Study Guide

The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge Visions of the American Frontier

By Michael Punke

Visions of the American Frontier

Chapter 1: August 21, 1823

Ashley was [...] a man with both the vision to bring commerce to the West and the money to make it happen. "Other people's money," as Ashley had called it. (1.1.3)

The American frontier is in the middle of an upheaval, and there's just one cause—the usual one: money. Lots and lots and lots of money. While there have always been explorers and traders diving ever deeper into the American West, they've never had so much cash invested in their operations. As it happens, that's a mixed blessing.

Chapter 6: August 31, 1823

The frontier for Bridger became [...] a magnetic force pulling him inexorably toward something that he heard about, but never seen. (1.6.34)

For many, like young Jim Bridger, the frontier represents nothing less than freedom. Freedom from the constraints of civilization. Freedom from the drudgery of day-to-day life. Freedom from mediocrity. This thing is a grab bag of symbolism—it represents whatever you want it to represent.

Chapter 7: September 2, 1823 – Morning

Glass spent almost a year with the Loup Pawnee [...] After overcoming his initial reticence, Kicking Bull adopted the white man like a son. (1.7.86)

Glass has a different perspective on the frontier than most: he's been on both sides of the equation. As a result, he not only understands the local tribes more than his pale peers, but he also empathizes with them to a much large degree. He has Kicking Bull to thank for that.

Chapter 13: October 5, 1823

[T]he trappers and the Sioux had been allies in the siege against the Arikara. Glass remembered that the Sioux had quit the fight in disgust over Colonel Leavenworth's tactics (1.13.22)

The Sioux and the Arikara have a long-standing beef, so the Sioux jump at the chance to fight their archenemies alongside the U.S. military. As they quickly learn, however, the Army has few ethics and little respect for their people as a whole. Talk about making a deal with the devil, huh?

Chapter 15: October 9, 1823

Taken bit by bit, none of the foreboding seemed overwhelming. Yet Yellow Horse sensed that these scattered strands [...] braided in a warning that he could not yet fully perceive. (1.15.28)

Yellow Horse is the only one who realizes that a calamity is about to strike the frontier. Between a rapid increase in trading, the growing presence of the U.S. military, and the continuing assaults waged by the Arikara tribes, the current situation is like a fuse ready to blow at any time. The only question that remains is who's going to drop the match.

The Frenchman's facility with language was an asset for a trader amid the frontier Babel. (1.15.39)

Kiowa is one of the few traders who actually make an effort to bring the frontier's various communities together. It doesn't matter if you're a Frenchman, an American, or a Sioux warrior—you can get down with Kiowa.

Scattered teepees spotted the clearing around the fort, a few pitched temporally by Indians visiting to trade, a few pitched permanently by resident Yankton Sioux drunks. (1.15.3)

This is a perfect illustration of U.S.-Indian relations of the frontier. While there are plenty of individuals who benefit from the increased presence of traders, there are plenty of others whose way of life has been completely upended by this invading force. In other words, this situation is grayer than an old school Game Boy.

Chapter 18: December 6, 1823

Like the trader Kiowa Brazeau, Chief Mato-Tope wanted the Missouri open for business. (2.18.22)

Interestingly, some American Indian tribes are actually enthused by the rise in trade. It's been a huge economic boon for them, after all, and they've gained access to some awesome technology. Still, there's always a price to pay...

"This is prime property. The army'll come up here before long and set these savages straight." (2.18.61)

This makes us want to smack this dude straight across the face, but the sad truth is that he's right. Although we (and Glass) want to side with the Sioux and Mandan, they're simply fighting too big of a foe.

In contrast to Fort Brazeau, Fort Talbot felt like a place under siege. (2.18.39)

Fort Talbot reveals a nasty truth about the American frontier: it was a veritable war zone, with the traders and U.S. military playing the role of invaders and the Arikara acting as insurgents.