Brandon Kerfoot is a settler scholar from Edmonton, in Treaty 6 territory. He is a doctoral candidate in the Department of English and Film Studies at the University of Alberta, where he analyzes when and how persons and politicized groups claim kinship with animals in Arctic literature and politics.
Brandon is the author of the article “Beyond Symbolism: Polar Bear Characters and Inuit Kinship in Markoosie’s Harpoon of the Hunter.”
Markoosie’s Harpoon of the Hunter is the coming-of-age story turned survival narrative of Kamik, a young Inuk whose community is attacked by a rabid polar bear. This paper engages with the existing scholarship on the text to show that it has favoured a symbolic interpretation of polar bears and other characters. Though the polar bear surfaces as a potentially symbolic element, I argue that the sequence of multiple bear attacks becomes increasingly literal, stripping away the symbolic resonance and revealing a polar bear character. By layering over the polar bear symbol with a relationship between Kamik and polar bears, Harpoon of the Hunter invites readers to shift from symbolic to literal relationship models. I apply this model to a reading of the final scene, Kamik’s suicide, to argue that the text undermines excessive symbolism and demands that material relationships be acknowledged and maintained.