Winter in the Blood
Motivation and First Raise’s Son
For the narrator of Winter in the Blood, by James Welch, motivation is at the root of all of his problems, from his need to leave his mother and the comfort of home, to his problems in dealing with the past, and finally to his wanting to start a life of his own. There is a sense throughout the novel that the narrator, also known as First Raise’s son, remains ambiguous because not even he knows who he is. He even says that “the distance [he] felt came not from country or people; it came from within [him]. [He] was as distant from [him]self as a hawk from the moon” (2). Throughout the novel, as First Raise’s son comes to terms with his own person, the reader also begins to learn who he is. But the common theme throughout this journey is the narrator’s lack of motivation, because he must plow through some painful memories in order to discover who First Raise’s son really is. The narrator first runs into motivational problems with his living situation. He is a thirty-two year old man who is still living at home and being treated like an adolescent. At the beginning of the novel, there is also a hatred for his home, a place where he always wants to leave in search of something, anything, else. Even the girl that he brings home will not stay in that house. For the narrator, “[c]oming home was not easy anymore. It was never a cinch, but it had become a torture” (2). But even though the narrator describes his surroundings in this way, he never leaves for an extended period of time. Even his trip to Havre lends itself to a big disappointment, and he is actually glad to return home. That particular detail in the novel is a turning point in the narrator’s feelings toward his home. He is actually glad to return to something familiar and comfortable. And even though this is at the beginning of the novel, it is also the beginning of his journey. The past haunts the narrator throughout the novel. The reader knows implicitly that something terrible happened to the narrator’s brother, but it is not until the end of the novel that the truth is revealed. Another death that occurred was the narrator’s father, who died while walking home drunk one night. The narrator wants to appear removed from these deaths (he “takes a leak” on the spot where his father was found dead), but the two who die were the only ones that truly loved the narrator. Perhaps he feels that by distancing himself from the truth, he can avoid the pain that always accompanies it. Even the lack of a name to call him shows a distancing from the audience, a way to protect him from criticism. The eventual discovery that his grandfather is Yellow Calf is something that he did not want to know until the end of the novel, when everything seemed to fall into place. This revelation helped First Raise’s son to develop a sense of who he is through his ancestors. Finally, the narrator has problems motivating himself to make a life of his own. All through the novel, First Raise’s son is chasing a Cree woman whom he brought home with him. Neither his mother nor his grandmother like the girl (he thinks his grandmother envisions killing her because she is Cree), but she leaves and steals his gun and electric razor. He chases after her and has several relationships with other women, but he is never satisfied the next day. All the Cree woman brings him is pain (literally, when her brother beats him up), and he is left to pick himself up again. The narrator next involves himself with a convict, perhaps hoping to find some excitement in Canada. Before he needs to make a decision about traveling with the other man, the man is arrested, and the narrator is left on his own again. Throughout Winter in the Blood, First Raise’s son has problems motivating himself to do anything. He appears to be stuck in a never-ending cycle, one that he has lived since the death of his brother. However, once he comes to terms with the past and learns more about his ancestors, he can build a better picture of himself and perhaps motivate himself to accomplish something. I feel that the narrator will change his life in the smallest extent beyond the story of this novel, but nothing spectacular or worth writing a sequel about. The motivation is finally there.