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Amaroq, the wolf. Yep, a wolf is one of the main characters in this novel. And not a talking wolf, or a cartoon wolf: just a real-life wild wolf.
This guy is like Miyax's adopted father. In Kapugen's absence, Amaroq must step in, and it's hard not to compare Miyax's wolf-papa with her real one. When it comes to protecting Miyax from harm, Shmoop thinks Amaroq totally takes the cake. He saves Miyax from a grizzly bear, from Jello the lone wolf, and of course, from starvation. Kapugen, on the other hand, sends Miyax off to school and marriage, which proves to be a total disaster. All in all, in the battle of the dads, Amaroq just might be the winner.
At the beginning of the novel, knowing she must talk to the wolves in order to survive, Miyax singles out Amaroq:
She had chosen him because he was much larger than the others, and because he walked like her father, Kapugen, with his head high and his chest out. The black wolf also possessed wisdom, she had observed. The pack looked to him when the wind carried strange scents or the birds cried nervously. If he was alarmed, they were alarmed. If he was calm, they were calm. (1.5)
Amaroq is the alpha male, the chief wolf in charge of wolfiness, the head honcho of the pack. So it's no wonder that Miyax wants to have a chat with him. But notice, too, that he reminds her of her father. It's the first hint we get that Miyax will soon come to think of Amaroq as her father, that he might somehow replace Kapugen in her mind.
This father-daughter dynamic deepens when Amaroq accepts Miyax into the pack (1.83), and even allows her to sleep in their den (1.184). Then, it's totally solidified when Amaroq kills a caribou near Miyax's camp, and she's allowed to share the meat with the wolves. His generosity in providing her with food inspires a song in Miyax:
Amaroq, wolf, my friend,
You are my adopted father.
My feet shall run because of you.
My heart shall beat because of you.
And I shall love because of you. (1.228)
This song is, quite literally, true. Because of Amaroq's kindness in accepting Miyax into the pack and sharing the caribou kill with her, Miyax now has a shot at survival. No wonder she thinks of him as a father.
But the best part is, he totally thinks of her as a daughter, too. Or should we say pup? His reaction when Jello steals Miyax's pack, with all her food and belongings in it, is proof enough:
Instantly she knew what had happened; Amaroq had turned on him. Once Kapugen had told her that some wolves had tolerated a lone wolf until the day he stole meat from the pups. With that, the leader gave a signal and his pack turned, struck, and tore the lone wolf to pieces. (3.48)
Miyax is his pup, and Amaroq would do pretty much anything, including turn on a member of his own pack, to protect her. He's loyal to the extreme.
Of course, Amaroq is a wolf, so let's not go too far. We can't give him emotions and feelings that a wolf wouldn't have. (In fact, he only has a name – which helps us feel more connected to him emotionally – because of Miyax.) The narrator makes it clear that he looks after Miyax because she uses age-old signals to convince him to invite her into the pack (1.82), and he protects her from Jello because it's ingrained in his wolf behavior. (3.48) It's not so much that Amaroq loves Miyax like a daughter; rather, he's biologically required to protect her.
So if it's all a matter of biology, why bother caring about him in the first place? Well, to be honest, we just can't help it. After all, the importance of Amaroq's character isn't Amaroq himself, but what he means to Miyax, and he means quite a lot to her. This is never more obvious than in her reaction to Amaroq's death-by-hunter:
It was time to bid Amaroq farewell. She tried to go forward but her feet would not move. Grief still held them useless. […]
She asked him to enter the totem and be with her forever. (3.156, 158)
Miyax struggles to say goodbye to Amaroq, and why wouldn't she? He is her adopted father, and she's just lost his guidance and protection. But she feels slightly better when she asks his spirit to enter the totem she carved of him. (For more on this, see "Symbols.")
But still, something has changed because of Amaroq; his death has consequences far beyond grief. As Miyax thinks about her plans for the future, she talks to Amaroq's spirit, saying, "The pink room is red with your blood […] I cannot go there. Not back to Barrow and Daniel. Not back to Nunivak and Martha… and you cannot take care of me anymore" (3.166).
Amaroq, the great wolf, was taken down by civilization, and in a way, the consequences of that fact are his character's biggest contribution to the story. His death is the reason Miyax decides to forgo a return to civilization and make a life for herself out on the tundra.
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