By 1990, Louise Erdrich had five children, three her husband had adopted prior to marriage and two biological daughters, both of whom were very young at the time ‘‘The Leap’’ was first published.
Given these circumstances, motherhood and writing were the two endeavors that required most of Erdrich’s attention. It is quite possible that the mother-daughter relationship was on her mind often as she watched her young girls in those early, ever-evolving stages of development. Pregnancy itself and mothering a newborn were clearly topics of immediate interest in the early 1990s, as 1995 saw the publication of Erdrich’s memoir, Blue Jay’s Dance: A Birth Year . This work of nonfiction combines the pregnancies of her three daughters and their early infancies and weaves together their stories so that they seem one cohesive tale. Erdrich analyzes her feelings and emotions along with those of her daughters from a philosophical standpoint, and the memoir reflects the intensity of Erdrich’s pregnancy and birthing experiences.
Erdrich’s life in the 1990s was all about balancing the role of mother with that of writer. Erdrich has praised her own mother for finding balance. In the 2003 interview with Jeannine Ouellette of Secrets of the City , Erdrich explains, ‘‘I was the oldest of seven children, and yet my mother made a tremendous effort to preserve a sense of childhood for me, to protect that space and freedom that is unique to childhood.’’
Erdrich feels a gratitude for her mother’s choices, for her willingness to sacrifice her own comfort and desires so that Erdrich could have a childhood of her own without having to take on the burden of maternal duties. Her attitude toward her mother is directly reflected in the narrator’s attitude toward Anna in ‘‘The Leap.’’ Erdrich has the advantage of being able to write that particular story, at that particular time, from the perspective of a daughter and a mother.
In addition to living a life informed by the newly experienced (as a mother) and influential mother-daughter relationship, Erdrich was dealing with thoughts of death. In The Blue Jay’s Dance she does not avoid discussing her own depression and suicidal thoughts, yet it is her husband who eventually committed suicide, just two years after publication of the book. Erdrich has publicly stated that Dorris had suffered from depression since the second year of their marriage. If that is the case, she had been dealing with the theme of death in her personal life for nearly a decade by the time she wrote ‘‘The Leap.’’
Writers usually write what they know, and given the timing of the writing and publication of ‘‘The Leap,’’ it would seem that the story was influenced more by the author’s personal experiences in her life at the time than by any social, political, or cultural factors of the time.
Although Erdrich’s stories are praised for their realism, her novels and short stories also rely heavily on magical realism, a literary technique in which remarkable or extraordinary events occur in an otherwise realistic setting. This is not surprising, given that many Native American stories and myths rely upon magical realism. Erdrich rejects the label of magical realist, however, and claims that even the most unusual events she writes about are based on actual occurrences.
The term ‘‘magical realism’’ was first used by the German art critic Franz Roh in 1925 to describe a style of painting. Today, the term is used most often in relation to literature, and it is a technique used by many authors, particularly those whose native culture includes magical realism in its history and legends. Two of the most well-known writers who fall into this category are Isabel Allende and Gabriel Garcia Ma´ rquez, both of whom were born in Latin America.
Some writers and critics believe magical realism is just another term for fantasy fiction. There is a difference, however: In fantasy fiction, much, if not most of a story—plot, setting, characters—is far-fetched or improbable. Magical realism is the interjection of improbable or highly unusual events in an otherwise believable and plausible story.
Sara Constantakis – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 30, Louise Erdrich, Published by Gale Group, 2010