women that has gotten worse and worse over time” (LeGro). She brings this topic to light by using a thirteen-year-old boy who discovers the reality of the legal system as he deals with the trauma and the healing that his family undergoes.

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Erdrich really leaves no time in setting up the tone in this novel. The reader can already sense that there is a problem in the way that Joe’s father tone is when he asks, “Where is your mother?” (Erdrich 3). When Joe’s mother, Geraldine, does arrive home finally, the readers become aware that she has been sexually assaulted. After the attack on his mother, Joe begins to understand how the judicial system works, especially in the cases of laws within the reservation and how these effect the Native Americans, and in the case of The Round House, the Chippewas. Joe learns that the legal system has been built to be a disadvantage and ignore the justice that the Chippewa culture not only deserve but has a right to.

Joe makes the justice for his mother his main priority in this novel. He makes it very known that catching the man who attacked his mother is his goal, “Mom, listen. I’m going to find him and I’m going to burn him. I’m going to kill him for you” (Edrich 89) and further in the book, an older voice of future Joe mentions that “Nobody else…cared as much as we did about my mother” (Erdrich 110-111). With this tone Joe begins his journey to find the man and the justice to help his mother and he will do whatever he has to do to make that happen.

As the story and the search for Geraldine’s attacker continues, we began to see how the law of the reservation works. In the book, Erdrich really discusses the unfairness of the law and topics of the importance of the location of the attack, “The round house is on the far edge of tribal trust, where our court has jurisdiction…So federal law applies. But just to one side, a corner of that is state park, where state law applies” (Erdrich 196). There are many laws that have to be following with dealing with jurisdiction on and off the reservation such as Public Law 280, “which gave certain states criminal and civil jurisdiction over Indian lands within their borders” (Erdrich 142). With the laws, there are many lawyers and law enforcements that are reluctant to work cases on the reservation. “You said if they’re assigned to Indian Country, they are either rookies or have trouble with authority” (Erdrich 92). We are really understanding how the Chippewa community is treated under the law. Reasons like this is why Joe feels that it is his job to take matters into his own hands.

This now leads us to the revenge part of the novel. With the lack of support that Joe feels his mother is getting, he realizes that if he does not do something, this will just be another case that is pushed aside. He felt much of the anger that leads up to the murder of Linden, since Linden was released from jail. Not only did it affect Geraldine, but Joe felt much of the pain as well. Deep inside Joe knew that what was planned was against God. This is why he tried to be had Father Travis confirm him before the summer because “It would help things” (Erdrich 251). He felt that God would better forgive him for his sins of vengeance he was confirmed first. The toll that this takes on Joe is very traumatizing. It leads him down a path of drinking to forget and to numb is pain.

However, in the end, Joe realizes that his revenge on Linden does not end like he thought it would. Instead the risk that he took taking the path of the vigilante affects the family in a more negative way than Joe had initially thought, “The person who killed Lark will live with the human consequences of haven taken a life” (Erdrich 306). The guilt of killing Liden not only took over his thoughts in the day, but every night in his dreams as well. As the novel finishes the readers come to the conclusion that even though Linden is dead, the revenge did not lead to the justice that Joe hoped for, “There was not justice for your mother, his victim, or for Mayla” (Erdrich 305).

Erdrich uses her novel, The Round House to discuss major topics of Native Americans. She not only talk about the violence that affects the women on Reservations, but the effects that it takes on the people around these victims. After his mother’s attack Joe not only has to see his mother suffer, but he soon realizes the toll that it takes on him as well as he learns about justice, revenge, and the evil that is in the world.

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Revenge and Justice in the Round House. (2022, July 08). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 13, 2024, from
“Revenge and Justice in the Round House.” Edubirdie, 08 Jul. 2022,
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Revenge and Justice in the Round House [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Jul 08 [cited 2024 Jul 13]. Available from:

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