June had wedged herself so tight against the door that when she sprang the latch she fell out. Into the cold. It was a shock like being born...
The snow fell deeper that year than it had in forty years, but June walked over it like water and came home.
The religious and rebirth imagery of June's story concludes, in a sad irony, with her death. She decides to walk home to her reservation. When she exits the warm car, it is as though she has experienced a rebirth; she walks across the cold, slushy ranchland in thin boots. Her feet grow cold and then numb, but she is competent in the snow and knows what direction to head towards. However, she walks into a storm, into what the reader visualizes as a dark whiteness, a sight that heralds June's death by hypothermia. This vivid religious imagery also emphasizes the fact that June's death occurred on or near Easter. It is clear from how Love Medicine progresses that she never made it home but died out in the fields during the storm. If she "came home" at all, it may have been to heaven.
I don't pray, but sometimes I do touch the beads. It has become a secret. I never look at them, just let my fingers roam to them when no one is in the house. It's a rare time when I do this. 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 a kindness. But I see no kindness in how the waves are grinding them smaller and smaller until they finally disappear.
At the end of the first section of the chapter "The Beads," Erdrich's language makes it clear that Marie's beads are meant to symbolize June. Earlier, June arrives at Marie's house already broken down by her mother's death. As the reader knows from the first chapter, by the end of her life June has been through countless hardships. Erdrich's language at the end of the chapter, which aligns the beads with small stones smoothed and broken by waves, is a metaphor for June's past and future hardships. Furthermore, on account of their present usage, the beads are a potent reminder of the power of religion in Marie's life.
So much time went by in that flash it surprises me yet. What they call a lot of water under the bridge. Maybe it was rapids, a swirl that carried me so swift that I could not look to either side but had to keep my eyes trained on what was coming. Seventeen years of married life and come-and-go children.
And then it was like the river pooled.
Maybe I took my eyes off the current too quick. Maybe the fast movement of time had made me dizzy. I was shocked. I remember the day it happened...
What I saw was time passing, each minute collecting behind me before I had squeezed from it any life. It went so fast, is what I'm saying, that I myself sat still in the center of it. Time was rushing around me like water around a big wet rock. The only difference is, I was not so durable as stones. Very quickly I would be smoothed away.
Seventeen years of Nector's life pass quickly, and Erdrich describes this stretch of time by using water imagery. In this long inner monologue, Nector construes himself as a soft stone being eroded by the waters of time. He suddenly realizes that he has been carried through rapids for years without appreciating everything around him, and when he looks up "there was less of me." Time, symbolized by water, has already begun to erode him. This realization motivates him to get back in touch with Lulu, his former love, before it's too late.
Sometimes he'd look at me, I'd smile, and he'd think to himself: salt or sugar? But he would never be sure.
Marie's trick on her husband is very revealing of her character. Nector has left her a note announcing that he is leaving her for Lulu; later that night, once Marie hears him coming home, she realizes that he is not going to leave her. Nevertheless, she wants him to suffer for what he has done to her, so she puts the letter under a salt can rather than under the sugar jar (where it was originally placed). For the rest of his life, Nector will always wonder whether Marie has read the letter. Marie is ready to move on with her marriage and continue to love Nector, since she is a pragmatic and forgiving woman. Yet this action reveals that she can be crafty and, in her own understated way, perhaps a bit vengeful.
Henry Lamartine Junior carried enough shrapnel deep inside of him, still working its way out, to set off the metal detector in the airport.
Without his backstory, Henry could appear to be a predatory young man. Yet Erdrich outlines his haunting history in Vietnam, and such outlining helps the reader to empathize with him. Henry was a prisoner for six months. The shrapnel symbolizes his damage: he is both psychologically and physically undermined, and the shrapnel inside him forcing its way out shows that he is deeply damaged inside and also suggests that he is trying to recover, however painfully.
I owned that car along with my brother Henry Junior. We owned it together until his boots filled with water on a windy night and he bought out my share. Now Henry owns the whole car, and his younger brother Lyman (that's myself), Lyman walks everywhere he goes.
The first paragraph of the story Lyman is telling foreshadows its dark ending, though on a first read Lyman's words seem completely innocuous. While the "boots filled with water" line is mysterious, it could have arisen to describe any number of scenarios that do not include death. By the end of the chapter, it is clear that this water signifies death from the moment it is introduced. The true meaning of this quote is that Lyman drove the car into the river shortly after Henry drowned.
He sensed someone behind him and glanced in the rearview mirror. What he saw made him stamp the brake in panic and shock. The deer was up. She'd only been stunned.
Ears pricked, gravely alert, she gazed into the rearview and met Gordie's eyes.
Her look was black and endless and melting pure. She looked through him. She saw into the troubled thrashing woods of him, a rattling thicket of bones. She saw how he'd woven his own crown of thorns.
The shocking climax of "Crown of Thorns" comes when Gordie realizes that the deer he hit is in fact alive in his car's back seat. Erdrich has designed this as a disturbing moment. From there, the chapter descends into nightmare, at least from Gordie's perspective. But on the level of symbolism and signification, the deer's resurrection is another example of the Catholic imagery that appears prominently in the novel. Gordie feels as though the deer can see into his soul. In consequence, this unearthly gaze compels Gordie to kill the animal. He does not want anyone to see into his soul, least of all this Christ-like deer that detects his own crown of thorns.
God's been going deaf. Since the Old Testament, God's been deafening up on us.... I found that there was discrepancies between then and now. It struck me. Here God used to raineth bread from clouds, smite the Phillipines, sling fire down on red-light districts where people got stabbed. He even appeared in person every one in a while. God used to pay attention, is what I'm saying.
Religion plays a prominent role in this quote. Lipsha comes to the conclusion that the God of the Old Testament has been going deaf. This young Chippewa has a unique way of understanding and piecing together the complicated world he lives in, where his people have been wronged over the past few hundred years and are still dealing with the repercussions. Through internal musings like this consideration of the deafness of God, Erdrich illuminates the unfettered and rough-hewn intelligence that Lipsha possesses, despite his quirks. Idiosyncratic ideas are Lipsha's coping mechanisms for the often-broken world he inhabits.
I never let the United States Census in my door, even though they say it's good for Indians. Well, quote me. I say that every time they counted us they knew the precise number to get rid of.
In this quote, Erdrich reveals Lulu as a champion of indigenous rights, unwilling to assimilate as the government wants her to. As one gesture of protest, she refuses to comply with the census. Lulu also refuses to move off her land for months after her house burns down. This quote reveals Lulu's deep-seated resentment and strong independent will. Earlier in the book, the reader learned that she was sent of to government boarding school, where she was miserable and frequently tried to run away. Later in life, Lulu's psyche still bears the scars of such mistreatment.
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. It was easy to still imagine us beneath them vast unreasonable waves, but the truth is we live on dry land. I got inside. The morning was clear. A good road led on. So there was nothing to do but cross the water and bring her home.
This quote ends Love Medicine with a final scene of ocean imagery. After Lipsha helps his father to escape, he drives back to the reservation and stops on a bridge that runs over the river; this body of water marks the edge of the reservation. Water has meant many things throughout the novel, mainly used as a symbol of death and religion, but in this final quote Lipsha realizes that he needs to live in the present. As the most mystical and esoterically-inclined of the book's characters, he delivers a significant message with this realization. Lipsha possesses the power of medicine, but will not live in the world of imagination. While the broken lives of other young Chippewas (such as Howard and King) point to a bleak future for the next few generations, Lipsha's pragmatic realism and intelligent observations herald a brighter future.
Love Medicine Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Love Medicine is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.