The Structural Pattern and Contrasting Pairs of Men in Starlight
Notes on the novel,Starlight , by Richard Wagamese
To analyze a fictional narrative, notice the patterns and the themes.
This novel has a structural pattern: alternating chapters which seem at first to tell two completely separate plots. In Chapter 10, Book One, the characters are brought together.
Notice two pairings of two guys who represent different types of manhood. In each pairing, there is a main guy and a sidekick. These two pairs of men seem to be deliberately contrasted with each other.
Cadotte is violent and possessive. Anderson goes along with him, but increasingly pulls away after Emmy escapes from the men and they escape from the blaze she set. Cadotte claims she was trying to kill them, and he wants to kill her and her child in revenge. Anderson has more sense, thinks she was just trying to get away. He doesn’t want to kill a child, and he doesn’t want trouble with the law. Eventually, Anderson plans to get away from Cadotte himself.
Cadotte and Anderson are presumably “friends,” but Cadotte treats Anderson more like an underling. Anderson stays because Cadotte shares “his” woman, and they get drunk together. Plus it’s cheaper to live together than alone.
Roth is Starlight’s “hired man,” but Starlight treats him more like a friend. They can have friendly disagreements that don’t result in violence. Starlight is capable of changing his mind.
This novel raises the question of what responsibility parents (especially fathers) have for their children. Biological fathers are largely missing in this narrative. Starlight never knew his, but he was raised by “the old Man,” and he is willing to be a stepfather in his turn. Emmy was abused by her father after her mother escaped, and then she has been further abused by a series of men, including Winnie’s father. Winnie tells Starlight that she never knew her father or her grandfather, but likes to imagine them as nice men.
Starlight is attracted to the “wildness” in Emmy and Winnie, and he understands the importance of trust in relationships, including interaction between humans and other species. He treats both the woman and her child as individual human beings because he doesn’t feel entitled to “own” them.
The human concept of “race” seems irrelevant in the natural world, and Starlight rejects the stereotyped image of indigenous people as somehow closer to the land than anyone else. He claims that anyone can learn to “listen to the land,” and he teaches Emmy (who is described as white) to do this.
Roth says that the Christian concept of “communion” applies better to Starlight’s relationship with the natural world than to anything that happens in a church. It’s interesting to speculate on how the author would have ended the novel had he lived long enough. Cadotte’s quest to find and kill Emmy is on a collision course with her growing relationship with Starlight and with the natural world. If Starlight persuaded her not to kill Cadotte, how would she have dealt with him?
Consider: would you classify this novel as a romance?
Choose one of these topics, and compose a thesis that answers or addresses it. Then compose an essay to defend your thesis.
- Compare Frank Starlight as a “natural” man with Jeff Cadote as an embodiment of “toxic masculinity.”
- Explain how “communion” with the the natural world is shown in the novel to be an antidote to alienation from oneself and others.