How much trauma can one take on before it becomes too much to handle? In the novel Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese, the protagonist, Saul Indian Horse seems to be a prime example of repeated trauma and the effects it can have on a human. He experienced constant trauma for almost all of his life illustrated in this novel. Saul seemed to be caught in any conflict possible, creating great personal trauma, both physically and emotionally.
Saul witnessed the death of his brother and grandmother at a young age; he was a constant target of racism and prejudice in his hockey world; he lived in and attended a residential school where he witnessed and experienced consistent abuse. The storyline of this novel revolves around a central theme, trauma. Every event relates back to a certain traumatic event or the long-term effects that stayed with Saul throughout his life. Richard Wagamese has made trauma a central theme in his novel. The trauma begins when Saul is just a young boy. The death of his brother, the loss of his parents and then the death of his beloved grandmother are the events that create the first real trauma is Saul’s life.
“I understood that she had left me and I lay there crying against the empty drum of her chest” (Wagamese 42). The experience of losing a family member is very common and therefore easily relatable for any reader. As the reader was brought through this experience with him, it created a connection between the protagonist, Saul, and the reader. The death of a loved one can invoke many strong feelings of sadness or anger in the people who loved them. Along with Saul attempting to cope with his own feelings, he had to witness the effects the death had on his parents. “My mother’s keening by the river was eerie” (Wagamese 31). These heightened emotions caused his family to leave Saul and his grandmother.
This initial trauma was significant because it seemed to lead Saul’s life into a downward spiral of several more traumatic events, which lasted several years. When Saul was living in residential school, he discovered and sparked an interest in hockey. Saul, being such a young age at the time, loved the game of hockey long before he even played.
Wagamese spends much of the book illustrating Sauls unwavering commitment and love for the game. This was done to emphasise the profound confusion and hurt when Saul played outside of the school. ” ‘I know but there is no game for you.
They don’t want you to play anymore, Saul.'(Father Leboutillier) ‘What? I’m the best they got.’ (Saul) ‘I know. That’s why they don’t want you to play’ ‘I don’t understand.’ ” (Wagamese 91). When Saul played hockey on the town team he quickly realized people treated him drastically different just because of the colour of his skin.
All of the hatred and discrimination that surrounded Saul’s hockey career quickly began to drain the love he had for the game. Having the joy slowly dissolve from something you love and enjoy cause psychological damage to Saul. Wagamese emphasized Saul’s devotion to the game for the purpose of making his bad experiences throughout his hockey career more relevant and traumatic. Lastly, arguably the most traumatic event Saul experienced in his life lingered throughout the majority of the novel.
While attending St. Jerome’s, Saul formed a close bond to the hockey coach, Father Leboutilier. This relationship wasn’t fully exposed until later in the novel when the rape and sexual assault Saul endured was revealed. In the novel, Wagamese waits nearly twenty five chapters to reveal the rape. In doing so, he has given the reader a realistic picture of the mental healing and processing of a young boy following such a traumatizing event.”I cried then. I stood there and looked at that sad ruin of a rink and wept. And suddenly, I remembered” (Wagamese 198).
Often traumatic events experienced by young people are dealt with by attempting to suppress the reality of the event in hopes to forget. Wagamese used this event to stress the long lasting aftermath and how it can often be much worse than the actual event itself. Saul presisited at trying to forget the event because Father Leboutilier was someone he loved and trusted.
After Father gained this trust by showing Saul kindness during a rough time, he took advantage of Saul. The aftermath of the situation he endured at St. Jerome’s was a cause of his later alcoholism, aggression and isolation.
Overall, it may be said that trauma is a central theme in the novel Indian Horse written by Richard Wagamese. Throughout the novel it is apparent that all of the traumatic events Saul experienced in his life were all connected as the aftermath of a previous event often lead to another event. All of his violent actions were repercussions from previous traumatic events. Through the loss of Saul’s family, his struggle playing hockey and his traumatizing experience in residential school Wagamese paints a realistic picture of the process of recovery from trauma for the reader to experience.