Love Medicine

Love Medicine Summary and Analysis of Chapter 13: Love Medicine


This chapter takes place in 1982, and is narrated in the first person by Lipsha Morrissey. He was taken in as a baby by Nector and Marie, whom he calls Grandpa and Grandma Kashpaw. He is intensely devoted to them, especially to Marie, and they now live in town at a Senior Citizens home. Lipsha has the gift of a healing touch. Nector has been aging, becoming senile and sick with diabetes. The old man has also been conducting an affair with the elderly Lulu Lamartine. Most of his mind is gone, but the part of his mind that is still intact insists that he should pursue her. Aware of this situation, Marie wants Lipsha to use his touch to make Nector loyal to her instead. Lipsha's attempt does not work, and Lipsha is disturbed to see the wedge that has been driven between his grandparents. 

Soon after, Lipsha and Nector go to church. Nector yells his Hail Marys loudly, and when Lipsha asks him what he is doing, Nector says that this is the only way for God to hear him. Lipsha, who is well-versed in the Bible, comes to the conclusion that God is going deaf; in the old times of the Bible, God communicated much better with his believers. Lipsha also compares the Catholic God to the Chippewa gods.

One afternoon, Lipsha and Marie see Nector outdoors at Senior Citizens with Lulu, digging dandelions. Lipsha pursues Marie and Nector but they disappear. He stumbles upon them having a romantic encounter in the laundry room, though their fling is interrupted when Lulu's wig comes off and reveals that she is bald.

Marie, determined to get Nector under control, tells Lipsha she needs him to work "love medicine" on her and Nector to bring them back together. Lipsha does not want to talk to any of the traditional healers, especially to the mysterious Old Lady Pillager, so he decides to make his own love medicine. He is inspired when he sees a pair of geese, which mate for life, and decides that he should shoot down a goose and feed its heart to his grandparents. He then tries to shoot a goose but misses. Cold and tired from his efforts, he goes to town and buys frozen turkeys instead. He rationalizes that love medicine is not real: only belief in it is important.

After making his purchase, Lipsha goes to the church to have a blessing administered to the turkey heart, which is crucial to the love medicine. The Father refuses, so Lipsha asks Sister Mary Martin. When he tells her what he wants blessed and that it is love medicine, Sister Mary Martin thinks that he wants to use it for himself and gives him love advice, but does not actually give a blessing. On his way out, Lipsha blesses the heart himself with holy water. 

At home, Marie eats part of the heart and serves the rest to Nector in a salad. Nector grows suspicious and says that he won't eat it. When Marie harasses him, he tries it, but chokes and dies. Marie passes out, almost dying of shock as well. Lipsha too falls unconscious. He wakes to see Marie being oxygenated. She lives, but Nector cannot be saved.

The family holds a large funeral for Nector. All of the children, biological and adopted, come home from Minneapolis and Chicago. Albertine comes home as well, and she and Lipsha sit together in their grief. At home, Marie hallucinates that Nector has returned to her in bed. Lipsha also senses Nector's presence, and asks him to leave the human realm and, once he reaches wherever he is going, to get in contact with June.

The next day, Lipsha and Marie have a deep conversation about love. Lipsha admits to Marie that he did not use real love medicine, and says that her vision of Nector coming back had nothing to do with magic. Instead, Nector must have loved her a lot in life and must have died without getting to tell her how much she meant to him. Marie appreciates Lipsha's tenderness and tells him that he was always her favorite. Lipsha goes outside to dig dandelions.



Lipsha Morrissey is an intensely observant young man. His unique view of the world colors the entire chapter, especially since much of it takes place within his head. He is uneducated but intelligent, and Erdrich employs unique diction to reveal his thoughts and memories. 

This chapter is full of metaphors and lyrical prose. Lipsha sees the veins in Marie's legs as blue snails, describes Nestor's aging face as having a beak like a hawk's and cheeks like hatchet blades, and describes the difference between Lulu and Marie as "the difference between a house fixed up with paint and picky fence, and a house left to weather away into the soft earth." Lipsha has a keen appreciation of nature and a sharp eye for the details of human behavior and appearance. By employing Lipsha's unique syntax and word choices, Erdrich fully illuminates him as a character--and often shows him in ways that we have not seen before.

Religion once more plays a prominent role in Erdrich's narrative. This is the first chapter to genuinely examine the differences between Catholicism and the Chippewa religion. Lipsha comes to the conclusion that the God of the Old Testament has been going deaf: "I found that there was discrepancies between then and now," he says, "How 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." Lipsha has a distinctive 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 of such injustices. Internal musings, like the thoughts about the deafness of God, illuminate the unfettered and rough-hewn intelligence that Lipsha possesses.

Lipsha goes on to talk about the old Chippewa Gods, whom he says can still appear to people and will "do a favor if you ask right." Yet in an age of assimilation, "to ask proper was an art that was lost to the Chippewas once the Catholics gained ground." These conclusions are Lipsha's coping mechanisms, his ways of dealing with the often-broken world he lives in. "How else could I explain what all I had seen in my short life...and further back, to the old-time Indians who was swept away in the outright germ warfare and dirty-dog killing of the whites?" he wonders. Religion, in this chapter, is both the cause of and the solution for misfortune.

The title of this chapter, "Love Medicine", lends its name to the entire book. The centrality of the actual love medicine to the story must thus be taken into consideration. At first, Lipsha tries to rationalize using a store-bought turkey heart instead of a self-shot goose heart by saying that love medicine itself is never a cure; rather, love medicine is a placebo. People's belief in its power is all that matters. In his heart he knows that this is not true, and he sees the repercussions of his actions when his grandfather dies after choking on the heart. Yet by the end of the chapter, he has reached a new level of knowledge: "I said to her what my understanding brought me. 'Love medicine ain't what brings him back to you, Grandma...It's true feeling, not no magic. No supermarket heart could have brung him back.'" Lipsha's uneducated language often hides the true intelligence he possesses. Nowhere is this more apparent than in this quote. Lipsha conveys the essential truth of human connection through love, even though it takes an act of death for him to realize it.