Study Guide

Windigo Madness

By Louise Erdrich

Madness

While the Windigo appears most commonly in Chippewa stories as a supernatural figure (see our "Themes: The Supernatural" section), these legends remain grounded in real concerns. In the early 1900s, Western psychologists began to document cases in indigenous communities of what they referred to as "Windigo Psychosis," or, instances of humans killing and eating other humans, even when other food was available (whoa). Windigo tales are a clear condemnation of these individuals who participated in famine cannibalism, suffering from this strange affliction in the depths of winter.

Questions About Madness

  1. Is the Windigo a reliable narrator? Do you have any empathy for it? Why or why not?
  2. Is Erdrich's Windigo a supernatural beast, or a real sufferer of Windigo psychosis merely imagined as supernatural by the child?
  3. Does the Windigo actually eat the child in the end? Or is the man inside released by the child, as per the telling explained in Erdrich's introduction?

Chew on This

Madness? What madness? The Wendigo is a perfectly understandable cultural reaction to the real dangers of starvation in winter time.

Actually… the reason why it's so hard to figure out what happens in the poem's conclusion is because the madness of the Windigo infects every aspect of this telling.

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