The Native American Double Consciousness in Love Medicine
Double consciousness is a term that was coined by W.E.B. Du Bois in The Souls of Black Folk. According to Du Bois, double consciousness is a “sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity” (2). While Du Bois is speaking specifically about African Americans, the term double consciousness may be used to describe the Native American dual identity that exists as a result of European influence. Like African Americans who exist as both Africans and Americans, Native Americans exist as both Natives and Americans, and these two identities are often at odds with one another because of conflicting cultural traditions and ideals. Du Bois writes, “One ever feels his twoness,—an American, a negro, two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder” (2). Like Du Bois, author Louise Erdrich discusses the dual identity that stems from being a minority in America in her novel Love Medicine. This collection of linked narratives explores the Native American double consciousness by highlighting the causes of this dual identity and the effects that this internal conflict has on Native Americans and their culture.
Erdrich demonstrates a keen awareness of Native American past and present in her writing, and she uses this awareness to educate readers on Native American identity. Erdrich discuss some of the major turning points in Native American history, like the dwindling population numbers, forced removal, Native American boarding schools, and land allotment, and she reveals how those turning points have impacted the modern Native American identity, like the loss of language, cultural uniqueness, legitimacy, and feeling of unhomeliness. By showcasing the past and present states of Native American identity, Erdrich exposes the conflict of the double consciousness. In “More than Bows and Arrows: Subversion and Double-Consciousness in Native American Storytelling,” Anastacia M. Schulhoff notes, “Double-consciousness foists a tremendous burden upon the individual who must constantly negotiate between two cultures that may have two contrasting expectations for him or her” (17). The Native American double consciousness is constantly at odds with itself. There is one self, the pure, authentic Native, and there is the second self, the Native American who has been culturally assimilated. These two selves are always clashing against one another because of the violent and discriminatory colonial history that stands between them. As mentioned, DuBois theorizes about the African American double consciousness, and though this term is not typically applied to the Native American identity theories, it proves to accurately encompass the feeling of twoness that Erdrich depicts in Love Medicine. Schulhoff asserts: Native Americans and African Americans have much in common, including experiencing forced removal from their traditional homelands, enslavement, and oppressive acts of assimilation. By applying DuBois‘ theory to Native Americans, we can see both groups view “this society as a world which yields no true self- consciousness, but only lets [them] see themselves through the revelations of the other world.” (19-20) The inclusion of historical perspective is crucial for Du Bois’s theory, so it is important to recognize the oppression that Native Americans endured at the hands of colonists. Native Americans have had to witness the destruction of their culture, assimilate to conform to European standards of civility, and all the while attempt to maintain some form of connection with their authentic Native self. It is a difficult task to exist as both the colonizer and the colonized, yet Native Americans must exist in this manner every day.
To fully comprehend the nature of this Native American double consciousness, it is crucial to recognize the immense and intentional destruction of Native American culture at the hands of European colonists. According to The Cambridge Companion to Native American Literature, “Pre-Columbian population estimates for North America range from 1 to 18 million” (Porter and Roemer 24). This means that before Christopher Columbus “discovered” the Americas in 1492, there was already a substantial and thriving indigenous population. Porter and Roemer note: When Europeans first arrived in the Americas […] they failed to comprehend the different, sophisticated ways of understanding human existence they encountered or the languages and dialects that articulated them. They came upon a continent that was home to over two thousand cultures with their own significantly differing ways of functioning. These cultures inhabited a great variety of landscapes, engaged in a range of sometimes interlinked economies, cherished their own shared memories of the past, and spoke languages often unintelligible not just to Europeans, but to their own Indian neighbors. In all, there were perhaps five hundred languages in what is now the United States and Canada: over five centuries later less than two hundred are still spoken. (42) With this knowledge, it is easy to dismiss the colonial perspective of the Americas existing as a “virgin land” that was free to be colonized. Clearly, the indigenous people of America were numerous, diverse, and legitimate, and their ties to the American land should have been respected. While different than the European idea of civilization, the Native population possessed complex societies that operated under their own laws, customs, and traditions. Still, because of Eurocentric ideology, the Native Americans were labeled as savages and uncivilized heathens. Following Columbus’s “first contact” with the New World, Europeans began colonizing the Americas, and by 1790, the Native American population had declined to an estimated 600,000 (Porter and Roemer 26). In addition to bringing their own way of living and standards for civilization to the Americas, the colonists carried infectious diseases, most notably smallpox, which plagued the Native population. According to Alan Taylor, author of American Colonies: The Settling of North America, epidemics wore away at the Native population of America and ultimately caused a tremendous population collapse. He writes, “After about fifty years of contact, successive epidemics reduced the native population to about a tenth of its precontact numbers” (39).
In Love Medicine, Erdrich brings attention to the decline in Native American population: “I never let the United State census in my door, even though they say it’s good for the Indians. Well quote me. I say that every time they counted us they knew the precise number to get rid of” (278). Even before the forced assimilation and removal of Native Americans, the colonists had already negatively impacted the Native population tremendously. The purposeful attempts to culturally assimilate and remove the Native Americans expedited the loss of Native American cultural diversity and legitimacy. The Indian Removal Act of 1830 was a policy created and enforced by the United States government in order to effectively remove Native Americans from land which the colonists wanted and force them onto reservations built on unhospitable and unfamiliar soil in the western United States. Deemed as godless heathens and ruthless savages, the colonists wished to rid themselves of the burden of Native American culture. The Dawe’s Act of 1887, also known as the General Allotment Act, worsened conditions for the Native Americans by forcing European standards, such as farming, land ownership, and European education, on Native Americans and dividing up reservation land for the benefit of white America. It was not enough to remove the Natives from their rightful land. In the eyes of the colonists, Natives needed to be taught the civility that they apparently lacked. Adult Native Americans were expected to farm their land and become contributing members of American society, and Native American children were sent to boarding schools and educated according to European standards. Erdrich includes historical allusions in her work so that readers may more fully grasp the conflict of the Native American double consciousness. The persecution of Native Americans and their culture is not something that is easily forgotten and swept under the rug. It is not just a simple snafu in the history books. The history of the subjugation, removal, and assimilation of Native Americans impacts the Native American identity and culture today. Again, the Native American dual identity consists of two selves: the authentic Native and the Native American. The conflict of this dual identity arises because of the disparity between the two selves. One self, the Native, possesses his or her own culture, does not wish or need to be colonized, and he or she recognizes the erasure of Native culture that results from cultural assimilation. The other self, the Native American, is irrevocably hybridized by his or her exposure to the European/American cultural standards and ideals that minoritized Natives in the first place. Because the Native population was so persistently persecuted by their colonizers, there appears to be an ever-present, lingering level of dissatisfaction with white America for many Native Americans.
Erdrich’s Love Medicine encapsulates this dissatisfaction: “the old-time Indians who was swept away in the outright germ warfare and dirty-dog killing of the whites. In those times, us Indians was so much kindlier than now. We took them in. Oh yes, I’m still bitter as an old cutworm just thinking of how they done to use and doing still (233). It can, therefore, be assumed that it is a conflict for Native Americans to remain so closely tied with their colonizers through their dual identity. In Erdrich’s Love Medicine, The Dawe’s Act of 1887 plays a critical role in the lives of the Native Americans who are presented in the work. Erdrich discusses the land allotments: “The policy of land allotment was a joke. As I was driving toward the land, looking around, I saw as usual how much of the reservation was sold to whites and lost forever” (12). In addition to discussing land allotments, Erdrich brings attention to the Native American boarding schools that were intended to assimilate young Native Americans. In the novel, two brothers, Nector and Eli Kashpaw, are raised in two different worlds. Nector is sent to boarding school and is taught the white way of life, and Eli is raised in the traditional Native manner. For readers, Nector and Eli’s differences demonstrate the effects of cultural assimilation. Nector, the brother who was sent to boarding school, apparently loses touch with his Native American authenticity. Eli displays a close connection with his cultural heritage and, as described in the chapter “The World’s Greatest Fisherman,” is “the last man on the reservation that could snare himself a deer” (Erdrich 29). Opposite to his brother, Nector finds himself in many situations which are demeaning to his cultural heritage and identity. While Eli demonstrates the authentic Native self, Nector showcases the Native American self who exists as a result of colonial influence. While Eli thrives, Nector struggles to find his place in society. In one situation which showcases the colonial influence on Nector’s life, Nector is forced into a Native American stereotype in Hollywood. In the chapter “The Plunge of the Brave,” he begrudgingly plays roles that further demean the legitimacy of his cultural heritage. While his brother Eli remains authentic, Nector is becoming the face of a cultural caricature. In another situation, which is perhaps the most recognizably contrasted with Native American cultural heritage and identity, Nector holds a government position. As a whole, Native Americans in the novel rightfully possess distrust and disdain for governmental authority, yet Nector works for the government.
Nector’s character demonstrates the disparity between the Native identity and the Native American identity that resulted from the Native American boarding schools and forced cultural assimilation. The Native American distrust for governmental authority stems from the intentional destruction of their culture at the hands of policy and lawmakers. This distrust can be seen in the chapter “The Island” when Nanapush tells, “Sing me my songs and then bury me high in a tree, Lulu, where I can see my enemies approaching in their government cars” (Erdrich 72). While Nanapush sees the government as an enemy, Nector is a member of the government. Erdrich also discusses the loss of Native language as a result of cultural assimilation in Love Medicine. As mentioned, Native American languages were once diverse and abundant, but following the removal and assimilation efforts that were made first by the colonists and then by the United States government, their abundance and diversity began to dwindle. Erdrich describes the loss of the language through the character of Lulu Nanapush: “I lived by bells, orders, flat voices, rough English. I missed the old language in my mother’s mouth” (68). Lulu’s relays a feeling of comfort in the Native language that English does not provide. With an understanding that English is the language of the colonizer, it becomes apparent that the colonized have been silenced and placed in subjugation through the destruction of their language.
Du Bois’s theory of the double consciousness from The Souls of Black Folk may be applied to describe the Native American dual identity that resulted from their colonization. Erdrich’s Love Medicine identifies the Native American double consciousness, its effects, and the manner in which it was created and sustained. With the inclusion of historical allusions in her work, Erdrich highlights the causes of the Native American dual identity. She further explicates the Native American double consciousness by showcasing the internal conflict of existing as an authentic Native and as a Native American who has been culturally assimilated. The two selves are constantly at odds with one another. The native always remembers his or her oppression at the hands of his or her colonizer, and the Native American will always be influenced by his or colonizer.
Du Bois, William Edward Burghardt, and Brent Hayes Edwards. The Souls of Black Folk. Oxford University Press, 2008. Erdrich, Louise. Love Medicine. HarperCollins, 2009. Porter, Joy, and Kenneth M. Roemer. The Cambridge Companion to Native American Literature. Cambridge University Press, 2005. Schulhoff, Anastacia M. “More than Bows and Arrows: Subversion and Double-Consciousness in Native American Storytelling.” University of South Florida, 2010. Taylor, Alan. American Colonies: The Settling of North America. Penguin, 2002.
An Analysis of Love Medicine’s “Lulu”
Lulu Nanapush Lamartine is a symbolic and admirable Chippewa Woman in Louise Erdrich’s Love Medicine. As a Native Woman character, Lulu reclaims and redefines space that is usually taken up by unjust stereotypes by using her shameless beauty and compassionate sexuality. Margaret Galloway argues that Lulu, as one of the most distinct female characters in Native American fiction is “the future of the Indian woman unrevealed and undefined…Since literature forms a very basic aspect of cultural experience the depiction of Indian Women should be of paramount importance.” Lulu’s character breaks free of westernized norms that have impacted her community and culture. Lulu unapologetically lives a sensual and passionate life that satisfies parts of her feminine experience: lover, daughter, friend and political figure. As a feminist studying the representation of female characters in literature, I will analyze these specific roles in her life, explore how her lifestyle is not easily accepted by societal norms and clarify ways she reclaims space by working against patriarchal pressures.
Lulu As Lover
The societal norms that surround Lulu force judgment on her for her assumed sexual deviance. She tells us: “No one understood my wild and secret ways. They used to say Lulu Lamartine was like a cat, loving no one, only purring to get what she wanted. But that’s not true. I was in love with whole world and all that lived in its rainy arms.”Lulu has loved many, her love is seen by other characters in the book as easy, and maybe even manipulative. But what most misunderstand about Lulu is that sex and men are not all that she desires; it is the love and passion that comes with it. It is the intimacy and beauty that stems from the soul and the intricacy of people’s lives. She is “in love with the whole world” and all the emotions that inhabit it: anger, sadness, jealousy, hurt and want. Lulu’s relationship to men is an expression of her sexuality that strengthens her identity. Her love for the world allows her character substance and fosters her many sexual affairs and marriages. Many women are judged as inconsiderate beings, as erratic and incapable of stable relationships when they have had multiple sexual partners. Lulu’s character transcends these judgments with her appreciation of all the men she has been with. Her relationships are not careless flings. They can be magical, passionate and tender. Jeanne Smith writes: “The vibrant, strongly self-aware Lulu is the best illustration that dissolving physical boundaries can strengthen identity. Lulu posses an exceptional ability to merge with and absorb her environment…Even the men she is famous for chasing are largely just a part of her ability to absorb beauty.” But men do not just act as an aid for Lulu, and Lulu is not an aid for men. She reflects: “There were times I let them in just for being part of the world.” Lulu’s love is a gift; she shares her love so that others can feel the passion, gentleness and generosity that her love can offer. When Lulu sleeps with men, she shares these very pieces of herself with them. Rushes Bear, Lulu’s mother like figure, once told Lulu that “the Woman is complete. Men must come through us to live.” Lulu lets men live through her and she lives through their experience together.
Two men in particular that love and live with and through Lulu are Nector Kashpaw and Moses Pillager. These relationships are examples of how Lulu’s connection to men is not artificial and it is not her selfishness that leads her to being with the many men she has been with. Lulu knows what people say about her but they only view and judge what they see on the surface which does not translate into what really is. What really is, are her relationships to men that hold passion, self-respect, understanding and pain.
When Lulu is young, she falls in love with a mysterious, timeless man named Moses Pillager who lives on a small island in the “dark at the center of a wide irritation of silver water.”She is intrigued by the parts of him that others do not understand or appreciate. He seems to others to be sick, lonely and dangerous. There are even stories of how he “ate his own wife.” Lulu knows he is much older than her and close in relation, but that does not stop her from willingly seeking him out on her own: “Dark, eager, I felt my own power stir.”She gains power by choosing to find him, choosing him as the ageless and beautiful man he is; “too handsome to be real.” Her power extends to Moses, who has been invisible since birth. “His people spoke past him. Nobody ever let out his real name. Nobody saw him. He lived invisible, and he survived.” But Lulu sees him and Moses comes alive and is visible again after Lulu enters his dark world. Together, Moses and Lulu can live in the moment, separate from the world of linear time, rules and judgments. They swim and sleep in the cave, they make love to each other and to nature. The lovers create space for each other to work through their pasts and get to know who they are as people to each other and to themselves. But the world Lulu and Moses create cannot last because Lulu will not leave the rest of the world that spreads beyond the island, the world that she craves to soak in. Lulu’s first attempt to leave the island ends up causing the most pain. Moses does not let her leave and with unwelcome force, he makes her stay longer than she is comfortable with. The strain he ends up causing her forever remains a thorn in her heart. After many years she still feels that: “To this day, I still hurt. I must have rolled in the beds of wild rose, for the tiny thorns—small, yellow—pierced my skin. Their poison is desire and it dissolved in my blood.” Nector Kashpaw is also gifted by the love of Lulu. His life is measured by pleasure, and when it comes to Lulu, she satisfies him in a way nobody else can. Nector’s love for his wife, Marie Lazzare, is everlasting, but he cannot resist returning back to Lulu. She is what drives him to live. Nector feels alive with Lulu, he feels important and useful and says that Lulu ”… brought back my youth.” Nector feels helpless in his home with Marie, where he is an alcoholic and Marie does most of the work—most of the work being to take care of Nector and bringing his health back from the bottom of the barrel. But even Marie’s generosity and love does not let Nector ignore his and Lulu’s relationship. Their “passion overtook them”; and Nector “…found true love with her.” Nector brings love, and with that love, pain into both his and Lulu’s lives. They are each other’s first loves and they struggle to be together their whole lives. However, Nector’s indecision and unwillingness to commit to Lulu lasts throughout their relationship together. At one point, he does try to commit to Lulu, but in the process of leaving Marie and finding Lulu to give her a note that promises his love to her, “till hell freezes over…” he accidentally burns down her beloved and hard-worked-for home. There are many men that Lulu draws into her life, lets into her life and many who are left behind or leave her. Lulu’s sexuality is not a tool she uses to manipulate men or for men to manipulate her. She is, as Smith says, a ”vision of a wholly transpersonal state of being.” Smith talks about how Lulu’s relationships are examples of how her female character “questions even the possibility of imposing boundaries.” Lulu’s story and character makes it clear that she is not in love with the world for its excitement and sex alone. She takes all the painful and joyful aspects of relationships in with grace. Lulu tells us that “I was in love with whole world and all that lived in its rainy arms.” Therefore, her character cuts through the stereotypical boundaries that judge female characters as incapable and manipulative. What makes Lulu’s character so effective in her ways of reclaiming space as a liberated and sexual woman, is her refusal to be apologetic. Lulu declares, “And so when they tell you that I was heartless, a shameless man-chaser, don’t forget this: I loved what I saw.” She owns her own body and spirituality and when society puts her in a category that she doesn’t fit into, she rejects it and will not apologize for a life she lives in the best way she can. Love Medicine is a piece of literature that gives power to Native Woman who proudly expresses her sexuality and and is not inhibited by her true self.
Lulu As Daughter
Most of the characters in Love Medicine are in one way or another connected, and by the look of Lulu’s family tree, she lives in the center. She bears nine children with six different men, all of whom she loves or had loved. Although, it is only men who stem from that center where Lulu resides. Where are the women in Lulu’s life? Growing up, Lulu and her mother’s relationship did not last. Furthermore, none of the other mother figures Lulu encounters support her. Because of that lack of nourishing relationships, Lulu does not easily trust or connect with other Women. Sara Ahmed, a feminist theorist, describes how women who grow up without a support system are often judged as disobedient and self righteously seduce men because they hate themselves. Women who only correspond with men are usually placed in a cowardly category and are exclusively threatening to other women. However, Erdrich provides a life-story that gives Lulu space to reclaim her identity. Ahmed believes that all Women “…have a story to tell. This story can be treated as a teaching tool, as well as a way of teaching us about tools.”It is not the attention or the competition in men that Lulu is searching for, it is the mother she never had that she wants to find. Lulu’s growing up without a mother and other female influence gives readers an insight into how women fall into relationships with men. “I never grew from the curve of my mother’s arms. I still wanted to anchor myself against her. But she had torn herself away from the run of my life like a riverbank. She had vanished, a great surrounding shore, leaving me to spill out alone.” Lulu grew up without her mother, Fleur, and according to Erdrich’s other novel Tracks, Fleur left Lulu as a result of not having the capacity and dedication to sufficiently mother her daughter. Instead of leaving Lulu alone or with other family members, Fleur sends her away to government school which is the start of Lulu’s resentment toward her mother. “It was on that bus [to the government school]…that Lulu Lamartine cried all the tears she would ever cry in her life.” From then on Lulu only encounters discouraging female influences which range from abusive school teachers to her unfriendly aunt. Where did she learn to be the resilient and brave woman that she is? When Lulu is old enough to live on her own, she seeks out men to replace the lost love of her mother with the physical and spiritual validation she gains from them. The one person in her life that parented her was a man, her uncle Nanapush, Lulu says: “I held him near as I might a father, the pattern for all other men.” The only other woman in Lulu’s life growing up was Margaret Kashpaw, also known as Rushes Bear (Nanpush’s wife) who Lulu hated and claims: “I never forgot how hard it was to live beneath the stones of her will.”  Lulu may have resented her mother figures but as she grows older she realizes how similar she is to them as a “passionate”, “power-hungry” and independent woman, just as Rushes Bear and Fleur were. “I needed my mother the more I became like her—[a] kind of woman with a sudden body, fierce outright wishes, a surprising heart.” Even with this awareness, Lulu chases after the motherhood she was never given throughout her life. She was robbed of that sense of belonging, appraisal and validation that a daughter should receive from her mother and other female influences. Thus Lulu seeks those needs in her own way by being with one lover after another. Lulu implies that she “wanted to fill her [mother’s] tracks, but luck ran out the holes. My wishes were worn soles.” She wants to feel strong and beautiful and she knows she can find that in the way men treat her, in the way men see her. Lulu knows this, she accepts it and tells us: “I had noticed how the eyes of grown men stuck to me…Dark, eager, I felt my own power stir.” Soon after Lulu escapes from school she begins her journey in seeking out Moses Pillager; in seeking the stolen touch of her mother. She even tells Moses that she came to the island because: “I was looking for my mother.” Lulu wants Moses to love her, cherish her and validate her femininity, just as a daughter might receive from her mother. Lulu’s character is full of empowering forces that deconstruct stereotypes. In her story of growing up, she may be viewed as a woman who is incompetent and disobedient due to being an unruly child and growing up without a mother. When really her character is proving the opposite. Ahmed argues: “When girls exercise their own will, they are judged willful…designated a problem child (a girl who is not willing to obey) such that if there is a problem, she is assumed to be the one behind it.” Therefore the patriarchal dome of shame would put Lulu at fault for not having a mother and accusing her for being a man chaser. Lulu’s awareness and unashamed intentions to find affirmation from men does not invalidate her experiences with her lovers. Her need for motherhood does not imply that she was not loving these men with all her heart or that she was exclusively with them to find her mother, or to please only herself. Her own accomplishments as an independent woman, mother and her friendship with Marie Lazzare towards the end of her life, are positive examples of Lulu’s character dismantling the feminine stereotypes one might put her in with these motherless ideas in mind. Lulu’s motherhood is described as protective, loving and proud towards her children. One of Lulu’s lovers, Beverly Lamartine, observes that: “Lulu managed to make the younger boys obey perfectly. While the older ones adored her to the point that they did not tolerate anything else from anyone else.” Unlike Lulu’s own mother, there are multiple scenes where Lulu puts her life and happiness at risk for the sake of her children. Such as, when Lulu runs back into her burning house to save her youngest son, Lyman.
Lulu and Other Women
Marie and Lulu’s relationship after Nector dies finally gives Lulu a chance to fill her hollowness around female solidarity and motherhood. After almost a lifetime of Lulu not shedding a tear subsequent to losing her mother, Marie enters Lulu’s later life as motherly figure creating a space where the tears that Lulu needs to shed are encouraged and together they cry. In that moment, Lulu feels “for the first time I saw exactly how another woman felt.” With the strength and compassion provided by both women, they are able to see each other for who they are and in their grief of the man they both loved, a friendship blooms. The empowerment developing from Lulu and Marie’s relationship continues when Lulu admits that her love for Marie’s husband is not a burden and not something she will hide. In their blossoming alliance Lulu and Marie bravely share their individual experiences of Nector. Lulu admits that “it took Marie to grow him up.” and how she transformed him from a “drunk” to “tribal chairman,” and “that handsome, distinguished man” whom Lulu fell in love with. As Marie starts to understand Lulu’s position of sleeping with her husband and Lulu understand Marie’s position as the wife, together they find harmony in each other. Karah Stokes writes that many Women portrayed by euro-centric ideas in literature and cinema, are never given solidarity between each other. Stoke’s writes: “Erdrich turns this pattern in a different direction…Focusing… outward, on the internal development of each woman and the connection of both to the earth. Lulu Lamartine and Marie Kashpaw are the Women whose relationship gives a different shape to Love Medicine.” Women’s relationships to each other are mainly familial and most Women are portrayed as jealous of each other and almost always brought together by a man in their life. The man is usually the object of desire that the women fight over, which indicates men are the center of everything and Women cannot work together. Well, Marie and Lulu are in fact brought together by a man, although their relationship carries itself out without a man. While Women are often victimized, Lulu and Marie are not. Lulu loved Nector but was not controlled by him and after he burned her house down she stopped seeing him. Even though she loved him, she let him go. Marie knew Nector wanted to leave her for Lulu, but that did not destroy her and she continued to be the compassionate and strong mother and wife she wanted to be. As their relationship grows Lulu tells us: We mourned him the same way together. That was the point. It was enough. For the first time I saw exactly how another woman felt, and it gave me deep comfort, surprising. It gave me the knowledge that whatever happened the night before, and in the past, would finally be over once my bandages came off. In the tender moment where Marie helps Lulu remove her eye bandages so that she can see again, Marie shares her infinite love as a mother. While she removes the bandages off of Lulu’s eyes, Lulu is seen by Marie “the way a mother must look to her just-born child.” After a lifetime of being isolated from women and searching for her mother in her surrender to men, Lulu is able to find refuge in Marie’s yielding, forgiving and motherly embrace.
Lulu as Political
In “An Eco-Feminist Reading of Love Medicine” Ting Bo magnifies on the patriarchal forces that have integrated themselves into Native Culture and specifically in Native Women’s lives. Bo writes, “In Love Medicine, the land and female characters are not persecuted by patriarch, in other words, patriarchy is the original cause of oppression of nature and Women on reservations.” Bo defines patriarchy as the source of most oppression that happen in the United States; the systems surrounding patriarchy under the euro-american influence especially objectify Women and nature. Bo brings up the passivity that impacts Native Women and how the Allotment Act destroyed people’s sense of self, the earth and all at the hands of the imposing the patriarchal ideas of male leadership and the “nuclear family onto many maternal Native societies, in which property and descent are dominated by women.” Again and again, readers can witness Lulu’s character managing to push back against these patriarchal, colonizing walls by being the powerful, non-conforming and political Woman she is.
Lulu is seemingly disempowered by her community who talk about her as if her multiple husbands and lovers make her powerless and untrustworthy. “…most of her life Lulu had been known as a flirt. And that was putting it mildly. Tongues less kind had more indicting things to say.” Her community creates a surface level perception of Lulu when really, little do they know she is holding together many moving parts of the reservation’s financial securities. Her son, Lyman Lamartine, with the help of Lulu, becomes the head of the Tomahawk Factory. The factory brings many jobs to the Chippewa community and starts to create a somewhat financial stability to the reservation. Lulu guides Lyman on how to run the establishment smoothly and make the workers and community satisfied. She helps him figure out how to offer and spread jobs equally to families on the reservation and quickly establish equal pay. Lyman describes his mother as: “You know Lulu Lamartine if you know life is made up of three kinds of people—those who live it, those afraid to, those in between. My mother is the first. She has no fear, and that’s what’s wrong with her.” Lyman is frustrated with Lulu because she is controlling the situation when really he is just frustrated with the responsibility of keeping the factory together and having his mother, a Woman, be the one who is actually in charge and knowing he is incompetent. Lulu’s political stance, confidence and admirability are not common in the themes that eurocentric americans have stereotyped onto Native Women. Galloway argues that the Native Woman stereotype is usually split among two roles; the squaw and the Indian princess. These roles are based purely out of the white-male gaze that views Native Women as either the domestic Indian Woman who does all the cleaning and cooking for her husband, or the Indian princess who needs to be rescued from her tribe by a white man who will keep her rich and safe. Galloway speaks to this in her articles and claims that Love Medicine demonstrates: …the ability of Indian Women to survive under adversity. It is stated that the image of Native American Women has been dictated by the Western European male to suit his cultural understanding and desire for dominance. Until the Native American women overturn the shallow stereotypes that have served as their image, their voice will be lost in the continuing history of a people.
Lulu’s character takes on the role of hyper-femininity that is most often sexualized, objectified and undervalued and replaces the shallow stereotype with a competent woman who is uninhibited sexually, politically involved and is anything but a squaw or Indian Princess. Lulu has always been fighting for her rights. From the day she ran away from the government school, to refusing to leave her land where her home was after Nector burnt it down, and finally to providing jobs for her Chippewa community. Not only does she fight back by living her true self, bringing people together and her refusal to meet society’s standards, she also knows who she is fighting for and who she is fighting against. After resisting to sell her land and move from her property, she asserts: “I never let the United States Census in my door, even though they say it’s good for Indians. Well, quote me. I say that every time they counted us they knew the precise number to get rid of.” In her fight to try and stay on her land and her continuation to fight back against the oppressor, it is obvious that Lulu’s character Erdrich has created is breaking up the unjust pattern of the historical reputation Native Women have been given.
Lulu as Inspiration
Lulu shamelessly and courageously lives her life. Lulu tells us: “When I came back to the reservation after my long years gone…I watched my own face float over the grass, traveling alongside me in the dust of the bus window, and I grinned, showed my teeth. They could not cage me anymore.” Nobody can cage Lulu, she is a magnetic life force in this novel that is satisfying her cravings, accomplishing her dreams and holding onto her identity of being Native and Woman. Galloway argues that women are not given space to be self-governing beings: “The image of Native American women has been dictated by the Western Europe male to suit his cultural understanding and desire for dominance.” Therefore, Galloway persists that literature is a sufficient instrument that can remove that image because Native women need to be portrayed accurately as individuals and not defined by the stereotypes commonly placed on them. I believe Erdrich, in her literature, depicts her female characters, Lulu in particular, as charismatic Women who know what they want and who are willing to live their lives outside of patriarchal restraints. Through the re-claiming of space in being Woman as lover, Woman as friend, Woman as Native and Woman as a fearless literary character, Lulu gives a new story, a fresh start to how Women can be portrayed as autonomous and fierce, with no shame attached. Through storytelling and writing Louise Erdrich has gifted the literary world with a voice lead by Women who re-tell, re-store and re-be the force of love that they are.
Ahmed, Sara. Living a Feminist Life. Durham: Duke University Press, 2017.
Erdrich Louise. Love Medicine. New York: HarperCollins, 1984.
Erdrich Louise. Tracks. New York: Henry Holt & Co, 1988.
Galloway, Margaret E. “American Indian Women in Literature: Stereotypical Characterizations of Insufficient Self-Determination” Speech, Annual American Indian Conference, Mankato, MN May 7, 1987.
Smith, Jeanne. “Transpersonal Selfhood: The Boundaries of Identity in Louise Erdrich’s Love Medicine.” Studies in American Indian Literatures 3 (Winter 1991): 1-15.
Stokes, Karah. “What about the sweetheart?: The ‘”Different Shape”’ of Anishinabe Two Sisters Stories in Louise Erdrich’s Love Medicine and Tales of Burning Love.” Oxford Journals 24 (Summer 1999): 89-105.
 Margaret Galloway, “American Indian Women in Literature: Stereotypical Characterizations of Insufficient Self-Determination” ( Speech, Annual American Indian Conference, Mankato, MN May 1987). 7.7
 Louise Erdrich, Love Medicine ( New York: HarperCollins, 1984), 276.
 Ibid. 276
 Jeanne Smith, “Transpersonal Selfhood: The Boundaries of Identity in Louise Erdrich’s Love Medicine,” Studies in American Indian Literatures 3 (Winter 1991): 18.
 Erdrich 217
 Ibid. 82
 Ibid. 75
 Ibid. 75
 Ibid. 81
 Ibid. 82
 Ibid. 126
 Ibid. 120
 Ibid. 140
 Smith. 18
 Ibid. 17
 Erdrich. 276
 Erdrich. 108
 Sara Ahmed, Living a Feminist Life (Durham: Duke University Press, 2017), 67.
 Ibid. 67
 Ibid. 67
 Erdrich. 68
 Louise Erdrich, Tracks (New York: Henry Holt & Co, 1988), 146.
 Erdrich, Love Medicine. 280
 Ibid. 69
 Ibid. 70
 Ibid. 71
 Ibid. 68
 Ibid. 75
 Ibid. 78
 Ahmed. 61
 Ibid. 118
 Ibid. 297
 Ibid. 73
 Ibid. 277
 Karah Stokes, “What about the sweetheart?: The ‘”Different Shape”’ of Anishinabe Two Sisters Stories in Louise Erdrich’s Love Medicine and Tales of Burning Love,” Oxford Journals 24 (Summer 1999) : 91.
 Ibid. 92
 Ibid. 92
 Erdrich. 297
 Ibid. 297
 Ting Bo, “An Eco-Feminist Reading of Love Medicine,” Journal of Language Teaching and Research 7 (May 2016): 505.
 Ibid. 506
 Ibid. 506
 Erdrich. 277
 Ibid. 302
 Margaret E Galloway, “American Indian Women in Literature: Stereotypical Characterizations of Insufficient Self-Determination” (Speech, Annual American Indian Conference, Mankato, MN May 7, 1987).
 Ibid. 1
 Erdrich. 287
 Louise Erdrich, Love Medicine (New York: HarperCollins, 1984), 69.
 Galloway. 11
 Ibid. 7
Water Imagery and Symbolism in Love Medicine
Louise Erdrich’s novel Love Medicine conveys the state of Native American life in today’s society. Her symbolism stands out to me above all else in the book. While Erdrich uses many symbols and motifs, the most poignant is her water and river imagery and the symbolism behind it. She uses water to symbolize many concepts in the novel, most prominently time and religion. The passage of time being likened to the movement of a river is not an unprecedented idea due to the endless flow of a river being easily equated with time. However, Erdrich points out the destructive force that such a power of nature has and likens the people in her story to stones on a riverbed. Through symbolism, she illustrates the effect time and religion have had on Native American society and how those two concepts, as eroding forces, are simply consequences of modern American society’s effect on Native American culture.
The most prominent example of Erdrich’s symbolism can be found in Nector Kashpaw’s realization and acknowledgement of the passage of time as she illustrates time and its effect on the characters of the novel. In a moment of peace, Nector has a revelation that changes his life. As the world around him stills, Nector sees time rushing past him as he observes, “Time was rushing around me like water… I was not so durable as stones. Very quickly I would be smoothed away” (Erdrich 123). He observes that time is quickly passing by and that he has not been living this life to the fullest. He also knows that time will get the best of him in the end because he is not a sturdy stone able to withstand the flow of time. In an attempt to recapture the time that has gone by, he rekindles his relationship with Lulu, his love during his younger years. He eventually dies as a result of choking in the same way that a drowning person would perish. As he predicted, time eventually wears away at him until he welcomes death as shown in Lipsha’s observation: “It was other things that choked him as well. It didn’t seem like he wanted to struggle or fight” (Erdrich 246).
Erdrich uses this same symbolism in Marie’s character and her attachment to June’s beads. The beads were left by June when she left to live with Eli. She holds onto them in order to retain a piece of June, who in time left her. However, when she is holding the beads, she observes, “I touch them, and every time I do I think of small stones. At the bottom of the lake, rolled aimless by the waves, I think of them polished. To many people it would be kindness. But I see no kindness in how the waves are grinding them smaller and smaller until they finally disappear” (Erdrich 93). The beads are rosary beads that people would keep in their hands. She observes that, like stones, the beads are worn away due to the constant touching. Since rosary beads are a symbol of religion and religious belief is symbolized by people’s use of them, Marie is conveying her idea that religion in her society simply wears away at people, just as it did to her at an early age and continues to in her reflections upon Leopolda. On top of Nector’s observation that time wears away at people like water wears away at stones, Marie observes that the modern practices of religion do the same in their society.
Lipsha ties the water symbolism together in the last paragraph of the novel. As he goes across the bridge, Lipsha stops the car and observes the river below: “I’d heard that this river was the last of an ancient ocean, miles deep, that once had covered the Dakotas and solved all our problems” (Erdrich 333). In referring to the river as an ocean remnant is a reference to the characters in the story being the remnants of their Native American ancestors. The river used to be an ocean, which is more stationary and does not constantly run. With the evolution of the still ocean into a rushing river, Lipsha is conveying the idea that modern American society has worn away at their culture and the remnants are now harmful to his people. This erosion has turned time and religion into eroding forces. With this deviation from the traditional Native American culture, the simpler and calmer times of their ancestors have disappeared along with the old beliefs of their people. With his observation that the ocean “solved all our problems,” Lipsha is conveying that these same problems or forces did not plague their ancestors. However, Lipsha realizes that the ocean has withered down to a river that simply erodes. In the same fashion, their way of life has been degraded to something that seems to be destroying people rather than causing them to thrive as they waver between two cultures. For this reason, he moves on and drives to Canada, leaving the reservation as so many had tried to do before. With this ending, Erdrich seems to be conveying the pessimistic belief that Native American culture cannot survive in modern American society.
Between Two Worlds: Author’s Craft in Love Medicine
Often in literature, central themes are based around two or more opposing forces. Whether it be religion, socioeconomic class, or race, conflicts allow the author to challenge the audience’s beliefs and societal expectations of the past and present. This aspect of creativity is especially apparent in Louise Erdrich’s novel Love Medicine. As a biracial author, Erdrich has lived her entire life as a member of the two unique communities from which her parents came. She shares with the world some of the trials and tribulations she has and continues to endure as a mixed person in modern America throughout her novel. This story of two Native American families, the Kashpaws and the Lamartines, incorporates facets from both Western and Native American lifestyles as Erdrich blends together a community of multicultural people searching for authenticity. Throughout Love Medicine, Erdrich borrows from her own mixed identity in order to cast the modernized Western aspects against the more indigenous ones of multicultural heritages of millions of people around the world.
Erdrich pointedly critiques Western culture as she compares Native American “Love Medicine” to more modern medical practices (Erdrich 227). After undergoing a medical procedure that is intended to correct her partial blindness, Lulu Lamartine is subjected to the painful and restrictive side effects of Western medicine. Lulu complains frequently that “The operation had my eyes so dried out,” that she was unable to properly “mourn the death…of a true love,” (Erdrich 291-292). The side effects of her modern procedure not only hindered her ability to cope and heal spiritually with a traumatizing event in her life, but they also prohibited her from ever “…stooping down, screaming, or jigging again because the stitching in my eye might slip” (Erdrich 292). Lulu is severely limited by an operation that was intended to improve her life, a flaw of modern Western medical practices that Erdrich highlights as she compares Lulu’s painful, complicated procedure to Ojibwe “Love Medicine (Erdrich 227). Granted “the touch”, commonly referred to as “Love Medicine”, Lipsha Morrissey “…knew the tricks of the mind and body inside out without ever having trained for it, because…the touch… I got secrets in my hands… Take Grandma Kashpaw with her tired veins all knotted up in her legs like clumps of blue snails. I take my fingers and I snap them on the knots. The medicine flows out of me. The touch. I run my fingers very gentle above their hearts or I make a circling motion on their stomachs, and it helps them. They feel much better.” (Erdrich 227) Unlike Lulu’s surgery, Lipsha’s healing methods are noninvasive, natural procedures that cause no uncomfortable side effects. The results are instant, and his skill requires no training.
Through the comparison between Lulu’s Western optical surgery and Lipsha’s “Love Medicine,” Erdrich is addressing the potential danger and harm associated with modern medicine. This aspect of the narrative is in connection with Erdrich’s personal struggles. After marrying and having children with Michael Dorris, a man suffering from severe depression, Erdrich decided to sent her children a therapist in hopes of helping them deal with their own struggles. After their visits with their psychologist, allegations of sexual assault and abuse “…began. That therapist contacted the authorities, stating she suspected child abuse. Charges were filed against Dorris, and eventually dropped after an investigation… but the allegations… permanently damaged Dorris further…he would later commit suicide” (Luzajic 1). Erdrich brought Western psychology into her family to improve strained conditions, but it ended up only furthering the damage. Erdrich was also deeply impacted by the death of one of her adopted children, when “he was hit by a car,” and died, and the effects of fetal alcohol syndrome, a disease that afflicted all of her adopted children. American doctors were not able to save and cure her children, causing Erdrich great distress. Her distrust of modern medicine, stemming from her personal struggles, are portrayed through Lulu Lamartine and Lipsha Morrissey.
Erdrich then explores the contrasts between Catholicism and traditional Chippewa religion. She presents young Marie Lazarre, a mixed Caucasian and Native American girl who harbors a deep desire to become a nun. Marie strives tirelessly for the Catholic title, and “No reservation girl had ever prayed so hard” as she (Erdrich 43). Marie finds herself one day at the local convent, where she is mentored by a nun named Sister Leopolda. Sister Leopolda “…was different…” from many of the other nuns, she “…kept track of the devil and knew his habits, minds he burrowed in, deep spaces where he hid,” (Erdrich 45). Extremely devoted to her religion, Sister Leopolda takes Catholicism very seriously. She is so fixated with purging the Devil from Sacred Heart Convent that she resorts to beating and punishing children within whom she believes the devil to be dwelling. She “…used this deadly hook-pole for catching Satan by surprise. He could have entered without your knowing it…but she would see him. That pole would brain you from behind…she offered pain…” (Erdrich 46). As a “light skinned” Native American, Marie Lazarre is fascinated by both side of her bicultural heritage, and is curious about the religious opportunities each has to offer (Erdrich 40). After she visits Sister Leopolda, however, Marie realizes how sadistic the nun is, and decides to flee the convent–thus abandoning organized Catholicism forever. This is not unlike Erdrich herself, who “was once religious…at the age of magical thinking… After I went to school and started catechism I realized that religion was about rules. It all seemed so dull…I’ve come to love the traditional Ojibwe ceremonies…” (Halliday 1). This parallelism between Marie and Erdrich serves as a statement by the author, as she points out that Western religion is exorbitantly regulated and structured. By portraying Sister Leopolda and the Sacred Heart Convent as oppressive and abusive, Erdrich critiques the heavily mandated expectations of many Western Catholics; and as Marie hastily flees the convent in search of a more traditional Native American lifestyle, the author is exhibiting the desire for within all people to express their spirituality freely.
This parallelism continues as Erdrich traces Marie’s actions in connection to her religion throughout the rest of her life. Although she denounced Catholicism, an act that Sister Leopolda claimed would “…damn…the soul eternally!”, Marie matured into a responsible, respectful adult (Erdrich 40-42). She “…had taken in…babies…cared for everyone she met…raised her own children…married Nector…protected those she loved…” (Erdrich 120-123). Even a life without religion, Marie manages to embody a saintly entity for which many search for through worship– just as Erdrich leads a successful life without prayer. This is in direct contrast with Sister Leopolda, who, after a life of strict devotion, has “…shriveled to bones…her hair was white…thin from her skull…she was frail and dead as a plant…wrapped in dust…she cursed at me…” (Erdrich 148-149). The juxtaposition of these two characters serves to highlight Erdrich’s belief that Western religion is deadly and corrosive to the spirit, mind, and body. Although she achieved one of the most honorable titles in the Catholic religion, Sister Leopolda–once a formidable nun–is now nothing but a decaying old woman. Her religion failed to glorify her, even after she committed her entire life to her God. Erdrich utilizes the duality between the two prevalent religions in European-Native American culture to exhibit the dangers of oppressive, Western religious values.
Erdrich again challenges Western values as she compares American and Ojibwe educations. She shows the contrasts between the two through Eli and Nector Kashpaw, twin Native American brothers. Eli and Nector both received an education, but “…the government put Nector in school…Eli hidden in the root cellar…Nector came home from boarding school knowing white reading and writing, while Eli knew the woods” (Erdrich 19). Eli’s knowledge was based more on more traditional Native American values, while Nector’s was formulated by the Western government. When he comes back from school, Nector is praised by his community, said to be “…an astute political dealer,” on account of his “legitimate” education (Erdrich 18-19). Although he was given a modern, Americanized education, Nector slowly begins “…remembering dates with no events to go with them, names without faces, things that happened out of place and time,” while “Eli was still sharp” (Erdrich 19). Through displaying the long-term results of the two contrasting forms of education–Western and Native American–Erdrich is commenting on the shallowness and superficiality behind modernized schooling.
Similarities between the educational contrasts in Love Medicine is apparent in Erdrich’s life as well. In an interview for The Paris Review, she reveals information about her grandfather “…Patrick Gourneau. An Ojibwe man. He had only an eighth-grade education, but he was a fascinating storyteller, wrote in exquisite script, and was the tribal chairman during the treacherous fifties termination era (when the U.S. Congress decided to abrogate all Indian treaties and declare Indian Nations nonexistent). My grandfather was a persuasive man who made friends with people at every level of influence. In order to fight against our tribe’s termination, he went to newspapers and politicians and urged them to advocate for our tribe in Washington.” (Halliday 1). Although neither Eli nor Patrick Gourneau received an extensive, formal education, they are successful men who lead fulfilling lives. Nector may have attended a renowned government institution, but even he admits that “Eli has second sense and an aim even I cannot match…” (Erdrich 61). Ojibwe wisdom cannot be indoctrinated by a state school, and even after many years, Eli’s mind is well equipped with the knowledge he needs to lead a successful life–while Nector’s government-mandated brainwashing has left his mind in tatters, as he stumbles through a life for which his education has left him ill prepared.
Although she was raised around both modern American and Ojibwe customs, biracial author Louise Erdrich finds authenticity within her Native American heritage. It is through her comparisons of these two cultures that her audience is able to appreciate the immeasurable value of understanding one’s origins, as they play a significant role in shaping one’s life. Erdrich borrows from her own biracial background as she compares and contrasts the two unique communities in which she grew up in order to critique Western religion, education, and medicine in her novel Love Medicine.
Women’s Empowerment: Their Eyes Were Watching God and Love Medicine
In the novels Their Eyes Were Watching God and Love Medicine, Hurston and Erdrich (respectively) use the characterization of the women to promote women’s empowerment and self-fulfillment. Lulu can be seen within Erdrich’s work as the stereotypical, “evil woman” who can’t find her proper place; however, through the writing devices presented by Erdrich, Lulu can also be seen as a symbol of female empowerment for her community. Somewhat like Erdrich, Hurston creates a powerful message within her characterization of Janey, which becomes the hope for a future generation of suppressed African-American women. Overall, these two authors paint a very striking picture of the power that these women possess, and of the barriers they must overcome to achieve true happiness.
In Their Eyes Were Watching God, Janie can be seen portrayed as a typical submissive African American woman. Janie is suppressed by the men within her life, who treat her as if she has no voice or opinion. This can be seen within all of her relationships including, her first marriage with Logan Killicks, an older man Janie’s grandmother forces her to marry. This can be seen as the very first barrier place in front of Janie at a very early age. As his wife she is forced to listen to this whims and wishes, but is not given the room that she personally needs to grow. Nanny, Janie’s grandmother, forces her into this cycle due to the experiences that she endured in life. Within the text it reads, “…Nanny was born into slavery and had little choice over her own destiny. Nanny has craved small comforts, like sitting idly on the porch, and wants her granddaughter to have them along with money and status, no matter what the emotional cost. What Nanny may not have considered is that Janie would have her own ideas of freedom… (Hurston).” Within this section of the text it is clear to see the extent of the barrier that Janie is facing. She not only has to overcome sexism, but also the results of racism, which influences the decisions her grandmother makes for her. It is also clear to see the damage done to Nanny by her oppressors, she craved those small comforts because she her physical needs (safety, shelter) were not being met.
On the other side of the coin we have Janie, whose needs are mostly emotional, and thus, Nanny cannot relate with her. Janie finds that her own self-fulfillment is being smothered by the men within her life, such as her second husband, Joe or Jodie Starks. Joe treats Janie as if she lives to worship him, and his “many” accomplishments. At one point he states that because he is a “big man”, she is a “big woman”; meaning that her only success can be achieved through her husband’s achievements (Hurston). Joe also refuses to let Janie express herself, and give opinions in public. This can be seen when Joe states, “… Thank yuh fuh yo’ compliments, but muh wife don’t know nothin’ ‘bout no speech-makin’. Ah never married her for nothin’ lak dat. She’s a woman and her place is in da home (Hurston).” Here the reader can see Joe literally refusing to let his wife speak her mind. This shows the dominance that Joe is trying to hold over Janie, who has now become his slave, so to speak, bound to his will.
Calling to mind the strong-willed Janie, Lulu within Erdrich’s Love Medicine also works against sexism and racism within her own story. Lulu, from the very beginning is portrayed by the novel to be a unsavory woman on the surface. She is seen in her younger days to be a troublesome Indian girl at the boarding school, where she is abused for her cultural heritage and tennacedey. She grew into a woman who was not afraid to seek what she wanted and be who she wanted. Lulu pursued whomever she wanted because she understood the vaule in love and companionship. This can be seen in the line which reads, “… No one ever understood my wild and secret ways. They used to say Lulu Lamartine was like a cat, loving no one, only purring to get what she wanted. But that’s not true. I was in love with the whole world and all that lived in its rainy arms (Erdrich).” Lulu was truly free, though she faced barriers placed on her by society, she decided not to live by those rules. This is were Lulu and Janie differ in their barriers. Lulu is restrained by the moral standards of society, wheres Janie is held back by the men within her life; though both women do have a voice that is trying to be snuffed out. Janie’s barrier is a bit harder to overcome because she loves these (most) men, and is willing to deal with more before she breaks. Lulu is generally only held by those within her community who slander her for her personal choices, which she is able to overcome.
Lulu proves to be a very strong and determined woman with Erdrich’s, Love Medicine. She is able to overcome her struggles by staying steadfast to her beliefs and personal goals in life. The main attribute that Lulu possess is that she desires to be happy, very simply put. Her happiness outweighs any stereotype or constraint that can be placed on her, and thus, she overcomes these obstacles. One example of this can be seen in the proud manner in which she addresses her community about the slander she faces. She responds to her community by saying, “…I’ll name all of them…The fathers…I’ll point them out for you right here (Erdrich).” By addressing this matter is such a cool and collected way showed her self pride and awareness. Lulu is able to admit the mistakes she has made, however she refuses to let them tear her down. This refusal to back down can also be seen when Lulu states, “ And so when they tell you that I was heartless, a shameless man-chaser, don’t ever forget this: I loved what I saw. And yes, it is true that I’ve done all the things they say. That’s not what gets them. What aggravates them is I’ve never shed one solitary tear. I’m not sorry. That’s unnatural. As we all know, a woman is supposed to cry (Erdrich).” Within this quote Lulu’s power and self pride can be seen in her unwillingness to bow to female stereotypes. Lulu sought out love and happiness and often found it in the wrong places, however, she never regretted anything because she loved so whole heartedly. Lulu can almost be seen as this aphrodite figure who promotes love and the beauty within life. She refuses to be seen as a monster, an “evil woman”, someone who is void of compassion, because in truth Lulu hold immense capacities for love, compassion, and overall empathy.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, Janie overcomes her struggles in very different ways. For Janie her battles are all internal, she struggles with finding her own voice and path in life aside from her husbends. During each of her marriages, Janie struggles to stay afloat, and often drowns in the needs and wants of her men. However, with each obstacle she faces (the men in her life) she is able to evaluate who she is and what she wants. This is the first step she takes in overcoming her personal boundaries which can be seen within the text which reads, “…Janie soon began to feel the impact of awe and envy against her sensibilities. The wife of the mayor was not just another woman as she had supposed. She slept with authority and so she was part of it in the town mind. She couldn’t get but so close to most of them in spirit (Hurston).” From this section Janie can be seen starting to reevaluate her life and the position she plays within it. She understands that she is messing something, which is the first step that anyone can take on the path to fulfillment. Her next step was realizing that she didn’t want to be just, “another woman’, she wanted to be heard and seen as her own person. She now understands that she must grow individually in order to be fully satisfied in her life. However, unlike Lulu, Janie struggles to reach this goal of individualism and self awareness. Only after the death of her third husband, Tea Cake, is Janie able to begin finding herself. It seems that men have held her back for much of her life, and that she has let them do so, to some extent. The death of Tea Cake is almost like divine intervention because she is now able to guiltlessly pursue her own self interest and achievement; which she could not do before because of her blind love towards Tea Cake. She finds peace with her lost lover and peace with herself it seems as the text reads, “…The kiss of his memory made pictures of love and light against the wall. Here was peace. She pulled in her horizon like a giant fish net. Pulled it from around the waist of the world and draped it over her shoulder. So much of life in its meshes! She called in her soul to come and see (Hurston).” Here we can see that Janie has overcome her life struggle and has found peace and acceptance for herself. She is also able to peacefully recount Tea Cake, and remember the great love that they shared, rather than the hard times she faced. This shows extreme growth and power for Janie because she is able to forgive and forget, so to speak. In the end, Janie is able to see the good within the world which can be seen in, “..So much of life in its meshes! She called in her soul to come and see (Hurston).” From this line, Janie can be seen totally at peace with herself and fully satisfied emotionally, which was what she always strived for.
Both Janie and Lulu are able to overcome their struggles and find peace for themselves and their spirituality. Janie is able to call to her soul to witness the beauty in the world, much like Lulu does. They can also be seen as leaders within their community as they strive for more than what is expected of them by men and society. This unwillingness to back down and be quiet can be seen as leading by example, meaning that like Esperanza in Cisneros’s, House on Mango Street, these woman can make a huge impact on the lives of other women in their communities. Overall, both Janie and Lulu strive to find their own voice and place in the world. Their unwillingness to blend into the stereotype of the submissive woman makes them prominent figures in women’s empowerment. In the end, both Lulu and Janie are able to find peace and self-fulfillment even in spite of the constraints placed upon them.
Notions of Home in Love Medicine
“‘Nothing?’ said Mama piercingly, ‘Nothing to come home to?’ She gave me a short glance full of meaning. I had, after all, come home, even husbandless, childless, driving a fall-apart car” (Erdrich, 13). This moment from Louis Erdrich’s Love Medicine captures the life of Albertine Johnson in a memory after the death of her aunt, June, while she sits in a kitchen with her mother and aunt, Aurelia. Albertine, like many in her generation, has attempted to move away from the reservation, receive an education off the reservation, and sustain a means for living and new life among a more stereotypical American lifestyle – not that of a Chippewa Native American. Aurelia and Zelda, Albertine’s mother, debate as to why June was out in the middle of nowhere on the winter evening that she froze to death. They confront her death by searching for the why and the how behind it. Aurelia simply states that there is no reason that June should have been walking home, as life on the reservation held nothing for her. Offended by the implication that a life could be nonexistent without reciprocal love from a husband or great successes to share Zelda retorts with the simple question of “Nothing to come home to?” (Erdrich, 13). For her daughter has come back despite having seemingly no reason to return home. The aforementioned passage holds significance in this novel as it introduces the characters’ constant struggle to define home and their reasons for returning or staying in the place they call home.The characters of Love Medicine are complicated, vastly different, and full of surprises. However there is one constant in all of their lives: the reservation and the subsequent familial community they find there. Some characters are estranged from their birth parents but taken in by others, some characters remain with a birth parent or two, others attempt to leave family behind and forge a path for themselves. No matter the course their lives have taken, an escape from the reservation’s community is practically impossible. The people are extremely interconnected through their heritage, sexual relations, subsequent adoptions, and marriages. The younger generations of Chippewa children attempt to make a life outside of the reservation. Albertine, as one example, has led an adequate life in American society. She is educated, living on her own, and sustaining a job. However, the news of her dead aunt brings her running home. She has not returned for a specific reason, but needs to cope with the loss of one of her own. This aunt, her role model and inspiration has perished, so a part of how she defines life has perished as well. Only by returning to the place that formed her, the people that can relate to her loss, can she come to terms with it and leave again a sustainable and completely formed individual. She, like others in her generation relies on the constancy of the Chippewa community in order to allow her experiential life to exist.Not unlike Albertine, Marie Lazarre, her grandmother experimented with leaving the reservation. Marie had a desire to disband from her wildly untamed and savage family reputation by joining the nuns on the hill. Here, she could transform into a Saint, a person that was worshipped and glorified instead being the girl who is associated with not only Indians, but low-class Indians. She wanted a new life elsewhere. However, when life in the convent got tough, when she felt threatened and abused by the nuns, she came running home. Marie, after forging her way up the hill to assume a new persona took mere seconds to decide that the reservation, that home, was a much better option than the one she had chosen. On the reservation she may not be considered high-class, but she had choice as to what direction her life would turn. Marie, in her element and in the place knew and understood, was able to create a world in which a Lazarre became the wife of tribal chairman, a woman of power and control. Marie, stable in her personage as a mother, wife, and leader in her community returned to the hill to gloat in the face of the dying nun who once scorned her. Marie had to prove to this nun that she was a success despite the nun’s satanic attempts to destroy her. Marie understands herself in a context that ties control, power, and family back to the reservation, back to home. This is the place she knows and the place that knows her, therefore she returns and even remains after her husband decides to leave her. Even in that dark moment, she remains home with her children, continuing what she knows how to do. Home provides stability, the reservation provides constancy by which Marie and the other characters come to know themselves, others, and the interconnectedness of life.Each chapter in this story depicts the life of a character at various moments in his or her life. Each time the reader is invited into the character’s life it becomes obvious that this character is not alone. Each chapter defines an individual, reveals a life, by establishing a life in relation to the reservation and to home. Each individual’s story is told through his or her relationship to the reservation or to someone from the reservation. They are never alone. Even June, who opens the novel in a solitary journey through life, ends her chapter by attempting to return to home. She, like all the others, needs to return home to the reservation where she can surround herself with familiarity and the confidence to understand her place in the world and the place her family plays in her life. The reservation, the home of these Chippewa families is the only constant they have, that is why they always will return. Constancy, family, and history are far from the nothing that Aurelia accuses the reservation of being at the start of the novel.
Marie Kashpaw – Seeking Identity
In the book “Love Medicine,” Louise Erdrich transcribes about the lives of Native American families and relationships during the period between 1934 and 1983. The story is set on an unnamed Native American reservation of the Chippewa tribe in North Dakota. The story follows multiple characters throughout their lives while they encounter new experiences and people. The novel introduces the main character Marie Lazarre as a youth and follows her life through marriage and old age. The focus of this paper will be to study the character of Marie Lazarre (later Marie Kashpaw). Marie is in search of her identity as she is a mixed blood in a Native American family. The study focuses on her early life, her religious beliefs throughout her life, her experiences in the convent and later her marriage to Nector Kashpaw and her relationship with her family.
The novel suggests that Marie Lazarre was born in the 1920s; she is born a mixed blood, as her father is white. She is raised by Sophie and Izear Lazarre who are her supposed family, her mother Sophie is said to be an old drunk. She is a child of the Lazarre family which has a bad reputation and she is also considered a lowlife because of her half white descent. Marie is raised on the Native American reservation but does not fit in, as she is not considered as part of them. Marie tries hard to redefine her identity to earn cultural acceptance and respect but end up stuck between two paradigms which she does not completely belong to. In the native community, she is considered half-blood and looked down upon due to her heritage similarly in the white community and the convent she is regarded as Native and cannot fully belong. She undergoes religious and cultural conflicts in an attempt to empower herself and fit in but realizes they cannot entirely blend. In her journey of seeking her identity, Marie loses and seeks power, love and respect all through as she navigates through various conflicting cultural and religious identities, but eventually manages to accomplish her goals and be empowered by her experiences.
At the beginning of the novel, Marie Lazarre wants to be acknowledged as a Catholic white girl because she identifies herself with the Virgin Mary, who signifies power. At the age of fourteen, she joins the Sacred Heart Convent in search of a new identity among the Catholic sisters. She asserts, “I was going up there to pray as good as they could. Because I don’t have that much Indian blood” (Erdrich, 2004). Marie denies her Native American descent, and she embraces her whiteness and finds her place in the Catholic and white community. She tries hard to demonstrate that she is a good individual like the nuns and devotes herself to praying frequently. Marie believes that proving to be the best Catholic will earn her a place and respect among the people. She wants to earn the highest achievement of sainthood through complete devotion to the ways of the Catholics. Her obstinacy and spite seem to surpass her genuine belief in the church and God. She yearns for an esteemed identity and fitting in, and if it requires her to be a devoted Catholic, then she will be best Catholic there is.
At the time the convent was the perfect place for a woman seeking authority and respect in the white community, hence Marie’s devotion to Catholicism despite a weak faith. Marie not being born in a Catholic or white society proves to be difficult for her to identify with it. She, however, believes that if she dons the role of a good Catholic girl she will eventually be part of the community. Marie states, “I had the mail-order Catholic soul you get in a girl raised out in the bush…” (Erdrich, 2004). Emphasizing her weak faith in church but believes it’s a way of belonging. Marie does not have a strong faith in the ways of the church but takes the church as a means of fitting in. She believes that her worldview is completely separate from her outside appearance and devotion in the church will give her a new identity. Asserting to herself that her “soul went cheap” (Erdrich, 2004). To Marie, the Catholic convent is a place to redefine herself and build a new identity among the community she feels closest to. She wants to be valued and accepted irrespective of her heredity unlike in the reservation where she is looked down upon.
In the convent, Marie strives to receive love and respect from Sister Leopolda, unlike Leopolda who seeks the adoration and love of God. Marie has a love/hate relationship with the Sister; she trusts the nun because she looks up to her but also hate her because she tortures and torments her. Marie says that “But I wanted Sister Leopolda’s, heart… sometimes I wanted her heart in love and admiration. And sometimes I wanted her heart to roast on a black stick” (Erdrich, 2004) which perfectly describes their relationship. Sister Leopolda is a zealous nun who has a strong belief in the church and shows this by tormenting both herself and Marie. Sister Leopolda believes she sees the devil in Marie and goes to extreme lengths to eliminate him from Marie. The Sister tortures Marie frequently at the hopes of freeing her from Satan, as she is a reservation girl with shamanic beliefs. The Sister justifies her actions towards Marie and attempts of commencing her to the Catholic faith as a portrayal of love. Marie does not possess a strong faith in God like Sister Leopolda because she only seeks attention and approval from her to fill the emptiness and loneliness she feels.
Ultimately, Marie wants to exceed Leopolda’s accomplishments and eventually become a saint to be triumphant and have respect. Marie and Sister Leopolda strive to outdo and have power over each other through their violent encounters on several different occasions. Sister Leopolda cruel treatment towards Marie is a way of indoctrination; the nun is attempting to eliminate the shamanic ways in Marie’s mind and commence her into the Catholic faith. Marie believes that if she defeats the Sister in the physical and mental battle, she will be the better Catholic and attain sainthood and respect. After the last fight, Marie states, “I was being worshiped. I had somehow gained the altar of a saint” (Erdrich, 2004), somehow she had attained sainthood. Sister Leopolda in an attempt to free herself from being accused of violent torments towards Marie lied to the nuns about her wound. She claimed the wound appeared out of nowhere implying that the wound as the stigmata of Christ (Erdrich, 2004). Marie is now considered a saint in the eyes of the nuns, and she has finally earned power and respect. Unfortunately, her triumph is short-lived as she starts feeling remorse towards Sister Leopolda. Marie claims, “It was a feeling more terrible than any amount of boiling water and worse than being forked” (Erdrich, 2004) which her feelings of pity for the nun. Marie’s finds out that her weakness is her feelings. She thought that such a win over the Sister will satisfy her and finally get what she has always wanted.
Marie finally gains the power she always seeks through sainthood but loses her sense of identity through her struggles with the Sister. Marie’s realization that Sister Leopolda is flawed too makes her shift her attitude towards the nun. She realizes that the devil is in Leopolda too because she lied to protect herself from scrutiny. Sister Leopolda used torture as a means to cope with the fear that she has the devil in her too. The realization heals Marie’s mental and emotional wounds she got from the nun’s torments. Marie asserts, “Rise up! I thought. Rise up and walk! There is no limit to the dust” (Erdrich, 2004). She comes to a conclusion that she does not want to be a Catholic any longer and leaves the convent for good. Even though she attained what she lurked for, sainthood and respect, she grasps that she does not want it anymore. Marie leaves to seek an identity that suits her transition to adulthood in search of love and liberation. Marie comprehends that the torture and torments in the convent made her stronger mentally and emotionally and made her grasp what she wanted in life.
In her adulthood Marie transitions from seeking identity through religion to searching for love and freedom despite initial scrutiny and judgment from the tribe. Marie and Nector first meet when Marie escapes the convent after the final fight with Sister Leopolda. She runs off with a wounded hand and comes across Nector who thinks she has stolen the cloth on her arm. At first glance Nector judges her like everyone in the tribe; he says, “Marie Lazarre is the youngest daughter of a family of horse-thieving drunks. Stealing sacred linen fits what I know of that blood” (Erdrich, 2004). They end up fighting because Marie wants to protect her dignity while Nector thinks she is good for nothing thief. She curses Nector with slurs as she fights him but when he sees her wounded arm and gains sympathy. Nector sees her like a wounded animal and handles her delicately before realizing the sexual tension between them. Marie ignites emotion and feeling in Nector who now accepts and understands her. A relationship builds between the two and eventually, they get married and start a family in the community.
In marriage, Marie seeks respect, power, and cultural identity through wifehood, motherhood, and authority in the community. Marie and Nector Kashpaw adopt homeless kids in the reservation to cope with the loss of their previous two babies in a year. They eventually manage to bear five more biological children. Marie gains more respect as a mother of both her children and the community. Nector begins to be absent in the lives of his family because of the number of children. Marie decides to encourage Nector to the chairmanship in the community for her to get respect and power. Marie says, “I was going to make him into something big. I didn’t know what, not yet; I only knew when he got there they would not whisper ’dirty Lazarre’ …They would wish they were the woman I was.” (Erdrich, 2004). She wanted to belong and get authority in the tribe which she never had because of her background. Nector got the chairmanship and was a respected member of the tribe and the white society, finally Marie’s attempt worked and now she was in the realm of reverence.
Though she has reverence in the community, Marie still hopes for her husband’s love to fuel her self-worth but eventually learns to empower and love herself. Marie states, “…by now I was solid class. Nector was tribal chairman. My children were well behaved and they were educated too” (Erdrich, 2004). Despite this Marie yearns Nector’s love even though he does not truly love her back and treats her below par. Her husband is her source of love that she gives to the people around her and especially to him. Nector cheats on Marie frequently with other women especially Lulu who he is truly in love with. He leaves Marie at some point where she becomes broken down and devastated. Nector’s lack of love towards her only makes her work hard and stronger; she becomes empowered as a result of not getting adoration from her adulterous husband. She narrates, “But I was not going under, even if he left me…I could leave off my fear of ever being a Lazarre” (Erdrich, 2004). Marie had finally learned to be a free and independent individual as her new identity, by empowering herself to an autonomous and respected matriarch. Nector eventually comes back to her, but he is still in love with Lulu till his unfortunate death at old age. Even though Marie is always in love with him and even attempts to rekindle their love during his final moments, she was able to manifest her own self-worth through her accomplishments in the community.
Marie embraces her identity as a respected matriarch and learns to give love to her family as much as she hopes to receive it. Marie and her adopted grandson Lipsha Morrissey develop a deeper relationship later in her life while she resides at a retirement home. They create a stronger bond when Lipsha helps his adopted grandmother to rekindle her love with Nector Kashpaw. Encompassing the story’s title Marie wants Lipsha to work on love medicine on Nector so he can be faithful to her alone (Erdrich, 2004). Marie and Lipsha plot, so Nector eats a goose heart while she eats one too for the love medicine. Lipsha, however, compromises on the type of goose heart and settles for store turkey heart as an alternative to a self-killed goose heart. He claims that the love medicine does not work, but the people’s belief in it is what actually works. Nector, however, refuses to eat the heart and just places it in his mouth which unfortunately chokes him to death. Marie and Lipsha mourn the misfortune, and eventually, Marie tells Lipsha that he has always been her favorite.
Following Marie from her youth, marriage and old age throughout the novel, she seeks respect, love, and power which she gets at different points. Marie has juggled two paradigms in her entire life from religious ways to shamanic beliefs and from her half-white heritage to her Native side. From the teenage years when she wanted acceptance and respect in the white community which she finally attained through her sainthood. Growing into adulthood, she realized other things she actually wanted from life such as love from Nector Kashpaw. She builds a family and learns about giving love and being part of a bigger picture. Marie’s faces judgment from people in the tribe and pursues power in the community through her husband and eventually gain respect and power. In womanhood, she embraces her culture and language abandoning her previous inclinations towards Catholicism altogether. In her later years, she becomes an activist and elder of the tribe and a respected individual in the Native American community. Throughout her life, she has attained all her goals deliberately and unintentionally from her childhood to an elder. The experiences through the stages of her life shaped and prepared her physically and emotionally ready for what was to come. Marie’s self-empowerment and self-worth molded her to the individual she finally becomes in her later years.
How History Haunts the Present in Louise Erdrich’s Plague of Doves and Love Medicine
Louise Erdrich’s novels Love Medicine and Plague of Doves are filled with a multitude of characters. These characters are different from one another with their own struggles and problems but are connected, not just by blood but by their shared cultural history. This cultural history is filled with oppression and hardships which undoubtedly affect all generations, including the current generations. Some of these issues include acculturation and assimilation, poor mental health, alcoholism and domestic violence which are all major issues that Native Americans face today and they’re all issues that Louise Erdrich touches on in her novels Love Medicine and The Plague of Doves. By looking at the history of these issues, there can be a better, fuller understanding of the source of these issues and the harmful effects Europeans had on Native Americans, namely the Chippewa tribe. Exploring the history of Europeans and Native Americans starting with their first encounters is important because it is the beginning of the Chippewa’s complicated relationship with Europeans and therefore, the complicated relationship with themselves.
According to Encyclopedia Britannica “The Ojibwa constituted one of the largest indigenous North American groups in the early 21st century”. It was 1640 when the Jesuits and French traders first contacted the Chippewa tribe The Chippewa tribe previously traded amongst each other and other surrounding tribes such as the Mandan and Hidatsa tribes. The Chippewas had to depend on the French fur traders because their resources were growing scarce. This was the beginning of acculturation for the Chippewa tribe. “The fur trade deepened the relationships between the Ojibway and Cree, and French traders, resulting in marriages between them” (Britannica). Over time, the offspring of Chippewa and Cree people became known as “Métis” or “Metchif” which is another way to say “mixed American Indian and Euro-American.
Louise Erdrich herself was born to a European father and partly Chippewa mother. She had already experienced the blending of cultures at a young age and grew up to go to college at both Dartmouth college and Johns Hopkins university. This awareness of white society definitely lends to the credibility of the issue of acculturation in Louise Erdrich’s novels.
Acculturation is defined by (Britannica) as “the processes of change in artifacts, customs, and beliefs that result from the contact of two or more cultures. The term is also used to refer to the results of such changes. Two major types of acculturation, incorporation and directed change, may be distinguished on the basis of the conditions under which cultural contact and change take place.”Acculturation is portrayed this way in Love Medicine through the stories and characters. For instance, the chapter “The Tomahawk Factory” in Love Medicine. In this chapter, there is a clear clash of Native American culture and European society’s ideology. Lulu even accuses her son Lyman of selling out. The Tomahawk Factory is a factory that sells Native American trinkets. The acculturation is evident here because there is a devaluing of Native American culture in favor of making a quick buck by means of mass production. In fact, the creator or “father” of the American factory system was indeed an Anglo-American man named Samuel Slater. This is also an example of assimilation which is defined as “the process whereby individuals or groups of differing ethnic heritage are absorbed into the dominant culture of a society” (Britannica). In this instance, Lyman had to absorb the capitalist culture of Anglo-American society in order to improve his financial situation.
In Love Medicine and in The Plague of Doves we see assimilation to the extreme. In the beginning of The Plague of Doves we are told that “His human flock had taken up the plow and farmed among German and Norwegian settlers. Those people, unlike the French who mingled with my ancestors, took little interest in the women native to the land and did not intermarry. In fact, the Norwegians disregarded everybody but themselves and were quite clannish. But the doves ate their crops the same”. In Love Medicine it is the Chippewa people that leave home and assimilate to Anglo culture. In fact, Albertine doesn’t just leave home, she runs away. She lives as a nursing student, studying modern medicine as opposed to Native American “medicine”. The distance she has put between herself and her Chippewa culture is especially evident in her relationships. “Our relationship was like a file we sharpened on, and necessary in that way” Albertine says about her mother. This shows Albertine’s disconnection with her heritage. It seems as though she views going home as an obligation as opposed to a positive thing that many other Native Americans do, as seen in stories with a “homing” plot.
“The acceptance of the French fur trader had a social and psychological impact on the culture of the Ojibway” (Britannica). Studies as recent as 2015 conclude that “Mental illness plays a role in almost 90 percent of suicides, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and such conditions are often treatable. In the case of the AIAN (American Indian and Alaska Native) community, mental health resources are in short supply and don’t always reach them” (Huffpost). Simply put, there are limited resources for Native Americans suffering from mental health. Many times, these mental health issues are brought on by Anglo-American society. One issue that can cause a great deal of depression and other mental health issues would be the fact that “compared to the total U.S. population, more than twice as many Native Americans live in poverty” (mental health America). Most Native Americans are impoverished.
Native Americans suffer from PTSD and many times, drug and alcohol abuse. Many mental health issues such as PTSD can be attributed to historical trauma. “Historical trauma response (HTR) theory is based on the hypothesis that when people were victims of cultural trauma, the aftereffects can be passed down through the generations”. Often, there is no help or treatment for Native Americans as far as mental health is concerned. This leads to addictions and other issues, and even death.
In Love Medicine, we see three mentally ill or unwell people die and two of them take their own lives. Henry Lamartine Jr. commits suicide by jumping into the river and drowning and Gordie Kashpaw commits suicide, although unintentionally, by drinking Lysol when he had ran out of alcohol. “He was sick, sick again, blindly sick, knocking into shelves and pulling down the flour bin, throwing himself toward the door” (259). Addiction is a mental illness and it’s one that if not treated, could be passed down. Gordie’s son King is also an alcoholic. “Among the behavioral traits parents can pass on to their children is a predisposition toward alcohol abuse and addiction. Among those abusing alcohol, people who are genetically predisposed to alcoholism have a higher risk of becoming addicted” (Addiction Center). The first time that alcoholism grew from the pain of their reality, they increased the chance that their offspring would also become addicted. Alcohol and other drugs are coping mechanisms. Native Americans have experienced a lot of trauma. “Rates of all types of addiction — not just alcohol — are elevated in aboriginal peoples around the world, not only in America. It’s unlikely that these scattered groups randomly happen to share more vulnerability genes for addiction than any other similarly dispersed people. But what they clearly do have in common is an ongoing multi-generational experience of trauma” (The Verge).
In The Plague of Doves, Billy Peace becomes the leader of a cult. Various religions such as Catholicism cannot be proven or disproven due to a lack of tangible “evidence”. Therefore, one cannot say emphatically that Billy Peace is automatically mentally ill because he sees spirits but we do have to question his mental state. Like Harry Lamartine Jr., Billy has been in battle. More than likely, Billy would have post-traumatic stress disorder. We also have to consider the fact that he has created a following. The word “cult” or the idea of a cult has negative connotations in our society and that’s because we see the followers of cults as being brainwashed sheep. If we look at Billy’s cult in that way, then most likely Billy himself is delusional and he’s imagining things. Perhaps he’s schizophrenic. Either that or his ego is so inflated that he needs to have followers. This in itself is a sign of mental illness and could also be a symptom of oppression. After being told that you and your people aren’t worthy, that you don’t matter, it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibilities to assume that he would thrive on attention from those that paint him as a hero as a opposed to a villain as so many Anglo-Americans do.
Native Americans, namely those of the Chippewa tribe struggle immensely due to the influence of the Anglos. This is something that we see in the books Love Medicine and The Plague of Doves. Erdrich herself is a result of these two cultures mixing and uses this perspective to reveal the ugly truths about the oppression of the Chippewa tribe. They struggle with alcohol and drug addiction, assimilation and acculturation as well as mental health and a slew of other issues brought on by the English.
Love is a Choice: A Theme Essay on Louise Edrich’s Love Medicine
In Louise Erdich’s Love Medicine, we are introduced to the protagonist, Lipsha, who has great love and respect for his grandparents who raised him. Interwoven throughout the story, we witness the complicated history and dynamic of his grandparents’ marriage. It is through this relationship that the main theme of the story emerges. Louise Erdich’s Love Medicine shows us that love is ultimately a commitment that requires hard work and persistent effort that cannot be demanded, forced, or bestowed upon someone.
As the story opens, we learn that Lipsha’s grandpa suffers from a dementia-type illness, which has caused him to revert to some of his old ways, such as his affair with an old lover named Lulu. Interestingly, rather than justifying the affair with the fact that his grandpa is ill, Lipsha describes it as if he is falling back into an existing weakness: “You know, some people fall right through the hole in their lives. It’s invisible, but they come to it after time, never knowing where. There is this woman here, Lulu Lamartine, who always had a thing for Grandpa. She loved him since she was a girl and always says he was a genius” (281). Rather than excuse his grandfather’s behavior to him not being in his right mind, Lipsha believes that the part of him that “is all there” is what is causing the affair. “Now what was mostly our problem was not so much that he was not all there, but that what was there of him often hankered after Lamartine” (286). From early on in the story, it is established that Lipsha’s grandpa is not fully committed to his wife.
As the story continues, we are introduced to the contrasting concern and love that Lipsha’s grandma has for her husband. “While he started getting toward second childhood he went through different moods. . . It scared me, it scared everyone, Grandma worst of all” (281). Grandma Kashpaw knows about the affair, and because of her love for her husband, is deeply hurt by it. He, however, is not able to love her this same way in return. “She loved him. She was jealous. She mourned him like the dead. And he just smiled into the air, trapped in the seams of his mind” (282). Lipsha marvels over this love that he witnesses his grandma have for his grandpa, longing to have such a love for himself one day. “I could see her point for wanting him back the way he was so at least she could argue with him, sleep with him, not be shamed out by Lamartine. She’d always love him. That hit me like a ton of bricks. . . I never loved like that. It made me feel all inspired to see them fight, and I wanted to go out and find a woman who I would love until one of us died or went crazy” (283). The contrast of the unconditional love of Grandma Kashpaw with that of her apathetic and unfaithful husband is what sets up the main theme of the story.
Lipsha’s idealized, faultless perception of love, likely similar to the perceptions of many readers such as ourselves, is shattered as he observes his grandparents’ marriage. He learns that love is not something that one can simply become good at over time, or something that requires less effort the longer you have experienced it. “I saw that tears were in her eyes. And that’s when I saw how much grief and love she felt for him. And it gave me a real shock to the system. You see I thought love got easier over the years so it didn’t hurt so bad when it hurt, or feel so good when it felt good. I thought it smoothed out and old people hardly noticed it. I thought it curled up and died, I guess. Now I saw it rear up like a whip and lash” (282). Love is painful and difficult, no matter how long you’ve been at it. As he continues to reflect, Lipsha talks about how love is based on so much more than just emotion—it requires commitment. Though he does not quite yet understand it, Lipsha describes this phenomenon as “staying power.” “. . .you need that, staying power, going out to love somebody. I knew that quality was not going to jump on me with no effort” (283). He wrestles with the fact that his grandfather does not possess this “staying power,” and ponders over how one can acquire it. Perhaps, he considers, this “staying power” is simply bestowed upon someone, like a “kind of magic”. “For what could I snap my fingers at to make him faithful to Grandma? Like the quality of staying power, this faithfulness was invisible. I know it’s something you got to acquire, but I never known where from. Maybe there’s no rhyme or reason to it, like my getting the touch, and then again maybe it’s a kind of magic” (286). It is evident that though Grandma Kashpaw is fully devoted to her husband, he is not able to return the same love. Desperate to repair this broken relationship, both Lipsha and Grandma Kashpaw go to extreme lengths to seek a “kind of magic” in hopes that it will help Grandpa Kashpaw to acquire this “staying power.”
In their desperation, Lipsha and his grandmother decide to use a “love medicine” to make Grandpa Kashpaw show commitment to his wife. Because he is not willing to display such love to his wife on his own accord, Lipsha “took powers in [his] own hands” and “did what [he] could” (287). He decides to feed his grandparents the hearts of a pair of geese, since geese mate for life. Amusingly, he lacks the skills to shoot the geese himself, and instead settles for frozen turkey hearts which he takes to the church to be blessed with holy water. He figures that this shortcut will still achieve the same effect. At the climax of the story, the author brilliantly juxtaposes the reactions of Lipsha’s two grandparents to the turkey hearts as a way of contrasting their love and commitment.
As Lipsha brings home the hearts, his grandma sits down and quickly and enthusiastically eats hers without question. In fact, she even insists on eating it raw, in hopes that it would work more effectively. “I unwrapped them hearts on the table, and her heard agate eyes went soft. She said she wasn’t even going to cook those hearts up but eat them raw so their power would go down strong as possible. I couldn’t hardly watch when she munched hers. Now that’s true love” (292). While Grandma Kashpaw was eager to finish her raw turkey heart without a single complaint, Grandpa Kashpaw reacted quite the opposite. “I saw grandpa picking at that heart on his plate with a certain look. He didn’t look appetized at all, is what I’m saying. I doubted our plan was going to work” (292). This heart, believed to be a magic cure to make him fall in love with his wife again, was in no way alluring to him. His wife pleads with him to eat it, urging him to “swallow it down” and he’ll “hardly notice it” (292). Though Grandma Kashpaw downed her own turkey heart unseasoned and without garnish, she tries her best to make her husband’s appealing to him by putting the heart “smack on a piece of lettuce like in a restaurant and then attached to it a little heap of boiled peas” (292). She refers to it as “fresh grade-A” and even offers to salt it for him: “‘not tasty enough? You want me to salt it for you?’ she waved the shaker over his plate” (292). Despite his wife’s pleas, Grandpa Kashpaw still has no interest in eating the heart. “‘What you want me to eat this for so bad?’ he asked her uncannily. . . he put his fork down. He rolled the heart around his saucer plate. ‘I don’t want to eat this,’ he said to Grandma. ‘It don’t look good’ (292). No matter how much Grandma Kashpaw pleads with him, he is unwilling to give it a try. Ultimately, it is his decision alone.
As Grandma Kashpaw practically begs her husband to eat the heart, he responds by mocking her, putting the heart in his mouth but not swallowing. “First he rolled it into one side of his cheek. ‘Mmmmm’ he said. Then he rolled it into the other side of his cheek. ‘Mmmmmmm,’ again. Then he stuck his tongue out with the heart on it once to far” (293). Overcome with frustration and anger with her husband’s unwillingness to eat the heart (and ultimately, to love her), she hits him in attempt to force him to swallow. She is unsuccessful, however, and he chokes. Grandpa Kashpaw could not be forced to love his wife in the way that she so desired. While his grandma was willing to fight for their love at all costs, Lipsha observes that even while choking, his grandpa has no desire to do so. “. . .he wasn’t choking on the heart alone. There was more to it than that. It was other things that choked him as well. It didn’t seem like he wanted to struggle or fight” (293). To Lipsha and his grandmother’s despair, as they try to force the heart down Grandpa Kashpaw’s throat, they discover that love cannot be forced upon someone else. Love is a gift that cannot be demanded nor manipulated. It is a continual choice that requires commitment, hard work, and persistent effort.
At the end of the story, Lipsha comes to the realization that there is indeed nothing magical about love. Love can only be found in the human heart, not that of a goose or a turkey. “Love medicine ain’t what brings him back to you, Gradma. No it’s something else. He loved you over time and distance. . . It’s true feeling, not no magic. No supermarket heart could have brung him back” (297). This “staying power” that he had marveled over is to love someone “over time and distance,” to remain committed to them even when times get hard. However, this kind of love and commitment takes time and devotion, cannot be achieved by shortcuts, and can only happen by way of an individual’s personal resolve to love. Perhaps if given more time, Grandpa Kashpaw would have one day been able to return his wife’s unconditional love, upon his own accord. It takes an act of death for Lipsha and his grandmother to realize that love is not easy and cannot be simply bestowed upon someone, as if by magic, or shoved down someone’s throat. They learn that love is a choice, and thus cannot be forced upon someone against their will. Readers of Love Medicine from all backgrounds and walks of life can learn from this story that it is a privilege to be loved, but to love another wholly is a choice that takes time, effort, and hard work.