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Love Medicine


"Love Medicine", by Louise Erdrich, is a novel about
relationships. It is about families and lovers. It is about
love as the tie that binds. The characters in the novel
live throughout their lives experiencing different things
with different people, but it all comes back to love as the
force that brings them together.
The story is set around a North Dakota Indian reservation
over a span of fifty years. It is the story of two families
who lives intertwine because of different bonds of both
love and hate. The reader is introduced to the main
character of the novel, Marie Lazzare Kashpaw, while she is
still in her youth. As a young Indian, she goes to live "up
the hill" at the Sacred Heart convent. She is taken under
the wing of the twisted Sister Leopolda who beats "Satan
out of her soul". Yet, Marie puts up with this abusive
treatment. Sister Leopolda explains her harshness to Marie
as a difference between herself and the Devil. "He wants
you. That's the difference. I give you love." And Marie
both does come to hate and love her. This nun made her as
strong as she was. She gave her pride in herself; pride to
prove to Leopolda that the Devil was not within her and
that she could succeed even as the wife of an Indian. 

There are couplings in the novel that contained true love.
Many of these couplings were not marriages, but they
outlasted everything. Nector Kashpaw is possibly the most
pivotal character in that sense in the novel. His love life
entwines the lives of the two main characters of the novel,
Marie Kashpaw and Lulu Nanapush Lamartine. In his youth,
Nector had promised to marry Lulu, but then found himself
in the arms of Marie. He marries her instead and has
children and a life with her. Lulu goes from man to man
having children all with different paternal lineage. Still,
it is Lulu that Nector really loves and, as much as she
hates to admit it, it is Nector that still holds Lulu's
heart. They have an affair together that continues for
years until Nector is forced to choose between them. He
loves Lulu, but is rejected by her and returns to Marie.
Although he is still with Marie, his heart, till the end of
his days, belongs to Lulu.
In the wake of Nector's death, and a joint business venture
with Lyman Lamartine, Lulu's son by Nector, the Lulu and
Marie become close friends. They form a bond with each
other through their mutual connection to Nector that is
very surprising for they had been rivals throughout his
lifetime. They are able to overcome their hatred for each
other because of their love for Nectar. They are able to
mourn together, reminisce together, even laugh together. It
is love that causes their tie and a meshing of the two
The friendship and marriage of Gordie Kashpaw and June
Kashpaw, who were both playmates and cousins, is another
relationship that depicts the strength of true love, even
after death. In their youth, the two were inseparable. They
told each other everything. When they grew older, against
the wishes of the family, they ran off to get married. They
had a child together, but June was wild. She would go off
for months, leaving her husband and son behind, to do as
she pleased with whomever she pleased. Their marriage, when
together, was not all smooth sailing either. Gordie was
abusive. After her death, Gordie thought to himself, "[we]
knew each other better than most people who were married a
lifetime. [We] knew the good things, but [we] knew how to
hurt each other, too." He claims to have missed her while
she was gone, but was also relieved in her absence. Now
that she was dead, he could not believe that she was never
coming back. He is overcome by grief and love as he goes
over their years together in his mind. His love for her is
so overpowering that it drives him to drink, to shut the
memories out. He thinks that her ghost comes back to him
and he thinks that he kills her. June's death causes him to
become delusional with grief and loss. It is in her death
that he realizes his true love for her. 

The novel is in an American Indian setting which is filled
with magic and mysticism. There is a strong belief in the
fate of the dead. There are few characters in the novel who
come back to visit the living, but those who do are the
ones who were truly loved by those they visit. Nectar
returns to visit Marie to show her that he really did love
her once and that the love medicine did work. Lulu feels
Nectar's presence in the night. Gordie sees June and goes
wild thinking that she has finally now come back to him. It
is those who are truly loved who are missed the most. When
taken from either a psychological or an Indian
interpretation, the spirits who return were truly loved by
whomever they return to. They come back to say "I loved
The novel is freckled with many interspersed and varying
flings involving the characters of the novel. Ms. Erdrich
uses these meaningless relationships to contrast them with
the greatness of the relationships born of true love. The
novel describes June's one-night stands in the midst of
describing the eternal love that those who were left behind
in her death have for her. While Lulu goes through multiple
husbands and several partners in between, for her whole
life, her heart is truly loyal to only Nectar. The contrast
is astonishing. The language that Ms. Erdrich chooses to
describe the flings is very harsh and cold and dirty. When
describing true love, even that after death, the tone is
warm and bittersweet. It is in this way that the author
points out the tremendous difference between these two
different types of relationships.
It is through the simple character of Lipsha Morrissey that
the reader learns the true significance of the title, Love
Medicine. Lipsha is slow intellectually and therefore acts
primarily from his heart. It is he who really has the
insights into what is meaningful in life. He calls himself
a healer and claims to be able to remove the pains of
others. This is what makes him special. He sees the
heartache of his grandmother, Marie Kashpaw, at the fact
that her husband, Nectar, is in love with another woman. He
knows of the ancient magical powers of "love medicine" and
attempts to rekindle the flame of passion between his two
grandparents. However, he fails in acquiring the necessary
ingredients for his potion and substitutes common grocery
store items for the ancient recipe. Lipsha comes upon an
idea in passing that can be seen as the essence of this
novel. He says, "I finally convinced myself that the actual
power to the love medicine was not the goose heart itself
but the faith in the cure." This could not possibly hold
truer. All of the feelings of love in the novel succeed in
pulling those involved together. In the end, it is the pure
and true love that overcomes all other life obstacles and
brings the people back to each other. 


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