Study Guide

The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge Setting

By Michael Punke


American Frontier

Set in the American West in 1823, The Revenant depicts a transitional period for the American frontier. With the U.S. continuing its encroachment from the east, and with local tribes preparing for a long battle with these interlopers, this vast natural wonderland is about to see some heavy action.

A Walk in the Woods

Most of the time, however, we enjoy a nice, lazy stroll (or crawl) along the Missouri River. We're kidding, of course—unless your idea of a "nice stroll" involves an angry mama bear, a pack of cranky wolves, and more Arikara warriors than you could shake a beaver pelt at. For obvious reasons, it's a pretty terrifying place for the men of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company.

Although Glass certainly has his frightened moments, he has a much greater appreciation for the majesty of nature than most. We frequently see him staring up at a mighty mountain or down at a massive herd of buffalo, struck by the sheer beauty of the natural world around him. In fact, Glass goes a step further, saying that if he "believed in a god, surely it resided in this great western expanse" (2.23.3).

Fort Fever

We also spend some time in the various forts dotted around the frontier, some of them good and some of them bad. Let's break it down:

  • Fort Brazeau. Fort Brazeau is the best of the bunch. Run by the one and only Kiowa Brazeau, the fort is a simple operation surrounded by a smattering of tipis. More Native Americans are here than in any other fort, thanks to Kiowa's open attitude.
  • Fort Talbot. "In contrast to Fort Brazeau, Fort Talbot felt like a place under siege" (2.18.39). The dudes here are jumpy, hostile, and super racist toward the Native Americans, regardless of their tribe. Not a good scene.
  • Fort Union/Fort Manuel. We don't spend too much time at either of these locations, but both are defined by the shaky leadership of Captain Henry. Whether it's getting its horses stolen by local tribes or accidentally blowing up a cannon, the Rocky Mountain Fur Company's reign over these two forts is fraught with disaster.

In their own ways, these forts illustrate a conflict between the frontier and civilization that's only just beginning. Over the following century, the U.S. presence in the West would only increase, and the battle between civilization and nature would quickly devolve into a one-sided slobberknocker.