The Night Watchman Book Club Questions & Discussion Guide (2023)

This book won the Pulitzer Prize for its deep and compelling writing, which explores historical events of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa through stories that are at times heartbreaking, humorous, and magical. These The Night Watchman book club questions will give you plenty of starting points to discuss this unique and powerful book, and its historical importance.

Our discission guide for The Night Watchman explores the stories of the main characters, Thomas Wazhask, who is based on the author’s grandfather, and Pixie Paranteau, a young woman navigating the spaces between tradition, ambition, exploitation, and responsibility. Erdrich weaves their stories together with those in their tribe to explore the intricacies of tribal life, the persecution and exploitations of Native Americans by the government and others, and the inner workings of their personal relationships and spiritual life.

Keep reading this guide for a synopsis, selected reviews, similar book recommendations, and The Night Watchman book club questions to gather some thought provoking ideas to further explore this intriguing book.

The Night Watchman Book Club Questions & Discussion Guide (1)

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The Night Watchman Synopsis

The Night Watchman, by Louise Erdrich

Thomas Wazhashk is the night watchman at the jewel bearing plant, the first factory located near the Turtle Mountain Reservation in rural North Dakota. He is also a Chippewa Council member who is trying to understand the consequences of a new “emancipation” bill on its way to the floor of the United States Congress. It is 1953 and he and the other council members know the bill isn’t about freedom; Congress is fed up with Indians. The bill is a “termination” that threatens the rights of Native Americans to their land and their very identity. How can the government abandon treaties made in good faith with Native Americans “for as long as the grasses shall grow, and the rivers run”?

Since graduating high school, Pixie Paranteau has insisted that everyone call her Patrice. Unlike most of the girls on the reservation, Patrice, the class valedictorian, has no desire to wear herself down with a husband and kids. She makes jewel bearings at the plant, a job that barely pays her enough to support her mother and brother. Patrice’s shameful alcoholic father returns home sporadically to terrorize his wife and children and bully her for money. But Patrice needs every penny to follow her beloved older sister, Vera, who moved to the big city of Minneapolis. Vera may have disappeared; she hasn’t been in touch in months, and is rumored to have had a baby. Determined to find Vera and her child, Patrice makes a fateful trip to Minnesota that introduces her to unexpected forms of exploitation and violence, and endangers her life.

Thomas and Patrice live in this impoverished reservation community along with young Chippewa boxer Wood Mountain and his mother Juggie Blue, her niece and Patrice’s best friend Valentine, and Stack Barnes, the white high school math teacher and boxing coach who is hopelessly in love with Patrice.

In TheNight Watchman, Louise Erdrich creates a fictional world populated with memorable characters who are forced to grapple with the worst and best impulses of human nature. Illuminating the loves and lives, the desires and ambitions of these characters with compassion, wit, and intelligence,The Night Watchmanis a majestic work of fiction from this revered cultural treasure.

10 The Night Watchman Book Club Questions

  1. Erdrich switches the narrative between the narratives of the two main characters, Thomas and Patrice. How did this affect the overall story? Did you like the alternation between the narratives?
  2. The story uses magical realism throughout, such as Patrice’s experience sleeping by the bear, and Thomas’s viewing of beings in the sky after falling outside the factory. How do these experiences enhance your understanding of the characters’ connection to the land around them, their culture, and history?
  3. What stereotypes about Native Americans does Senator Watkins lay out in his testimony questions? How does the memory and presence of Roderick help Thomas deal with the stereotypes and insinuating questions?
  4. How does the House Concurrent Resolution 108 bill frame its words to make it sound like a positive, empowering change for the tribes? What words does Thomas use to explain his view of the actual purpose of the bill?
  5. “But every so often the government remembered about Indians and when they did they always tried to solve Indians, thought Thomas. They solve us by getting rid of us.” What do you think would have happened to the members of the Turtle Mountain Tribe if the bill had passed?
  6. What do you think Patrice’s future will look like? Do you think she will go to school, leave her home, or stay put in the future?
  7. How has the experience of traveling back to the tribe and testifying for them changed Millie? What do you think she will do in the future?
  8. How did caring for Vera’s baby change Wood Mountain?
  9. Were you familiar with the history of Native American tribes in the U.S. before this book? What about the attempts to terminate them? What new information or perspectives has this book given you?
  10. How did Patrice’s experience of going to the city, where she was very naive of the dangers, and ending up as the water jack, parallel or different from the way Native American tribes have been treated in our country?

Selected Reviews for The Night Watchman

“I loved everything about this book – the writing, the characters, the story, the importance of it and that Louise Erdrich pays a wonderful tribute to her grandfather who inspired this story. It’s beautifully written and depicts a strong sense of community, of family, and of the hard life on the Chippewa Turtle Mountain Reservation in North Dakota. It’s filled with characters that are easy to love, to admire, to root for as they fight for their identity, their land, not to be “terminated”, as they struggle with managing their daily existence.”

(Video) Louise Erdrich: The Night Watchman [engl.]

“I love Erdrich’s writing and her command over the language. She plays with the meaning of words, subverts norms, and makes her points subtly and quietly. She weaves in bits of humor to lighten the tone. I learned so much from reading this. Erdrich’s author’s note at the end taught me even more. The fact that the current administration is trying to emancipate tribes doesn’t surprise me. It makes me nauseous and angry to think about. However, Erdrich’s final sentences leave me feeling hopeful.

The Night Watchman is a powerful read filled with heart and soul. It serves as a loving tribute to Erdrich’s grandfather who fought for Native American Rights. The characters, their journeys, and the message of this book moved me and will stay with me for time to come. I highly recommend!”

“Louise Erdrich could punch me in the face (imagine that lol) and I’d say thank you — which is to say, even though this wasn’t as much of a slam dunk for me as The Round House I still enjoyed it. She weaves autofiction, magical realism, and a compelling cast of characters together here to tell the story of a community who’s existence is threatened by the US government’s attempts to close down Native American reservations. Loved the central characters esp. Pixie and Wood Mountain, was less sure of the pacing/inclusion of some of the minor characters’ perspectives.”

Use our guide to find dozens of book ideas for your group.


3 Books like The Night Watchman

If you like Erdrich’s vibe, we’ve also got a book club guide for The Sentence, which deals with themes of family, redemption, the BLM movement and cultural appropriation.

(Video) The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich

If your book club is interested in reading more award winners, check out our guides for The Dutch House (Pulitzer), Girl, Woman, Other (Booker), Such a Fun Age (Booker) and Between the World and Me (National Book Award).

The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee, by David Treuer

If you are looking to learn more about Native American history in our country, this book will provide you with a sweeping history of Native American life in the U.S. from the 1890 massacre at Wounded Knee to the present.

This text uses history, reporting, memoir, and narrative to bring to light the more current struggles and realities for tribes in the U.S., from government seizures to cultural perceptions and resistance.

The Night Watchman Book Club Questions & Discussion Guide (3)

There There, by Tommy Orange

This book provides perspectives of modern Native American life through the perspectives of different characters, while also providing historical context and realities to their story. The story converges around 12 people who are all traveling to the same Oakland, California Pow Wow. They each bring their own experience of urban life and what it means to be a Native American in current times, each with their own unique journey and experience.

This is a great choice if you are looking for another compelling fiction read with Native American characters and experiences.

(Video) Pulitzer Review: The Night Watchman
The Night Watchman Book Club Questions & Discussion Guide (4)
(Video) The Night Watchman Book Review

The Poisonwood Bible Barbara Kingsolver

This book follows the story of a Baptist missionary family and their journey in the Belgian Congo in 1959. This powerful book explores themes of culture, religion, oppression, and family dynamics set against the tumultuous political upheavals occurring in the Congo during this time.

If you enjoyed the deep cultural examination told in The Night Watchman, this book will be a good fit for you. The time period is similar, and while the setting and characters are vastly different, they struggle under many similar societal and historical difficulties.

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Authored by Lacy Challe
She’s is an avid reader who lives in Wisconsin with her husband, two children, and dog. She has loved reading and writing about books since childhood, and eventually earned degrees in Comparative Literature and Library and Information Science. She loves analyzing books and providing recommendations to family and friends.


What does the owl represent in The Night Watchman? ›

“The owl shares Thomas' solitude and symbolizes the mental and psychic loneliness of his battle”.

Is The Night Watchman a good book club book? ›

The Night Watchman is a powerful read filled with heart and soul. It serves as a loving tribute to Erdrich's grandfather who fought for Native American Rights. The characters, their journeys, and the message of this book moved me and will stay with me for time to come. I highly recommend!”

Is The Night Watchman magical realism? ›

The story uses magical realism throughout, such as Patrice's experience sleeping by the bear, and Thomas's viewing of beings in the sky after falling outside the factory.

What happens to Patrice in The Night Watchman? ›

Concerned, Patrice goes to Minneapolis to track her down, but she's unable to find Vera. Instead, Patrice is coerced into working a job at a bar called Log Jam 26, serving as an entertainer who wears a costume and swans around in a tank. However, it turns out the costume is poisonous.

Why is the owl seen as wise? ›

In Greek mythology, the goddess Athene was thought to symbolize wisdom and was often depicted with an owl nearby. That probably was inspired by the owls' big eyes and solemn appearance. The Greeks also thought owls had some sort of inner light that let them see at night. In Rome it was just the opposite.

Why is the owl called a sentinel? ›

Ans. The owl is called the forest's sentinel because it stays up during the night and seems to keep a watch on the jungle.

What was so controversial about the publishing of her second book Go Set a Watchman? ›

It's ironic that the reception of Go Set a Watchman has been dominated by shock and dismay over the discovery that Atticus Finch is a racist, because the book is literally about Scout — who now goes by her given name, Jean Louise — making the same discovery.

What tribe is The Night Watchman about? ›

Centered around the threat of the U.S. Government termination of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa tribe in North Dakota, Louise Erdrich's novel The Night Watchman takes us on an Indigenous journey inspired by her grandfather, Patrick Gourneau, a former tribal chairman of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa and a ...

Who is Roderick in The Night Watchman? ›

And there's Roderick, the ghost of Thomas' classmate at boarding school, as well as the spirits of the elders who dance in dazzling light one night when Thomas locks himself out in the freezing cold.

What are the 5 elements of magical realism? ›

What Are the Characteristics of Magical Realism?
  • Realistic setting. All magical realism novels take place in a setting in this world that's familiar to the reader.
  • Magical elements. ...
  • Limited information. ...
  • Critique. ...
  • Unique plot structure.
Aug 23, 2021

What are the two elements which combined in magical realism? ›

What two elements are combined in magical realism? Realistic elements and magical elements.

Does Patrice find Vera? ›

Luckily, Patrice “did things perfectly when enraged.” When she learns that her older sister, Vera, who'd disappeared months earlier in Minneapolis, has been spotted — in distress, carrying a new baby — Patrice marshals her inner resolve.

Who is biboon in The Night Watchman? ›

Biboon is the father of one of the main characters, Thomas Wazhashk, or Thomas Muskrat, the eponymous Night Watchman. As a local leader Thomas determines that in the community the Resolution will be referred to as the Termination or extermination Bill.

Is The Night Watchman Based on a true story? ›

“The Night Watchman” is a blend of truth and fiction, real people and real events matched up with make-believe. The boxing match that Thomas organizes to raise money for the trip to Washington? True.

What do owls symbolize in the Bible? ›

Like the Owl that can distinguish its' prey in the dark, prophetic vision can also see those that belong to the Father that are in the dark, and those being called to come to the light. They recognize those whom the Lord has chosen, and through a prophetic word, reveal the calling that God has placed upon their life.

Which bird is regarded as a symbol of love? ›

White doves are clear symbols of love, and they are a symbol of peace for many. These albino doves are woven into rituals, and until recently, they were still released by the Vatican as 'peace' doves.

What are 5 interesting facts about owls? ›

Owls can rotate their necks 270 degrees. A blood-pooling system collects blood to power their brains and eyes when neck movement cuts off circulation. A group of owls is called a parliament.
Birds in This Story
  • Northern Saw-whet Owls can travel long distances over large bodies of water. ...
  • Not all owls hoot!
Oct 15, 2015

Why can't native people look at owls? ›

The Native American peoples attach a number of meanings to the appearance of an owl, but owls are generally seen as messengers from the spirit world to humans. Among the Hopi people, owls represent a warning about sorcery. For the Ojibwe people, owls always warn of evil and death.

What is the myth behind the owl? ›

Myth: Owls are bad luck/Owls are omens of death.

Reality: Owls are no more bad luck than black cats, broken mirrors, or spilled salt. In many cultures, owls are seen as bad luck or omens of death and are feared, avoided or killed because of it.

Why do Native Americans look away from owls? ›

Many tribes across the country not only believe that owls have a correlation to death, but also the afterlife. Tribes such as the Lakota, Omaha, Cheyenne, Fox, Ojibwa, Menominee, Cherokee, and Creek consider owls to be either an embodied spirit of the dead or associated with a spirit in some way.

What does the phrase Go Set a Watchman mean? ›

"'Go Set a Watchman' means, 'Somebody needs to be the moral compass of this town,'" Flynt said. "Isaiah was a prophet. God had set him as a watchman over Israel. It's really God speaking to the Hebrews, saying what you need to do is set a watchman, to set you straight, to keep you on the right path.

What Supreme Court decision are they talking about in Go Set a Watchman? ›

At the heart of "Go Set a Watchman" is the obvious but unnamed landmark 1954 Supreme Court decision, Brown v. Board of Education, that ultimately resulted in the desegregation of public schools.

How is Atticus different in Go Set a Watchman? ›

Atticus is a man of his times. He treats people fairly and equally under the law, but he does not try to change people who do not do so. Atticus is more concerned, at the end of the day, about the law and justice than about equality for all people.

Does the Chippewa tribe still exist? ›

The Chippewa today are of mixed blood, mostly Native, French and English. Many live on reservations in Canada and the United States (Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Montana and North Dakota).

What did the watchman do a face in the dark? ›

He said that he witnessed a horrifying scene where he saw a boy who had no face. In a reply, the watchman turned towards the teacher and said: “ Do you mean it was like this?” To his surprise, Mr Oliver saw that the watchman too had no face, not even eyebrows.

What religion is watchman on the wall? ›

Watchmen on the Walls (Latvian: Sargi uz mūriem) is an international evangelical ministry based in Riga, Latvia.

Why did daddy become a night watchmen? ›

Why did Daddy want to be a night watchman? Ans. Daddy wanted to be a night watchman because the job of a watchman was both attractive and exciting. He was awake while the whole town slept.

What is the name of Roderick's sister? ›

Madeline Usher is the twin sister of Roderick in 'The Fall of the House of Usher'.

Who is Patrice's father in The Night Watchman? ›

AngusWatchOne of Thomas acquaintances.
BuggyMorrisseyOne of Thomas' acquaintances.
AnakwardOne of Thomas' acquaintances.
PogoParanteauPatrice's father.
187 more rows

What are the five forms of magic? ›

  • 3.1 Thaumaturgy.
  • 3.2 Alchemy.
  • 3.3 Magic.
  • 3.4 Sorcery.
  • 3.5 Wizardry.
  • 3.6 Metamagic.

What are the 5 major plot elements? ›

  • Exposition.
  • Rising Action.
  • Climax.
  • Falling Action.
  • Resolution.

What are the 4 types of realism? ›

What are the types of realism in international relations?
  • Classical realism.
  • Liberal realism.
  • Neorealism.
  • Neoclassical realism.
Oct 1, 2021

What are the 8 elements of magic? ›

To achieve this we have invented eight elements of magic. Each of these elements - air, fire, water, earth, darkness, light, metal and nature - stands for specific attributes, individual strands of reality and its own philosophical ideas.

What are the five forms of realism? ›

  • 2.1 Metaphysical realism.
  • 2.2 Naive or direct realism.
  • 2.3 Immanent realism.
  • 2.4 Scientific realism. 2.4.1 Scientific realism in physics.
  • 2.5 Moral realism.
  • 2.6 Aesthetic realism.

What are the 7 elements of fantasy? ›

Fantasy Elements List:
  • Magic. ...
  • Unique Setting. ...
  • A Heroic Adventure. ...
  • Power Structures or Hierarchies. ...
  • Otherworldly Creatures. ...
  • Relatable Themes. ...
  • Unique Language.
Mar 7, 2022

Where does The Night Watchman take place? ›

The Night Watchman takes place in rural North Dakota in the 1950s. It chronicles the efforts of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians to thwart the government's attempt to terminate them, which is to say, end federal recognition of the tribe, and force them off their ancestral land.

What year is The Night Watchman set in? ›

It is 1953 and he and the other council members know the bill isn't about freedom; Congress is fed up with Indians. The bill is a “termination” that threatens the rights of Native Americans to their land and their very identity.

Is The Night Watchman a movie? ›

The Night Watchmen is a 2017 horror film. The film was directed by Mitchell Altieri, and was written by Ken Arnold, Dan DeLuca and Jamie Nash.

What does Patrice like about working at the Jewel Plant? ›

6. Patrice likens her meticulous work at the jewel plant to beading with her mother.

What happens to Vera in The Night Watchman? ›

It turns out Vera was trafficked onto a ship (to be used for sex by the sailors) and became addicted to drugs at some point. When she goes through withdrawal, they leave her for for dead in an alleyway. Vera ends up wandering until a kind man, Henry, takes her in.

What happens at the end of The Night Watchman? ›

The delegation (consisting of Patrice, Thomas, Millie and two other tribespeople, Juggie and Moses) makes it to Washington. Thomas has a stroke on the way back, but recovers. In the end, Vera manages to make it home and the Turtle Mountain reservation is not terminated.

How many chapters are in The Night Watchman? ›

This in-depth study guide offers summaries & analyses for all 96 chapters of The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich.

Who is the villain in watchman? ›

Ozymandias (/ˌɒziˈmændiəs/ OZ-ee-MAN-dee-əs; real name Adrian Alexander Veidt) is a fictional anti-villain in the graphic novel limited series Watchmen, published by DC Comics.

Was the watchman a peacemaker? ›

Moore and Gibbons redefined what was possible within the genre. Pretty much all modern superhero media owes a debt to Watchmen. However, the character of Peacemaker (John Cena) is an integral part of Watchmen's history.

What does the owl symbolize in the Navajo? ›

To the Navajo, the owl is a bearer of bad news. When an owl appears, it may be a warning that something terrible is about to happen. When a traditional Navajo sees an owl, he ppecker – A Navajo Talerays for intervention, protection, and guidance.

What does the owl represent indigenous? ›

The Native Owl Symbol represents a bird of wisdom and intuition, magic and prophecy. Owls are often seen as messengers. Some healers call upon the Owl for insight into the truth of ill-intent. Some First Nations believed that the sound of the Owl was a call to summon the spirit world.

Why is it called the powerful owl? ›

They are aptly named, with very powerful and heavy claws. This owl is the largest species of the "hawk owl" group found in much of Asia and the Australasian region, all included in the genus Ninox. It can be considered, along with its sister species the rufous owl (N.

Who does the owl represent in Macbeth? ›

The owl is a symbol of death and is used in many instances to portray evil and darkness. Here, the sound of the owl marks the death of Duncan, alarming Lady Macbeth that the Macbeth has already committed the deed.

What do hummingbirds symbolize in Navajo? ›

Dahiitį́hí (hummingbirds) are a symbol of beauty and wisdom for the Diné (Navajo). When things of beauty come to the Diné, it is said that it is thanks to the hummingbird. Stories tell how the hummingbird taught the Diné how to gather pollen.

What animals are sacred to Navajo? ›

The Dine' (Navajo) people reside in their innate homeland, within four cardinal sacred mountains, encompassing portions of Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado. It is from this spiritual center that horses remain sacred.

What is male rain? ›

In traditional Navajo belief, a thunderstorm with torrential rain is considered a male rain. A gentle, slow-moving rain, accompanied perhaps by low clouds and mist, is a female rain.

Why do natives say Skoden? ›

The word skoden has been used by various Indigenous communities for a long time, but has been more of an inside joke/slang word for "let's go then." It started gaining popularity on Indigenous people's social media feeds a few years ago, and more recently showed up when someone spray-painted skoden over the Sudbury ...

Why do Native Americans have long hair? ›

For Native Americans, long hair equates to POWER, VIRILITY, and PHYSICAL STRENGTH. Beliefs and customs do differ widely between tribes, however, as a general rule, both men and women are encouraged to wear their hair long. Long hair ties the people to Mother Earth, reflecting Her long grasses.

What God's symbol is an owl? ›

The image of the owl is strongly associated with Athena which dates back to Athena and her role as a goddess in early Greek myth. In fact, one of Athena's ancient epithets is Glaukopis, which symbolizes her role as a bright-eyed Owl Goddess. The name Glaukopis comes from the Grek word glaux, which means little owl.

What bird makes the Hoo Hoo sound? ›

Great Horned Owls advertise their territories with deep, soft hoots with a stuttering rhythm: hoo-h'HOO-hoo-hoo. The male and female of a breeding pair may perform a duet of alternating calls, with the female's voice recognizably higher in pitch than the male's.

Why are owls so special? ›

Owls have adapted to nearly every ecosystem on the planet. They are quite specialized predators, having eyes and ears that are designed for hunting and unique feathers that enable them to fly almost silently. Owls hunt throughout the night in deserted places such as cemeteries, run-down farms, and other open areas.

Why does Lady Macbeth want to be unsexed? ›

In Act 1 of Macbeth, Lady Macbeth, sensing her husband's shaky resolve in committing murder to secure the crown of Scotland, asks spirits to “unsex” her ‑ to take away the “weaknesses” associated with being female.

What does the earth was feverous and did shake mean? ›

Clamored the livelong night. Some say the Earth. Was feverous and did shake. ( 2.3.28–35) In these lines, spoken just before Duncan's body is discovered, Lennox tells Macbeth about the violent storm that occurred outside the castle on the night of the king's murder.

What does blood symbolize in Macbeth? ›

Blood symbolizes the guilt that sits like a permanent stain on the consciences of both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, one that hounds them to their graves.


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