On rereading I find that the first time through I was so confused trying to get ahold of relationships and time frames that I missed the huge, huge themes. The major theme I think is so huge I was unable to see the forest for the trees. When I got that – the main theme- the other “themes” fell into place as sub-themes, supportive themes, symbols, etc. and more probably. (In some ways this book may be too tightly jammed (over-wrought) with “meaning.” I have to go a bit slower now.
Love Medicine (beautiful title) is often taught in high schools probably because of the extensive use of literary elements – plot is not in the foreground but the focus is on structure, characters, themes and certain elements of style like appropriate and meaningful metaphors, excellent dialogue, some symbolism, etc. This is WAY more than a story.
Okay – I figure that the OVER-ARCHING THEME is the disintegration and reconstruction (!) of the Indian family. The narrative structure, which IS, in some general ways, pretty close to linear, works toward this end by showing the cultural changes over the generations.
Yes, there’s the original June story where she dies but that only sets up the family situation in today’s world – pretty bad in some ways but it is told by Albertine, of the young generation.
Then we go back to the 1934 generation – Marie Lazarre (b. 1919) and Nector Kashpaw (b. 1905?) and Lulu Nanapush (b. 1914) . There is a glimpse into their parents, Margaret Rushes Bear (b. 18–?) and Eli Kashpaw (b.18– ?), but it’s not direct. More about them comes later but never from their own The “1934” crowd had some serious disfunction due to alcohol, the clash of religions and ways of life, serious racism, some schooling by government or convent- some agricultural push from the government. That’s when Moses and Lulu – two different generations – have their time on the island – Lulu is definitely of the “torn between two worlds” generation as is Marie.
Then the time line goes to the next generation – 1948 – where June, 2nd generation – is abandoned by her 1st generation mother, brought up by Marie, June’s mother’s sister. But because it’s still about Marie the story of her giving birth (part 2) is going back to the old ways with Margaret Rushes Bear and another women assisting. Marie’s generation is torn between the old ways and the new (Nector wanted her to go to the hospital) .
June (b. 1939) is in the transitional generation – unlike Marie and Lulu, June knew she had to get out and kept trying, ended up near Williston (a couple hundred miles), she turns to alcohol and men big time. Her mother was more like the prior “wild” generation. June was not that. June was of the transitional generation along with Gerry (who sobers up) and Gordie (working and drunk but fixes the house) and Dot (working with Albertine) and Zelda (Albertine’s mother). The boys of this generation never shot a bow – rather Gordie hits a deer with his truck.
The last generation, King/Howard (June’s son who marries a Lynette- Norwegian), Lipsha (June’s son with his own batch of issues), Lyman, (Lulu’s late-in-life son) and others seem to have managed to get away and start making lives – Lyman returns to set up the factory. These folks are really quite a long ways from the days of their fore bearers , Moses and Margaret Rushes Bear. Eli had to change a fair bit but he kind of lost his mind in his old age.
And all through that generational changes stuff (old ways changing to new ways) the minor themes and motifs play off against each other. Racism, religion, language, identity, alcohol, illegitimate children (that last group seems to be using planned parenthood).
Love Medicine X2 – generations
Besides that there is some over-arching symbolism in here I’m not really sure of – water, for instance, The water is sometimes part of the religious symbolism – (last line of Chapter 1 part 1), but the natural forces stuff too – like the dead geese. Water moves through it all in various ways, for good and bad – baptisms and drownings. Food also is multi-faceted and plays out throughout the book – June eats 3 eggs (on Easter) because she’s “hungry” (yes, in many ways). Food represents the old ways (the skunks and fish) as well as the new ways (pies in the oven). The hats, the Greatest Fisherman hat, Beverly’s brown fedora and the “crown of thorns” chapter title – there could be more – seem to have some meaning but …
There is so much more and I’m only 1/2 done with my rereading. Every word seems like it’s important at this point – connected to some theme or symbol.