For most of the novel we, like Miyax, believe Kapugen is dead. So everything we know about Kapugen comes from Miyax's memories of him. We don't even meet him in person until she flashes back to her childhood in the second part of the novel. Pretty neat way to get to know a character, right?
Miyax's memories of Kapugen help us to think of him as a brave, authentic Eskimo, who taught his daughter all the tricks and tools of surviving in the wild. In fact, Kapugen is the whole reason Miyax decides to try to talk to the wolves in the first place: the very first mention of him in the book tells us that communicating with wolves "could be done she knew, for her father, an Eskimo hunter had done so" (1.3).
So right off the bat, we get the impression that her father is a pretty capable dude. And indeed he is. Miyax comes to rely on his knowledge of the wilderness for her survival, and it totally pays off. She even looks to his memory to bring her courage in scary moments:
Her hands trembled and she pressed them together to make them stop, for Kapugen had taught her that fear can so cripple a person that he cannot think or act. Already she was too scared to crawl.
"Change your ways when fear seizes," he had said, "for it usually means you are doing something wrong." (1.161-62)
All in all, Kapugen sounds like a pretty awesome guy, and a very good father. Apparently, he has taught Miyax everything she needs to know to survive on her own, and he's given her courage as well. That makes him a-okay in our book.
But is this the real Kapugen? It's worth noting that every impression we get of him until the very end of the novel is through Miyax's memory. It's all from her perspective. And that means we might not be getting a clear picture of what her old man is really like.
There are hints, though, that he might not be the perfect dad she thinks he is. For one thing, Aunt Martha tells Miyax that her father "walked you all the way to seal camp […] and he never did anything good after that" (2.5). Of course we, and Miyax, aren't big fans of Martha, so it would be easy to brush off this comment.
But still, there's the fact that he arranges a marriage for Miyax to a not-so-great husband. While he is following Eskimo traditions, that marriage ends up being incredibly harmful to Julie, and is the whole reason she runs away in the first place. Did Kapugen know that Daniel had some mental retardation? Even Julie wonders "if Kapugen had known that Daniel was dull. She would not believe he did" (2.78). Of course, Julie can't quite bring herself to believe something bad of her father. She has far too many fond memories. But we readers are a just a tad more suspicious.
We don't get to know the real Kapugen until the very end of the book, and he's definitely not the man that we, or Miyax, thought he was. For one thing, he's not the great hunter we had come to know. Instead, he hunts from airplanes, and could quite possibly be the one who is responsible for Amaroq's death (3.259). For another, his house is full of modern gadgets.
And here's the kicker: he's married to a gussak. Yep, our authentic Eskimo has gone and gotten hitched to a white woman. Our narrator puts it best when she asks, "What had Kapugen done? What had happened to him that he would marry a gussak? What was his new life?" (3.251). This is not the Kapugen Miyax knew and loved. This is a newfangled version, and it's definitely not her cup of tea.
In many ways, Kapugen has given in to all the modern conveniences that Miyax has managed to resist. He no longer lives by the traditions he kept up at seal camp. But the seal camp Kapugen was the Kapugen Miyax loved. This new Kapugen is like a different person entirely, and we can't help but worry that their relationship will suffer.
Still, Miyax must return to Kapugen after the death of her bird-friend Tornait. He is, after all, her father, and that will never change. So we're left to hope for the best, and to hope that our final impression of Kapugen will be proven wrong. Maybe that authentic Eskimo is still in there somewhere.Timeline