Love Medicine x2 (themes)

lovemedLove Medicine
by Louise Erdrich
1984/4o0 pages  (rev. 1993, 2009)
Rating:  9  / contemp Native American fiction

I know I read and reviewed Love Medicine less than a month ago but looking into a bit (googling online) I see I missed so much!  – Love Medicine is full to overflowing with meaning – virtually every word and its placement suggest some theme or motif – .

I suppose the over-riding theme is the breakdown of the Native American identity and family especially over time,  but there are many, many sub-themes in the book related to that,  love and hate,  jealousy,  racism,  personal identity,  displacement, old ways vs new ways including medicine and cars,  absent parents,  poverty,  redemption,   Also to be found are symbols like water and food which can work many ways.

In this entry I’ve tried to outline which themes are addressed in each story.

***   “The World’s Greatest Fisherman  1983”
Part 1 – June, a middle-aged alcoholic Indian woman dies in a snowstorm.

“The snow fell deeper that Easter than it had in forty years, but June walked over it like water and came home.”  (loc. 94 K.)

Themes: identity, racism,  and booze and religion – displacement from family and the reservation home. Food because June is seriously hungry in many ways.   Water is a theme throughout the book – even the snow is water,  her vision and senses are as though through a watery glass or underwater. .

Part 2 – 1st person  Albertine wasn’t told until after the funeral.  Late or not,  she returns home to her extended family on the reservation from Fargo where she’s going to school.  The people give Erdrich an opportunity to introduce the family and some relationships.
The house is where Grandma and Grandpa (Marie and Nector)  had lived with all the kids – Aurelia has it now.

The main house, where all of my aunts and uncles grew up, is one big square room with a cooking shack tacked onto it.

June seems to have been a central figure joining two big Kashpaw and the Nanapush families by both marriage and children.

Here we have love and neglect, secrets, displacement,  memories, racism (who’s whiter?) , and the material things of families,  houses and  food along with water (or booze), of course.  Water here is about home and sustenance – I guess.  But then there are Grandpa Eli’s  thoughts which “finned off and vanished. The same color as water.”

Part 3 – still Albertine narrating – still at Aurelia’s house and we get more secrets including the one about June’s child, Lipsha so the half-brothers,  Lipsha and King have to deal with each other – they both lost their mother.  But King now lives in “the Cities” (Minneapolis/St. Paul).  The talk is about skunks and fish and foxes,  hunting and eating and heritage.   King’s “Greatest Fisherman” hat has to go to Grandpa/Uncle Eli because he caught the biggest, but he likes his better.  King and others are drunk.   – a fight ensues and June’s car is damaged by her son, King.  Nighttime – the northern lights remind Albertine of June.  (religion, secrets, native heritage, leaving the res, racism in the form of a joke)  King is messed up.

Part 4 – Albertine talks to Lipsha but discovers secrets including that June had tried to drown him.  (Water) And then King tries to drown his wife, Lynette in the kitchen sink and all the pies the women have made are destroyed. The hat goes under the baby and Albertine tries to fix the pies while King and Lynette make up in the car.  (

The title of the chapter refers to King wearing a hat with that slogan.  The hat is shifted to  Uncle Eli’s head (he’s about 80+).  Then to Lynette’s, then to the baby.  They argue about biggest fish/hunt.   The allusion is to Jesus but I’m not sure why here.

Age had come upon him suddenly, like a storm in fall, shaking yellow leaves down overnight, and now his winter, deep and quiet, was on him.

****  “Saint Marie – 1934”
Marie Lazarre memories of girlhood and going to the Catholic school.

“And I’d be carved in pure gold. With ruby lips. And my toenails would be little pink ocean shells, which they would have to stoop down off their high horse to kiss.”

Themes:  Imo,  this story is just a bit over-wrought with “meaning”  and symbolism and the mix of Catholicism vs Indian spirituality in a young girl’s mind.  The 14-year old Marie wanted to be a saint,  but was abused by one of the nuns at the convent school.  Sister Leopolda, who is apparently somewhat less than rational,  was going to find the demon in Marie and remove it.  It got  quite violent.   The themes are definitely racism,  Indian spirituality vs  Christianity,   love vs hate – or even coupled with hate –  the idea of Satan figures prominently.  On another level this is a fight between the “Evil Beast” Indian and the “Noble Savage”  Indian.

Also definitely a discussion of food in this chapter – the convent pantry was full of goodies.

****  Wild Geese  1934  Nector Kashpaw
This is a continuation from Marie’s story but from the point of view of the 1st person Nector, the smart brother of Eli, children of Margaret Rushes Bear and a Kashpaw.   Nector is bringing his catch of two geese somewhere (to the convent?)  for sale.  He’s thinking about Lulu Nanapush.   Marie is running down the hill from the convent and he catches her whereupon they get into a serious scuffle.  He’s somewhat older than she is,  he calls her “a skinny white girl, dirty Lazarre!” (She’d been considered an Indian at the convent) and she calls him a “damn Indian.”    He essentially rapes Marie but nothing really happens except in the end he feels sorry for her because she is injured like some of the geese he’s trapped.  And he doesn’t want to let her go.

Themes:  racism, identity,  sex, food, power, love, saints

**** The Island – Lula Nanapush
Sent to the government school she really did not get along there and fought and fought.  When she returned she was taken in by Margaret Rushes Bear and her lover,  Nanapush.  Margaret is Nector’s mother and she tells Lulu he will marry Marie Lazarre. Lulu says Marie grew Nector up.  Lulu is boiling with jealousy but she won’t let on.  Instead, and partly to aggravate Margaret Rushes Bear who says Moses is too old and besides, he’s related.

Lula goes to hunt Moses Pilager who uses the old language and does strange native things.  He lives on an island,  wild as he can, with a lot of cats he uses for various things. His mind is not right due to his native-type mother’s curing him of the “sickness” which struck the tribe (Spanish flu?).

She goes to the island – Lula grew up on the island,

“My uncle knew my strength lay in what I didn’t know yet, just as, after I went to the island, it would lie in knowing more than I should, more than other people would like. Nothing would look the same after loving Moses Pillager. Right and wrong were shades of meaning, not sides of a coin.”

Lots of Native type language and foods and ways in this story.  Lula stays with Moses, becomes pregnant >>> the end

The main theme I suppose is native ways and Lulu’s attraction to them and Moses’ need for them.  Moses is of the same generation as Lulu’s mother.  It’s very native.

***** The Beads (1948)

1.  Marie Kashpaw & 2
Again,  1st person memories from Marie many years after she and Nector married – maybe remembering from 1983?   Marie is the keeper of the children,  June,  June’s son Lishpa,  and others.  June’s mother, Lucille, Marie’s sister,  died alone in the bush and somehow June survived.  In part 2 Marie has a run-in with Margaret Rushes Bear but together they bring Marie’s next child into the world without a hospital.

**** Lulu’s Boys (1957)
Lulu was pretty promiscuous after her first husband Henry died and had 8 boys and a girl by at least 6 different fathers.  Beverly, Henry’s brother,  (both in WWII)  insists he is the father of one of them, Henry Jr. and wants custody but married a blonde.  Lulu is going to get him married to her.  (memories,  Beverly’s hat, sex, tribal feelings)

*** The Plunge of  the Brave (1957) Nector Kashpaw

Nector goes into the movies and modeling and decided to survive instead so at home he did chores and read Moby Dick.  This is when he met and instead of marrying Lulu he married Marie and ended up with too many babies.

Themes:  dying is happening a lot by this time,  water in Moby Dick and under the bridge (metaphorically), age seems to creep in here – first it was Eli in Chapter 1,  and now others.

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