Barkskins Summary & Study Guide

Annie Proulx
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Barkskins Summary & Study Guide Description

Barkskins 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 Barkskins by Annie Proulx.

The following version of this book was used to create this guide: Proulx, Anne. Barkskins. New York: Scriber, 2009.

The novel, told from the third-person omniscient point of view, begins in 1693, when René Sel and Charles Duquet arrive in New France, where they are indentured servants for the eccentric Monsieur Claude Trépagny. They work cutting trees so that Monsieur Trépagny may sell the timber. Sel and Duquet live in a hut with Mari, a Mi’kmaq woman, and her sons Elphège and Theotiste, who Monsieur Trépagny has laid claim to. Monsieur Trépagny lives in a luxurious house downstream.

A young girl named Renardette comes to live with the woodsmen. Duquet disappears into the forest one day, and everyone believes he is dead. They later learn he has become a fur trader in the city. Monsieur Trépagny goes hunting for him to seek revenge, and dies. René moves into Trépagny’s house and takes Mari as his wife. They have a happy marriage and have several children, Achille and twins Noë and Zoë, in addition to Elphège. After many years, Mari suddenly becomes very sick and dies. Later, René dies while cutting timber in the forest.

Meanwhile, Duquet has become a successful fur trader in Odaawa. Eventually, he turns his business to timber. He becomes an obsessive businessman who is constantly seeking to expand his empire. He takes a ship to Europe and then to China where he trades furs and woods. In Amsterdam, Duquet marries Cornelia Roos, the daughter of a wealthy family. They have many children, including two daughters, a son named Outger, and three adopted sons named Jan, Nicolaus, and Bernard. Duquet returns to New France, where he changes his name to “Duke,” and continues to expand his timber business. His sons eventually join him and they form the company Duke & Sons. At the age of 51, Duke is murdered by Dud McBogle, a man who was attempting to steal his property.

Mari and René’s children struggle without their parents and find it difficult to navigate the new world as Native Americans. They live in a wikuom in the forest in Mi’kmaq territory. Eventually, the sons leave home to try and find work in the lumber industry. Later, they return to their parents’ large house, but it is eventually taken from them by Renardette, whose claim as a white woman overpowers their own. They return to Mi’kmaq territory and abandon the whiteman ways for good. One day, Achille returns home from hunting to find that his wikuom has been burned with his wife and children inside. Achille leaves his family.

Duke & Sons continues to prosper. The adopted sons marry and become popular in American society. Outger, too, marries, but leaves the family for the life of a botany professor in Europe. Bernard dies of an infection after a nail comes loose on the sole of his boot. Later, his wife dies and it is discovered she was biologically male.

Kuntaw Sel leaves the family and is taken by Outger’s daughter, Beatrix Duquet, to a home in Penobscot Bay. Kuntaw’s estranged son, Tonny, finds him there and rejoins the family in addition to Kuntaw’s children with Beatrix: Amboise, Jinot, Elise, Francis-Outger, and Josime. Their lives are a blend of whiteman ways and Kuntaw’s Mi’kmaq ways. Beatrix grows ill with cancer and she and Kuntaw grow apart as Beatrix falls in love with her doctor. Following Beatrix’s death, Kuntaw pledges his life to Mi’kmaq ways. Jinot, Josime, and Amboise, who have been away at lumber camps, reunite and begin working together. Josime leaves the group for a woman.

James Duke meets Posey Brandon, a married woman, and begins visiting her almost every day. Her husband is a mentally-ill recluse, who James attempts to get rid of so he can wed Posey. He attempts to frame Mr. Brandon for murder and fails. Still, eventually Mr. Brandon dies of natural causes and James and Posey wed. They give birth to a daughter, Lavinia.

One day, when Jinot and Amboise are working in the forest, a massive wildfire breaks out. The fire kills many, including Amboise. Jinot lives, but his leg is badly wounded and leaves him with a permanent limp. Jinot is nursed back to health by a Native American family. Eventually, a man named Resolve Smith tells him about work at a new ax factory in Massachusetts. They head there, looking for work, and are hired by the factory owner, Albert Bone. Bone takes an interest in Jinot and brings him on a trip to Boston. Jinot marries a woman named Minnie and they have twin sons, Amboise and Aaron. Amboise dies in a sledding accident, sending the parents into depression. Cholera breaks out and the entire family, save for Jinot and Aaron, is swiftly killed by the disease. Aaron goes to Nova Scotia to find his Mi’kmaq family, for he desires to learn their ways. Jinot goes with Mr. Bone on a voyage to New Zealand. Mr. Bone is killed by a Maori man, and Jinot is held captive as a suspect. Eventually, he is released, but is forced to work in order to pay for his voyage back to America. While working, his bad legs becomes wounded and infected, and Jinot dies. Etienne Sel, an uncle of Jinot’s, comes to claim him and ends up befriending Joseph Dogg, Mr. Bone’s foreman. Eventually, they return to Boston together.

James Duke and his associate Lennart Vogel goes on a surveying trip with Armenius Breitsprecher. They find a massive forest in Michigan and agree to bring Duke & Sons to the area. Lavinia Duke begs her father to let her join the Duke & Sons business. Though he thinks it will not work, she is so persistent that he eventually allows her the role of a clerk. She succeeds all expectations for the position. She discovers that Armenius and his brother Dieter have their own timber company and are planning to steal the land from the Duke’s. Lavinia and her father relocate to Detroit, where they can better oversee their new land. James Duke dies in a shipwreck, and Lavinia is left to manage Duke & Sons.

Lavinia shifts the company to Chicago and renames it Duke Logging and Lumber. She understands the need for an heir, and hires a detective to investigate her lineage. The detective produces information of a family of Native Americans living in Canada, and Lavinia is infuriated by this information. Eventually, after a rivalry with the Brietsprecher family, Lavinia realizes her affections for Dieter and they marry. Shortly after they marry, Dieter is in a railroad accident that leaves him bedridden. Lavinia throws herself into the business more than ever in order to avoid caring for him. After he recovers, the couple takes a honeymoon to New Zealand, where they see the famed kauri tree. A Maori woman pleads with Lavinia to not cut the trees, but Lavinia is unmoved. When the couple returns to America, Lavinia gives birth to a son, Charles Duke. Shortly after, it is discovered that Lavinia’s office assistant Annag and the company lawyer Mr. Flense have run away together, taking with them a considerable amount of the company money.

Aaron Sel, the only surviving son of Jinot, returns to find his Mi’kmaq family living in Nova Scotia. He remains there for two years before attempting to find his father. This leads him to Boston, where he takes work on a ship. Eventually, he returns to Canada in an attempt to find Mi’kmaq people. Instead, he finds ruined villages. After further searching, though, he finds a group of Mi’kmaw people, and Peter, Etienne, Kuntaw and Alik Sel among them. Slowly, the group tries to rebuild the Mi’kmaw way of life. They search major cities for people of Mi’kmaq heritage in an attempt to rebuild a proper village and culture. Their ways become a blend of traditional and whiteman ways. Reservations are created as the homeland becomes the property of timber companies and is destroyed in the process.

Lavinia dies suddenly one day, and Dieter quickly remarries. He has another son, James Bardawulf Brietsprecher. The first son, Charley, goes on to study forestry at Yale. He and his father come to disagreements about the lumber business, as Charley has a preservationist mindset and does not want to be involved with deforestation practices. Charley attempts to rape James Bardawulf’s wife, Caroline, and when James Bardawulf discovers Charley in the act, he beats him and Charley falls into a coma. When Charley wakes, Dieter sends him to live in tropical South America, where he spends his days cataloging the hundreds of varieties of trees. He sends his reports to James Bardawulf’s son, Conrad.

In the 1960’s, Sophia Hannah, Dieter’s youngest child, fights for a place within the family business. The men of the company agree to give her the title of company historian, and she becomes responsible for chronicling the Duke family history. In the process, she discovers the genealogy report Lavinia received years ago, stating that the Sel family may have a legitimate claim to the company. The company members panic and agree to sell the company.

Bren and Edgar-Jim Sel have a daughter named Sapatisia. She is an intense, headstrong woman who wishes to learn as much as she can about plants and the forest. She leaves home early and begins travelling, checking in only with the occasional postcard. Years later, two cousins, Jeanne Sel and Felix Mius are living on a reservation. They wish to leave the reservation and work incredibly hard in school and eventually in community college. They attend a lecture by Dr. Alfred Onehube, Sapatisia’s ex-husband and a vocal supporter of the natural world. Jeanne and Felix are so inspired by his lecture, they become dedicated environmentalists. Jeanne discovers an article about Sapatisia in a magazine, and she and Felix resolve to find her. They hitch a ride to where she lives and talk with her briefly. She is brusque and does not initially want them there. Eventually, she asks for their addresses and says she will be in touch.

Later, Jeanne and Felix receive mail saying they have received scholarships to go and do fieldwork with Sapatisia and her team. They return to her home, where she has assembled a diverse team from around the world. Together, they will study the local environment and try to learn as much as they can so they can help it. The novel closes with Sapatisia’s anxieties about the future, and Jeanne and Felix’s hope.

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