Three Day Road Summary & Study Guide

Joseph Boyden
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Three Day Road Summary & Study Guide Description

Three Day Road Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Quotes and a Free Quiz on Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden.

The following version of this book was used to create this study guide: Boyden, Joseph. Three Day Road. Penguin Books, 2006. First edition.

In the beginning of the novel, an Cree Indian woman named Niska has come to escort the friend of her dead nephew home. Much to her surprise, it is actually her nephew Xavier who steps off of the train instead of his friend Elijah. The family members exit the town and begin their three day journey down the river that will lead them back to the land of their birth. Niska knows right away that there is something terribly wrong with her nephew as he looks like a ghost of his former self. She can sense that the war has damaged him in a way that she will not be able to repair with traditional medicine.

The first day of their journey is spent with Xavier deep in the memories of his days before the war and the first days he spent in the trenches. He recalls his first days on the front lines. Xavier and his section are shot at by their own comrades and Xavier learns how cunning the officers who order them are. The first days of the war teach Xavier, his friend Elijah and the rest of their company many things. A man named Corporal Thompson teaches the soldiers how to sneak around no man's land during the night without getting shot. Xavier comes out of those memories to see the fire line along the river bank where he and Elijah were caught in a fire on their way to the war. Xavier remembers how they were sleeping and the fire came upon them suddenly. It burned a huge area of the forest and lasted for several days. Xavier slips back into his war memories after the memory of the fire. The Canadian line is raided by the Germans and the Canadians retaliate several days later. Xavier is on the retaliation raid and becomes conflicted after he realized he has killed his first man. During this time, Xavier sees that his friend Elijah is thinking about becoming addicted to morphine like another soldier in their section.

After those memories, Xavier again becomes aware of the present and the river they are on. He speaks with his aunt Niska before slipping off into more memories. He remembers that his friend Elijah has started talking in an English accent when he tells other soldiers of his stories on the battlefield. Eventually, Corporal Thompson recognizes the skill Xavier and Elijah possess and he trains them to become snipers for their section. That prompts Elijah to delve further into his memories and explore the days he spent training to become a soldier. He, Elijah and another soldier from a different section are chosen to participate in a shooting contest. His entire section pins their hopes on Elijah but it is Xavier who comes out victorious. Xavier is proud that he has shown these white men that he is not a useless bush Indian. As Elijah's reputation as a sniper grows, the morphine addict in their section, whose name is Grey Eyes, is responsible for carelessly letting another soldier get killed by a sniper. Xavier becomes made at this man but Elijah is not. Elijah tells Xavier that the man was the one who introduced him to morphine on the ship ride to Europe and it has helped Elijah fly like he has always wanted to. Xavier and Elijah then become obsessed with killing the German sniper who killed the man in their section. Finally, Xavier is the one to kill him and Elijah becomes jealous of Xavier. Elijah is wounded in the days after this and Xavier sees this is when he really becomes addicted to morphine. Their section is sent back behind the lines for some rest days and there Xavier meets a girl. He is infatuated with her and they have a sexual encounter before he goes back to the front.

Niska also looks back at her memories during the first day of their journey and she recounts them to Xavier as they are traveling. Niska tells Xavier a story from her childhood when her parents were still alive and there were still many Cree living in the old ways. Her father is a medicine man of great power and during a winter where food was short, he was able to divine where there would be animals to hunt. However, a young warrior named Micah struck out on his own with his family. Micah died and his wife and child consumed parts of his body. When they returned to the tribe, Niska's father saw that they had turned windigo. The tribe convinced Niska's father to kill the windigos like he has done in the past. Niska watched her father do this even when she was not supposed to but he was not angry with her. Instead, he told her that one day she might have to do the same. After winter had passed, white men came and took her father away, accusing him of murder. Niska had a vision and saw her father die in prison, which was later confirmed by other members. His death forced their tribe to rely on the white men for food. The white men forced Niska to go to the residential school. She was treated horribly there but her sister fit in. Eventually, Niska's mother rescues her and they go out on their own to live in the bush. When Niska became a young woman, she encountered a French trapper in her area. Eventually, the two cultivated a relationship and had sexual intercourse but she does not tell Xavier that detail.

On the second day of their journey, Niska tells Xavier the rest of her story about the Frenchmen. She tells him how her mother warned her not to get too involved with him but she did not listen. One day, the Frenchman grew angry at Niska when she told him to leave so she could divine for another bush Indian. His anger hurt Niska and she followed him to his town. The Frenchmen then tricked her into have intercourse with him in a church, after which he tries to tell her that he has taken her power away. Niska flees from the town and is able to go back home, purify herself and reconnect with her power which she uses to send a spirit to kill the Frenchman. After a time, Niska's mother dies and she is all alone until visions of her young nephew come to her. Niska has heard her sister, his mother, has abandoned him in the residential school and she comes up with a plan to free him. She paddles to the town and is able to recognize her nephew, who tells her that he wants to come live in the bush with her. Before they leave, they scare one of the mean nuns and paddle away smiling. Niska then begins another story for Xavier and she tells him of the time she was called to kill a windigo. She recounts the journey to the village and how she strangled the windigo. When she was done, Niska realized that Xavier had been watching the entire time. Luckily, the young Xavier understands why she had to kill the windigo. Several years pass and Xavier grows into a young boy who wants a friend to play with. Niska agrees to move closer to the town and Xavier is able to bring around his friend from the residential school whose name is Elijah. Niska then tells Xavier of her memories of how Elijah came to live with him and the day they both left to go to war. She narrates how she searched for information on him in the town of the white man and how she had another Indian named Joseph Netmaker write Xavier a letter. She tells him the words she meant to say in the letter but how she was unsure Joseph translated them correctly. Her last story keeps both of them up well into the night.

Xavier listens to Niska's stories on the second day as his body screams out for morphine but he knows he only has enough to last him until the next day. He uses the morphine to slip further into his memory before it is all used up. Xavier recalls the battle of Courcelette and how during that battle he had drifted back in his memory. He went back to their days on the ship to Europe and how a violent storm broke two of the horses' legs and Xavier had to humanely kill them. Some of the officers were furious at this but the colonel on board commended Xavier. Xavier comes out of this memory and watches Elijah during the battle and over the next several days. He begins to see signs that his friend is turning windigo and is using killing to feed his soul. Over the next few months Elijah begins to exhibit more signs, even scalping his victims to have proof of his kills. Elijah become more addicted to morphine and tells Xavier that it is like flying and he wants to fly all the time. Xavier begins to lose his hearing during this time and Elijah tells him that he is going deaf. Eventually, Xavier becomes depressed and believes that seeing the girl he is infatuated with will cure it. When his section is sent to rest, he goes to visit her. But he finds that she is sleeping with a British soldier and that makes him angry and sad. When he returns, Elijah tells Xavier that he paid that girl to have sex with Xavier. Xavier begins to distrust Elijah more and more, especially after he kills a nest of swallow chicks in Xavier's cabin. More and more soldiers of their section die and Xavier does not bother to learn the names of the new soldiers. One day, he and Elijah meet another Indian in the Canadian army who makes Elijah angry with the number of sniper kills he has. Elijah does not like it that the man has more kills than he does.

The third day has Xavier still deep within his memories of war, though he does come out of them long enough to realize that Niska's story about the letter solves a mystery he had during the war. Xavier slips back into his memory then, recalling the time when Elijah shot an innocent woman and her child. Xavier knows that Elijah has gone mad and is turning into a windigo. Especially when Elijah plays a cruel joke on Xavier, telling him that the meat they are eating is from a human. Xavier's memory then moves to the day when he saw a change in Sergeant McCaan, their commanding officer. He is beloved by all the troops but Xavier sees that he is going to die soon. Xavier is even present for his death as he fails to save him from some German soldiers. During that attack that killed McCaan, Elijah saved Corporal Thompson but he is expected to die from his wounds later. Elijah begins to kill more brutally and he even disappears during one of the battles to chase retreating German soldiers. He even kills their Lieutenant and Grey Eyes during a bombardment when they tried to charge him for war crimes. Elijah spirals out of control towards the end of the novel and it brings Xavier to a realization. Xavier knows he must kill his friend.

On the afternoon of the third day, Niska paddles to shore and begins gathering supplies for a sweat lodge. While she waits for the rocks to heat up, she tells Xavier the story of his first hunt. She reminds me how he followed the bull moose all day when she and him became separated in the wilderness. He was determined to kill the bull moose and show Niska that he deserved the weapons of a man. But the moose moves too fast for Xavier and it leaves him behind. Xavier becomes scared of windigos but he fights off panic, remembering what Niska taught him and how she told him they came from a family of windigo hunters. This gave Xavier the courage to continue. He then stumbles upon the mating dance of the grouse, where he learns about the circle and begins to understand nature. After the dance, he kills a female grouse and cooks her. Niska finds him shortly after that and the next day the pair bring down the bull moose. They invite the other bush Indians to celebrate with them. During the meal, Niska has Xavier tell the story of his first hunt. He tells it and has the group dance the mating dance of the grouse with him. From then on, he was called Little Bird Dancer.

After Niska's story, Xavier finally confront his memory of what happened to Elijah. His memory takes him to the last few days of the war. He and Elijah were in a crater mounting an attack on a machine gun nest while bombs rained down above them. Once Xavier had killed the machine gunner, Elijah tries to kill Xavier. The two men fight and Xavier cuts off Elijah's airway with his rifle. Elijah pleads with Xavier but something else seems to be controlling Xavier. Elijah dies and not soon after Xavier is wounded by a bomb. He wakes up in a hospital to people calling him Elijah and he realizes that he threw away his own military ID yet took Elijah's from him when he killed him. In the hospital, Xavier's leg is amputated and he becomes addicted to morphine. Xavier uses the morphine to escape his memories and escape Elijah's ghost.

Night falls and the rocks for the sweat lodge are heated. Niska strips Xavier and herself and they crawl into the lodge. In the first round of steam, she prays to the spirits and the heat is relaxing. In the second round, Niska experiences flashes of what Xavier faced during the war. She asks during this round that all the men in that war be forgiven for their deeds. In the third round, Xavier's pain is all consuming and Niska becomes afraid. She calms her fear and fights off the bad spirit that has now come out of Xavier. With the cracking of a rock, it exists the tent and a more pure spirit takes its place. It is Elijah and Xavier makes peace with him. Niska and Xavier then do a fourth round where Niska sees a vision of Xavier and his children in the future. After the four sweat lodge rounds, they are both tired and Niska looks at the North Lights on the horizon and is comforted that they will be home tomorrow.

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