“Adversity is like a strong wind. It tears away from us all but the things that cannot be torn, so that we see ourselves as we really are.” Adversity implies difficulties, trouble and misfortune as it tests the potential of man and strengthens his spirit of self confidence. In the novel Indian Horse written by Richard Wagamese there are many circumstances where the main character Saul is forced to overcome the adversity in which once shattered his human spirit and made him feel worthless. The ideas of adversity such as being beaten at residential schools and the racism he faced while playing hockey, demonstrates Saul’s constant inner struggle and his desire to become a more powerful individual. Throughout the novel Saul is exposed to many painful experiences that leave him little to no identity and an unimaginable outlook on life. We quickly learn that when Saul was a child, he was taken away from his family and forced into an Indian Residential School where he witnessed and experienced abuses at the hands of the school’s educators. “They called it a school but it was never that….There were no tests or examinations.
The only test was our ability to survive.”(Pg.79) The emotions present in the quote represent the pain and agony he endured when being forcibly taught the ways of the white people. The school he is referring to is St. Jerome’s Indian Residential School; which many described as “Hell on earth”. Saul is rapidly thrown into a world of extreme emotional and physical abuse brought on by the hands of the nuns and priests that are assimilating the children. “They took me to St. Jerome’s Indian Residential School. I read once that there are holes in the universe that swallow all light, all bodies. St. Jerome’s took all the light from my world. Everything I knew vanished behind me with an audible swish, like the sound a moose makes disappearing into spruce.”(Pg.43) The vivid detail of this quote alone gives more clarity to the impact Residential Schools had on people and shows the injustice suffered by the First Nations People.
The many beatings, suicides and sexual molestations shattered many children’s human spirit and created a sense of life that wasn’t worth living. “When your innocence is stripped from you, when your people are denigrated, when the family you came from is denounced and your tribal ways and rituals are pronounced backward, primitive, savage, you come to see yourself as less than human. That is hell on earth, that sense of unworthiness. That’s what they inflicted on us.”(Pg.81) The quote represents how they were stripped from everything they had ever know, such as their language, rituals, traditions and even choice of food. Over a short period of time, the beatings and threats belittled the children and instilled them with continuous fear. When taken all together, the horror of attending this Residential School stripped not only Saul’s, but all the children’s innocence, traditions and identity.
Aside from the horrible experiences while attending the Residential School, Saul was forced to overcome many adversities while engaging in his passion for hockey. In the beginning Saul discovers that his love for hockey serves as a mean of escape. “I kept my discoveries to myself and I always made sure that I left the surface of the rink pristine. For the rest of the day, I’d walk through the dim hallways of school warmed by my secret. I no longer felt hopeless, chill air around me because I had Father Leboutilier, the ice, the mornings and the promise of a game that I would soon be old enough to play.(66) Throughout the quote it demonstrates how hockey gives him a sense of hope . It is through hockey that Saul can escape from his reality and fin what was stolen from him: friendships, family and a sense of self. Although as Saul’s future seems to point towards contending for a position within the National Hockey League, the constant racism and shunning from “the white man’s game” crumbles his faith in the one thing that gave him life outside of the Residential School. “But there were moment when you’d catch another boy’s eye and know that you were both thinking about it.
Everything was contained in that glance. All the hurt. All the shame. All the rage. The white people thought it was their game. They thought it was their world.”(136) This quote reveals how Saul’s passion for hockey is crushed by ‘the white people’ who feel that Indians can’t play hockey. What once was his salvation proves to be just another thing that belongs to the white man. They feel as if the game of hockey only belongs to the white people and should only be played by people of the same race. The many setbacks Saul had faced from fans diminishing his ability to play hockey, and the harsh verbal abuse constantly bellowed at him because of his skin color, quickly weakened his human spirit and built up enough anger that he could hardly contain. “During one game the fans broke into a ridiculous war chant whenever I stepped onto the ice….When I scored, the ice was littered with plastic Indian dolls..” This quote is referring to when Saul joined an all white man team and how he was most hated for breaking their tradition of “the white man’s games”.
Overall, Saul’s love for hockey that once allowed him to gain freedom and escape was now stolen from him due to his distasteful fans and the theory of “the white man’s game”. Through the beatings within the Residential School and the racism he faced while playing hockey, we are able to see how Saul was affected both internally and externally. With every sentence and every chapter you become familiar with the incredible will of a boy who has had to endure more than anyone should in a lifetime. At such an early age, Saul was forced to face various types of adversity and his worst fears which created long lasting effects on his life. The author conveys that staying true to your roots is what will get you through life’s obstacles despite temptations which may veer you from finding your true self. This novel illustrates that hockey is not merely a sport, but has the capacity to bind us together. No matter what colour your skin or where you come from, it’s the love of the game that shows us that we really are not that different after all.