Indian Horse: How Trauma Can Affect One's Life
Richard Wagamese shocks all his readers when Saul Indian Horse, the main character, unveils a heartbreaking secret he has kept quiet for most of his life. Near the end of the book, Saul reveals that Father Leboutilier, a father like figure to him, has been raping him for years on end. In the novel Indian Horse, Wagamese shows how trauma rooted from abuse has detrimental effects on someone’s life.
Saul proves how trauma rooted from abuse affects his health when all he is going through starts to impact him mentally. This is very apparent in the novel when Saul and his classmates all let the reality of their lives settle in while at a lake near the residential school, “When they lay gasping on the grass, it was ourselves we [see] fighting for air. We [are] Indian kids and all we [have is] the smell of fish on our hands. . . Breathing in. Breathing in. ” (Wagamese 54). The residential schools stripped Saul of his culture and any knowledge and sense of belonging that came with it, which makes him feel next to nothing. The residential schools plays a big part in Saul’s suffering mentally especially when all the residential school teachers do is tear him apart so he feels nothing but hollow, “St. Germ’s scraped away at us, leaving holes in our beings. I could never understand how the god they proclaimed was watching over he could turn his head away and ignore such cruelty and suffering. ” (Wagamese 52). Saul constantly being put down and forced to be something he wasn’t prevented him from ever speaking about all the suffering he has endured.
The schools make him believe that every bad thing to happen to him is okay because there is nothing he can do about it in order to stop it. He receives no love and affection in his life which makes him believe what Father Leboutilier is doing to him is acceptable, “[These are] the words he used instead of love, and [he gave] me the job of cleaning the ice to buy my silence, to guard his secret. . . I [love] the idea of being loved so much that I did what he asked. When I [find] myself liking it, I [feel] dirty, repulsive, sick. ” (Wagamese 199) Father Leboutilier uses something Saul loves, hockey, in order to consolidate the rapings, which makes it okay in Saul’s young impressionable mind. All of Saul’s life, he has been squashed and belittled to fit into a tiny little box for the pleasure of others.
In Indian Horse we see how big a part Saul’s trauma plays in negatively affecting his emotional health. Saul’s inability to accept love is due to the fact that he received the wrong so called ‘love’ as a child which left its scars on him for the rest of his life, “I [am] 17. I [am] still a boy. But this mistreatment made me hard. When I [take] to the ice, the anger funnels out of me, and my game [becomes] a whirling, slashing attack. ” (Wagamese 176). The love he lacks all throughout his life causes him to be never able to keep stable relationships and never open up, alienating himself from others. Hockey traumatizes Saul in the long run because all of the hardships that came with it, even though as a child it was his safe haven from the terrible reality he lived in, I [have] run to the game. Run to it and [embrace] it, than anything that would allow me to get to that avenue of escape. That’s why I [play] with abandon. To abandon myself. When the racism of the crowds and players [make] me change, I [become] enraged because they [are] taking away the only protection I [have]. When that [happenes], I [know] that the game [can] not offer me protection any longer. (Wagamese 199-200)
It is now evident to the readers why Saul is so filled with anger as an adult, because what was supposed to be his escape, hockey, becomes another source of his pain and suffering. It is prominent as to why the abuse affects him mentally, so drastically, when Saul reveals the story of Father Leboutilier raping him, “I only [feel] love. I [want] so much to be held and stroked. As he [gathers] my face in his hands and [kisses] me, I close my eyes. I [think] of my grandmother. The warmth of her arms holding me. I [miss] that so much. ” (Wagamese 198). The constant abuse slowly plucked away at Saul’s innocence and childhood while confusing him into thinking that this is what love is meant to be. Due to this constant emotional abuse, Saul goes through life hating himself, cutting himself off from others and faces great loneliness as a result. Finally, it is clear to see just how damaging abuse linked to trauma can be when it affects Saul physically. Saul begins drinking to forget the trauma he is enduring, which starts to affect his behaviour towards himself and others, “. . . I discovered that being someone you’re not is often easier than living with the person you are. I [become] drunk with that. . . Finally, though, the drink [has] me snared. I [speak] less and [drink] more, and I [become] the Indian again; [drunk] and drooling and reeling, a caricature everyone [seeks] to avoid. ” (Wagamese 181). Saul’s alcoholism has made it harder for him to live his life and makes him see his life in a dull way. Only later in life does Saul realize, the effects of the abuse have stayed with him and always will, “The truth of the abuse and the rape of my innocence [are] closer to the surface, and I [use] anger and rage and physical violence to block myself off from it. ” (Wagamese 200). The beatings affected Saul physically when he tried taking the pent up rage inside of him out on others, this not only ruined his hockey career but his relationship with others.
The realization of what was happening to other kids in his school and himself included made him feel physically empty inside, “‘God’s love, ’ Angelique Lynx Leg whispered one day…‘God’s love, ’She said again, and then looked at me with eyes as deep and empty as a eyes of a doll. ‘What Sister brings at night. What Father brings. To bless me. To nourish me. ”(Wagamese 82). The sexual abuse Saul faced as a child made him incapable of ever physically being comfortable with anyone which is apparent in the novel when Saul never has a romatic relationship with anyone thus far in his life. The effects of trauma that were unmistakably clear had taken a great toll on the visible aspects of Saul’s life.
As told in the novel Indian Horse, it is entrenched repeatedly how trauma grounded from abuse can have adverse effects on someone’s health. This can affect someone’s mental, emotional, and physical stability mentally and may never leave them. Richard Wagamese illustrates how suffering these types of abuse affect a person, not only within, but also those they choose to surround themselves with, perfectly through the eyes of Saul Indian Horse. Towards the end of the book, Wagamese suggests that talking about the trauma Saul has endured, with the people he loves most, has helped him begin the process of healing, giving Saul a better chance of living an improved life.
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