Love Medicine

Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich: Story Review

March 18, 2021 by Essay Writer

A Spoonful of Water Helps the Medicine Go Down

Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich is a story about the lives of several families in the Chippewa tribe. Erdrich captures the struggles and triumphs of the characters in beautifully narrated prose. The majority of the book is written from the first person point of view, although there are a few chapters where the narrator is in the 3rd person. Using this interesting style, Erdrich is able to show all sides of a specific event from many different viewpoints. Another plus that this style brings is the way the reader can see the internal struggles of a character and is privy to information that is never spoken. The author also shows the struggle of the characters to become more than just an Indian and at the same time, keep their connection to nature and their native heritage. One of the main themes of this book is water. Throughout the book, water is seen as a tool for rejuvenation, a barrier between worlds, and a bringer of death.

At many points in the book characters us water as a way to clear their heads. This can be seen when June and Gordie on their honeymoon up to a small secluded lake. This is one of the only times in the book where the characters seemed genuinely happy because There was nothing to disturb their peace(p.270). This was a rare occurrence in the book that there would be nothing to disturb the scene. Living next to the lake, Gordie and June enjoy their honeymoon.

The most mysterious character in the entire book is a man named Moses Pillager. He lives outside the normal world, on an island deep in the woods. He is surrounded by water. This water acts as a barrier between the world of the Chippewa and the world of nature. When Lulu goes to visit him this is the wild scene she sees: Cats were lounging, sprinting, hunting, dozing on every warm log, on each heated outcrop. There were cats in the trees, in the moving waves of iron colored grass (p.76). This wild island is completely shut out to the outside world by a ring of water.

One of the most disturbing aspects of this book is the way that death, especially suicide, is dealt with. So many deaths happen that it seems to be a normal part of their lives. The drowning death of Henry Junior is one of the most vivid in the book. This is because Drowning was the worst death for a Chippewa to experiencethe drowned werent allowed into the next life but forced to wander forever (p.295). In this light, water has so much power. It takes life and keeps it from passing on. Another death that is associated with water is the death of June. The last line as June walks into the snow is: June walked over it (snow) like it was water and came home (p.7). June never made it home. She was engulfed by the snow and cold and died somewhere on the plains. After her death, she continued to haunt her family and especially her husband Gordie and her son King. This is because she too, like Henry Junior, was forced to wander after her death.

Love Medicine is a very powerful book. Reading it made me realize how8 different life on an Indian Reservation is when compared to my life. The way that Erdrich made the book span over 80 years, mapping out the entire lives of her characters, made me think of my own life and how short it seems. The book also shows the endurance of human nature. The characters in Love Medicine went through so much pain, anger, and suffering and still were able to move on and live out their lives. They did not know a life where nothing was wrong and they had just learned to deal with whatever came their way. In this sense, I think that the Chippewa culture is so much different than western culture, maybe even better. Something that I noticed throughout the book is that not many characters had obvious goals for their lives. A few of the characters strive to advance their stature in society but leaving the reservation was not in the goals of many. The majority of the characters stayed because they were connected by love, blood, and nature.

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Louise Erdrich’s Love Medicine. a Study in Contemporary Fiction

March 18, 2021 by Essay Writer

Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction Vol. 31 #1Louise Erdrich s Love medicine: Loving Over Time and DistanceLouise FlavinMany Native American novels deal with specific Indian American issues, such as reservation life and the problems of relocation and termination. Often, the conflict in the novel arises out of the native American concern for connectedness with the land and the interrelatedness of all life. When the Indian American moves off the reservation and begins life in a culture essentially different from his own, the results can be disastrous.

The typical native American story has a “homing” plot. In these stories, the hero find fulfillment, personal growth, and value in returning home, n finding himself in his cultural past among his own people. “To Indians tribe means family, not just bloodlines but extended family, clan, community, ceremonial exchanges with nature, and an animate regard for all creation as sensible and powerful.”Louise Erdrich s Love Medicine, looks at Indian American reservation life in a less optimistic light. In this novel, the returning Indian finds that the tribe has disintegrated, the past has been forgotten, and the reservation lands no longer support a livelihood. Leaving home is the road to fulfillment.

The story is at the same time one of disintegration and breaking connections, and of bonding and restoration. Presenting the story from so many different points of view suggests not tribal or family unity, but separation and difference. At the same time, the points of view are unified around the subject of one family. This accentuates the theme of the breakdown of relationships, while showing the unique tie the family and reservation life have for these people. The novel has no central conflict or protagonist. Instead of a clearly defined conflict, the novel portrays a variety of characters attempting to love and survive in a world where G-d and the government seem to have forsaken them. Left to their own devices, many of them – especially the men – flounder. While the men in the novel accept inevitable doom in their lives, the women approach the same reservation world with a different outlook. The novel is clearly feminist in its depiction of two strong women who raise families in adverse situations and, in the end, bond with each other after their children are raised and the man that they both had loved has died. Marie and Lulu not only survive, but look back on their lives with satisfaction, having endured without the support of a strong male figure or the help of G-d or the government.

One of the survivors of reservation life is Lipsha Morrissey, abandoned by his mother June and raised by “Grandma” Kapshaw. Lipsha narrates two central chapters – one gives the novel its title, and the other ends the book as a link to the opening chapter and the death of June. Lipsha recognizes that life on the reservation is bleak, more so than ever before. He bemoans the loss of faith in the Chippewa gods and the inefficacy of praying to the Catholic god, who does not seem to hear. The absence of an attentive god is part of the problem of the Indian Americans. In the absence of a god, Lipsha attempts to help his family and friends by restoring the primitive art of witch doctoring. He believes himself to have healing powers, which he calls “the touch.” he attempts to heal the rift between his grandparents by having them eat the raw heart of a wild goose. Since wild geese mate for life, Lipsha believes that eating the goos heart will lessen the separation that has developed between his grandparents over Nector s affair with Lulu. His attempt to work love medicine is made comic when he fails to shoot a wild goose and resorts to using a frozen supermarket turkey heart. The final deflation occurs when old Nector Kapshaw chokes and dies trying to swallow the heart. Instead of the “healing touch”, Lipsha works a different kind of “love medicine.” his real insight comes form being a man of strong feelings coming from being raised on love.

The story is not one of continuity, relatedness, and harmony with the land and nature, with culture and tradition which are ideas that shape much native American fiction. Instead, Louise Erdrich depicts a cultural mileau where the sacred ceremonies, tribal rituals, and Indian cultural identity have disappeared. The connectedness to the land has disappeared, the means to make a living is gone, and the younger generation must find work off the reservation or stay there and flounder. While the novel is untraditional in many ways, it gives a compassionate humanistic account of the lives of reservation Indians without glorifying their culture yet without demeaning them in their weakness and failure.

Ms. Erdrich is able to present realistically their unique characters and situations, focusing upon the Indian American as a race with definite problems but with the same enduring nature as all Americans. Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction Vol. 30 #2The Triumph of the Brave: Love Medicine s Holistic VisionNora Barry and Mary PrescottLouise Erdrich challenges the romantic vision of native Americans as destined for cultural oblivion. Her novel celebrates native American survival and credits spiritual values with that survival. Erdrich focuses on the failure of ritual and traditions that divide according to gender. According to Erdrich s holistic vision, survival and cintinuity depend on a character s ability to internalize both the masculine and the feminine, the past and the present. It is apparebnt in Love Medicine that ritulas and traditions that are exclusively male will no longer work. For instance, through King Kapshaw, Henry Lamartine, Jr., and Gordie Kapshaw, Erdrich presents the failureof the warrior tradition.

Marie Kapshaw is one of Erdrich s strongest characters becuase her life is a blending of two complementary gender-based traditions. Her life includes risks, transformation, householding, nad medicine, as well as an integration of past and present. Her participation in womanly ritual is obvious in her willingness to absorb orphan children into her own family. Her role in the novel is most prominent, however, when she is taking risks and drawing upon the past. Marie s vision during her adolescnece, incorporating power and compassion, guides her at crucial points for the rest of her life. She practices the compassion that her vision teaches her when she takes in homeless children, most significantly June and Lipsha, and when in her old age she Lulu, her rival, regain her sight. Lulu Lamartine is Marie s powerful couterpart, lifelong rival for the Nector s affection, and, ironically, her companion in old age. Lulu is a worthy adversary because she is effective at complimentarity as Marie is. The two characters mirror one another in their role as mother, in their ability to take risks, in their way of blending past and present, and in their wielding of power in old age. Lulu challenges the tribe when her land is in danger of being sold to a manufacturer of tomahawks, fearing the threat to the old way of life that the factory represents. Lulu alone seems mindful of the conflict between the old values and and the influences of the white standard of economic success. June inhabits a netherworld between the masculine and feminine; her life lacks structure because she feels no connection to either tradition, nor can she blend the two. Throughout her life, she wanders into the worlds of masculine and feminine ritual inconsistently. As a child, she participates in masculine ritual with her gaurdian Eli, wearing a hat just like his and hunting with him. Marie observes June s identification with Eli and traces it back to the incompetence of June s mother, who had completley neglected the child and fostered a mistrus of women. June does not become Eli, however, nor is she ever comfortable with the feminine rituals of wives and mothers. Her marriage with Gordie is on-again-off-again, so she is not always available to her son King. She gives her second son, Lipsha, to Marie to raise, watching him grow only from a distance. Her efforts to succeed in the white world as a beautician, secretary, clerk, and waitress fail, too. It is understandable that June feels dislocated in these traditionally feminine roles. Although she is apparently unaware of it, the chaos in June s life is a result a fragmented gender identity. Because June tries early to adopt a woodlands tradition that is no longer workable in most cases, she cannot carry into her adult present the life that made her childhood secure. June cannot reconcile her past with her present in life. Only in her death does June finally feel comfortable with her past and her present; she feels secure, solitary, and she has a direction. Lipsha shows some promise because he has the power to heal. It is apparent in the section “Love Medicine” that Lipshais is not yet a mature caretaker of his powe. He dares to try to work the potent love medicine that would revive the pasion between Marie and Nector, but when that ancient prscription proves to difficult proves to difficult to follow, he impovises and bungles. His toying with traditionhas serio-comic consequences, whne it results in Nector s demise. Lipsha s growth begins after Nector s death, when two old women impel him on his search for his place in the scheme of things. First Lulu offers Lipsha significant information about his heritage and teaches him how to cheat a cards. Then by broadly hinting that Lipsha should help himself to her savings, Marie provides the means for the jouney the present the trials he needs to overcome if he is to progress. With the help of his trickster father, Lipsha gambles for his just inheritancena dwins the car that his half-brother King bought with June s insurance money. Traditionally, the new culture hero returns home with prizes or gains them from the tribe as recognition of his new status. Lipsha s great prize is his awareness of himself, his sense of belonging and of being a real person. His truimph is internal. It consists of being a man who will never be trapped by ritualsexclusive to menand who has the capacity of reconciling his present with his past. Erdrich forces the reader to peer into the breach that separates two ways of viewing the world and human experience. Rather than showing readers a civilization in decline, Erdrich offers a vision of a culture that continues to eveolve. Even as she posits that the old gender-based rituals of hunter and warrior are no longer fulfilling, she draws upon the rich tradition of folklore and vision to offer characters a promising context for growth. When characters call uon tradition to guide their lives, they reconcile the distant and recent past with the present. Erdrich places great value in experiencewith emphasis on rituals and roles that are not gender-based. Characters trapped in or between gender-based roles are unfulfilled. Those who take advatage of the fluidity between past and present abd are free enough to incorporate it into their experience rituals complementing the gender-based behavior that is expected of them will survive and even truimph.

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House on Mango Street and Love Medicine: Reflection on Women Empowerment

March 18, 2021 by Essay Writer

Within the works of Cisneros’s, “House on Mango Street”, Erdrich’s, “Love Medicine”, there is a pattern that the main women within the novels follow to help them achieve peace and empowerment for themselves, their culture, and the woman within their culture. When we take a look at the elements that defy the very being of these two woman, Esperanza of House on Mango Street and Lulu of Love Medicine, we are able to see similar themes that hold both of these women through their journey to female empowerment. Both Lulu and Esperanza go through a type of quest of self identification as they age and mature into their ultimate selves. During these journeys the woman go through several very common events that can be described as themes that relate to innocence, crisis, self-discovery/awareness. The journeys that Lulu and Esperanza go through help to shape them into the woman that can overcome, the events help them learn about life, themselves, and decide which path will be most empowering.

As we take a look into Esperanza’s journey, or quest, it is important to start off from the beginning and take a look into the innocence of Esperanza. When she first moved to her new home on Mango street she was young, naive, and of course a bit selfish. She sees her new home to be something ashamed of, she does not expect what she gets, and therefore, sulks and pities herself. This is because Esperanza has always dreamed of living a better life; within the text it can be read, “ They always told us that one day we would move into a house, a real house that would be ours for always so we wouldn’t have to move each year … Our house would be white with trees around it, a great big yard and grass growing without a fence. This was the house Papa talked about when he held a lottery ticket and this was the house Mama dreamed up in the stories she told us before we went to bed (Cisneros, p. 4). “ From the above quote, innocence and dreamer qualities can be seen within Esperanza, as she longs for something more than the life she is living. This can be seen as her first small flirt with the idea of breaking cultural and gender norms, because not only does she want a house she wants one of her own, which is not common for woman of Hispanic culture. This can be seen in the line which reads, “ One day I’ll own my own house, but I won’t forget who I am or where I came from. Passing bums will ask, Can I come in? I’ll offer them the attic, ask them to stay, because I know how it is to be without a house (Cisneros, p. 87).” This passage also shows how Esperanza has grown from her experiences, she has matured into a caring woman through the process of her personal quest.

The section which reads, “ but I won’t forget who I am or where I came from”, also defines an important fact that Esperanza will not forget her culture or roots as she evolves into who she wants to be. This is the ultimate cultural goal of the Chicana movement, to be able to evolve and become empowered while still holding on to the culture that also defies them. Going on from this point, Esperanza begins to move into the area of crisis within her journey to independence and fulfillment. As we look into the crises that test Esperanza, we can see that many stem from her own mind, and in turn, are constructed by her own interpretation of the limits set on her by her culture and gender. Within the text it can be read, “ She looked out the window her whole life, the way so many women sit their sadness on an elbow. I wonder if she made the best with what she got or was she sorry because she couldn’t be all the things she wanted to be. Esperanza. I have inherited her name, but I don’t want to inherit her place by the window (Cisneros). “ This passage from the text illustrates the limitations Esperanza feels are placed upon her. She has seen the story firsthand and is worried that she will not be able to fulfill her dreams and become who she is meant to be. Her ultimate fear, at this point, is the becoming, “the woman in the window”, someone who waits for another to come along a make her whole. Looking farther into the area of crisis, we are able to see instances that break her of her innocence and begin to show her an uglier side of the world. Within the text it can be read, “ Sally, you lied, you lied. He wouldn’t let me go. He said I love you, I love you, Spanish girl (Cisneros, p. 99).” From the above quote, Esperanza experiences a terrible blow in the form of sexually assault. This line which reads, “I love you, spanish girl”, shows Esperanza the darker side of life. The line is a mockery of love because it perpetuates the stereotype that sex equals love.

However, Esperanza is able to see that this is not love, and that men have a hold over woman in her culture due to the acceptance of these types of situations. She realizes that in order to change this women should stick closely by one another and not let men perpetuate this type of dominating behavior. Esperanza sees this in the failed support of her friend Sally. This is a huge turning point for Esperanza has she begins to see the problems within her community. This is also the point when Esperanza is able to overcome this crisis, as well as the ones that old her mind. This can be seen in the following quote which reads, “ One day I will pack my bags of books and paper. One day I will say goodbye to Mango street. I am too strong for her to keep me here forever (Cisneros, p. 110).” From this line, it is clear to see that Esperanza as overcome her crisis and knows now that Mango street, her culture, and her gender, can not hold her back from the freedom and fulfilment that she is seeking. The many negative experiences that have plague her have actually helped her to learn who she wants to be. She now knows that she will not be, “the woman in the window”, she will find her own place and within this space there will be peace.

Going on to Lulu’s journey within, “Love Medicine”, we are able to see the same process of the personal journey that Esperanza experiences. Lulu goes through the same events that follow, innocence, crisis, and self-awareness. This quest leads Lulu, much like Esperanza, to become a figure of female empowerment within her culture. Within the area of innocence, Lulu can be seen as an innocent young girl, who much like Esperanza, is naive. This can be seen in the way she plays freely at her childhood home. This is also exposed when she begins to play near a dead body she finds behind her home. The fact that she plays so easily near the corpse shows her innocence and ignorance. Shortly after this, Lulu is sent away to the Indian boarding school. She is ripped from her home, and everything she knows. From this experience, Lulu’s innocence is also ripped from her. This can be seen in the line which reads, “ I don’t know why, but after that [my tears] they just dried up ( Erdrich, p. 281).” She is taken to the boarding school and her culture is diminished right in front of her eyes. She must become strong in order to survive this crisis, and thus, she grows so that she can save the indian within her, much like how Esperanza grows from the trauma of her sexual assault. However, this is also where Lulu greatly differs from Esperanza, she faces her crises with a much bolder face. This can be seen in the line which reads, “

…Everyone who knows me will say I am a happy person. I go through life like a breeze. I try to greet the world without a grudge. I can beat the devil himself at cards because I play for the sheer amusement…(Erdrich, p. 281).” From this passage, the power within Lulu can be seen. She takes on each of her crises, such as Nector’s unwillingness to settle, with a strong stance and powerful resolve. She may cry and be broken, but she will never be so for long. This is because the experiences she has faced have taught her that in order to find peace and fulfilment she must preserve and stand tall. This is something that takes Esperanza a bit longer to understand, due to the fact that she grows up a bit slower than Lulu does. However, both Lulu and Esperanza are similar, in that, they eventually find empowerment through these traumatic events that (at first) scared them.

This is how they are able to find peace, by accepting and making peace with the terrible events of their pasts, and by not accepting the gender and cultural constructs that seem to hold them.

Mentorship and spirituality play a huge role in the advancement of Esperanza and Lulu. This is part of how they are able to overcome so many obstacles in their way. For Esperanza, mentorship comes from certain woman who reside on Mango, one in particular being Alicia. This can be seen in the line which reads, “ …like it or not you are Mango street, and one day you’ll come back too (Cisneros, p. 107).”

From this, Esperanza is able to reflect on who she wants to be, and how she will help lose within her culture break free in the way that she has, much like Lulu, Esperanza leads by example; this is how she helps her community become better. On the side of spirituality, Lulu finds strength there within the realm of her soul and culture. She relies on her Indian roots to sooth her and help her overcome difficulties, such as life at boarding school. She holds true to her culture, and thus, she is able to hold true to herself. She truly does as she wants, and is able to find peace and fulfillment in this manner. This can be seen when she is confronted about the the choices she has made in life, “… 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, p. 277).” From this passage, it is clear to see that Lulu has found empowerment by saying that she does not regret the choices she has made. She also makes a stand for the rest of those woman suppressed within her culture by saying, “…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.” Here, Lulu makes fun of the stereotype that women are emotional and cry, by breaking down this wall she shows everyone (including Native American woman) that these constructs do not define her or women, much like how Esperanza show her people a new way of living by example. By looking at these similarities and differences between Esperanza and Lulu’s experiences as women within their culture, we are able to make comparisons about the cultures as a whole. It seems that when it comes to woman within these cultures, the men try to bind them to their “traditional” gender constructs. By this I am referring to the domination of men over woman. In both the Native American and Hispanic communities, women are meant to be obedient, quiet, and take care of the matters of the home. There are also stereotypes placed on them by the men within their culture, such as Lulu’s explanation of men’s view of women being easily made to cry. These are constructs that make up both the Native American culture and the Hispanic.

It is clear to see that both the woman with, Love Medicine and House on Mango Street, work to achieve fulfilment and empowerment. Lulu and Esperanza are able to grow and learn from the terrible experiences of their childhoods, in order to carve a new place for themselves within their cultures. The process of innocence, crisis, and self-awareness/ fulfilment, becomes a journey that produces self empowered women. Overall, it would seem that the crises they go through are used as learning experiences so that both of these women may become cultural leaders within their communities. As these women are able to overcome and accept the life they’ve been dealt, they are able to cross the threshold into peace, fulfillment, and overall self empowerment.

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Flow of a river and people on the riverbed

January 12, 2021 by Essay Writer

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.

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Getting Ready for the Consequences of the Action Taken

January 12, 2021 by Essay Writer

“‘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.

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The Native American Double Consciousness in Love Medicine

July 24, 2019 by Essay Writer

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.

Works Cited

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.

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An Analysis of Love Medicine’s “Lulu”

July 4, 2019 by Essay Writer

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.”[1] 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.”[2]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”[3] 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.”[4] 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.”[5] 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.”[6] 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.”[7]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.”[8] 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.”[9]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.”[10] 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.”[11] 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.”[12] 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.”[13] 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…”[14] 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.”[15] Smith talks about how Lulu’s relationships are examples of how her female character “questions even the possibility of imposing boundaries.”[16] 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.”[17] 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.”[18] 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.[19] Women who only correspond with men are usually placed in a cowardly category and are exclusively threatening to other women.[20] 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.”[21]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.”[22] 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.[23] “It was on that bus [to the government school]…that Lulu Lamartine cried all the tears she would ever cry in her life.”[24] 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.”[25] 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.”[26] [1] 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.”[27] 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.”[28] 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.”[29] 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.”[30] 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.”[31] 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.”[32] 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.”[33] 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.”[34] and how she transformed him from a “drunk” to “tribal chairman,” and “that handsome, distinguished man”[35] 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.[36] 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.”[37] 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.[38] 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.[39] 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.”[40] 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.[41] 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.”[42] 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.”[43] 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.”[44] 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.”[45] 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.[46] 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.[47]

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.”[48] 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.”[49] 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.”[50] 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.[51] 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.

Works Cited

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.

Citations

[1] Margaret Galloway, “American Indian Women in Literature: Stereotypical Characterizations of Insufficient Self-Determination” ( Speech, Annual American Indian Conference, Mankato, MN May 1987). 7.7

[2] Louise Erdrich, Love Medicine ( New York: HarperCollins, 1984), 276.

[3] Ibid. 276

[4] Jeanne Smith, “Transpersonal Selfhood: The Boundaries of Identity in Louise Erdrich’s Love Medicine,” Studies in American Indian Literatures 3 (Winter 1991): 18.

[5] Erdrich 217

[6] Ibid. 82

[7] Ibid.73

[8] Ibid. 75

[9] Ibid. 75

[10] Ibid. 81

[11] Ibid. 82

[12] Ibid. 126

[13] Ibid. 120

[14] Ibid. 140

[15] Smith. 18

[16] Ibid. 17

[17] Erdrich. 276

[18] Erdrich. 108

[19] Sara Ahmed, Living a Feminist Life (Durham: Duke University Press, 2017), 67.

[20] Ibid. 67

[21] Ibid. 67

[22] Erdrich. 68

[23] Louise Erdrich, Tracks (New York: Henry Holt & Co, 1988), 146.

[24] Erdrich, Love Medicine. 280

[25] Ibid. 69

[26] Ibid. 70

[27] Ibid. 71

[28] Ibid. 68

[29] Ibid. 75

[30] Ibid. 78

[31] Ahmed. 61

[32] Ibid. 118

[33] Ibid. 297

[34] Ibid. 73

[35] Ibid. 277

[36] 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.

[37] Ibid. 92

[38] Ibid. 92

[39] Erdrich. 297

[40] Ibid. 297

[41] Ting Bo, “An Eco-Feminist Reading of Love Medicine,” Journal of Language Teaching and Research 7 (May 2016): 505.

[42] Ibid. 506

[43] Ibid. 506

[44] Erdrich. 277

[45] Ibid. 302

[46] Margaret E Galloway, “American Indian Women in Literature: Stereotypical Characterizations of Insufficient Self-Determination” (Speech, Annual American Indian Conference, Mankato, MN May 7, 1987).

[47] Ibid. 1

[48] Erdrich. 287

[49] Louise Erdrich, Love Medicine (New York: HarperCollins, 1984), 69.

[50] Galloway. 11

[51] Ibid. 7

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Water Imagery and Symbolism in Love Medicine

June 19, 2019 by Essay Writer

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.

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Between Two Worlds: Author’s Craft in Love Medicine

May 31, 2019 by Essay Writer

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.

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Women’s Empowerment: Their Eyes Were Watching God and Love Medicine

May 16, 2019 by Essay Writer

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.

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