Love Medicine

Love Medicine Summary and Analysis of Chapter 15: The Good Tears



Lulu Lamartine narrates this chapter in the first person.  The main action takes place in 1983.

Lulu knows that everyone talks about her many affairs with men. She defends her actions by saying that she loved the whole world so much that she just wanted to experience everything. She is not sorry for anything she has done and has never cried. She knows that people think that she is a heartless man-chaser, but she "loved what she saw." She details her relationships: Nector Kashpaw when they were teenagers; Moses Pillager whom she left when he would not move to town; a Morrissey man whom she married in spite; Henry, whom she was truly fond of until his death at a train crossing; and Beverly, Henry's brother. 

When Lulu was seven she found the body of a dead man in the woods behind her house. She never told anyone, but would play beside the corpse that summer. She accidentally touched him once at the end of the season. Soon after that, she was sent off on a government bus to boarding school; this event marked the last time she cried. Describing her tears, she observes that "I don't know why, but after that they just dried up." Lulu says that, throughout her life, she always loved Nector.

Lulu remembers when the government employees came to survey the land around her house. The tribe had accepted an offer to build a factory devoted to cheap Indian trinkets there, and Nector signed the order that allowed the takeover of the land Lulu lived on. In revenge, Lulu started a relationship with Henry's brother Beverly and told Nector she was going to marry Beverly. Lulu knows that Nector is the man who burned down her house, leaving her bald, because she saw the fierce anger in his eyes when she told him about Beverly.

Before the house burned down, Lulu went to tribal court to assert her claim to the land. She was shamed by the court, which judged her harshly for her promiscuity. However, Lulu threatened to name all the fathers of her children in front of the community; the meeting broke up without a resolution. Soon after, Beverly and Lulu were married, though their union was disrupted when Beverly told Lulu that he had another wife. Lulu sent her son Gerry with Beverly to Minneapolis to end the marriage; this unsuccessful trip marked the beginning of Gerry's run-ins with the law.

On the afternoon her house burned down, Lulu remembers, all the boys were out except Lyman, who was staying in the house alone while Lulu went to a neighbor's house to trade some goods. Lulu saw the flames of her house reflected in the black coffee that her neighbor Florentine was pouring for her. Lulu was thrown into a panic and ran back to the house to save Lyman. She found him hiding in her closet and rescued him; the house, for its part, was burned down completely. Afterward, Lulu refused to move her family and remained on the land with the help of makeshift shelters. Eventually, Lulu accepted the tribe's restitution and moved into a well-situated government house.

Lulu recalls the change that came over Lyman after Henry Junior died. He told her that Henry’s death was an accident, that their car went out of control and plunged into the river. Lyman became depressed and lost both his gift for making money and his happy demeanor. For years, the Lamartine clan -- all Lulu's children, their spouses, and their children -- stayed together on the new land. Lulu had her last child around the age of fifty; the father was a Mexican beet farmer and the child herself was named Bonita.

When Lulu was sixty-five, her sight started to deteriorate and she moved into a small apartment in the Senior Citizens home. She decorated this living space and began her life anew.



Lulu finds out that Nector and Marie are living in the Senior Citizens home as well. Nector has become senile by the time Lulu and he first bump into each other. He is trying to retrieve forbidden candy, peanut butter cups, from the vending machine, but his money gets stuck. Lulu says that, despite living in the same facility that Marie inhabits, she does not try to befriend the other elderly woman. She resides in her blindness, not interacting with the Kashpaws.

Yet one day Lulu and Nector talk in the courtyard as they work at gardening. Later on this same day, they try to have sex in the laundry room, until they are interrupted by Lipsha. Lulu realizes that her affair with Nector has no true meaning, for "He had no true memory or mind. I should have known that."

Nector dies while Lulu is in Grand Forks recuperating from an eye surgery. Lyman tells Lulu the news and she remains calm, but is also glad there is gauze over her eyes; Lyman, thus, cannot see how upset she is. Lyman asks Lulu if Nector was his father, as he had heard from gossip. Lulu answers affirmatively. Lyman then drives Lulu home in his new car, the first he has bought since Henry Junior's death. Lulu is still deeply upset that Henry Junior died by drowning, because Moses Pillager had told her that drowning is the worst way for a Chippewa to die: drowning means that the deceased can never enter the next life. 

One night, Nector's spirit visits Lulu. The next day, Marie volunteers to help take care of Lulu after her operation because there are not enough aides to go around. In the last years of their lives, the two women finally reconcile and bond over their shared love for Nector and their sorrow over his passing.



Lulu's story comes full circle in this chapter, in which Erdrich writes about her as an old woman. Especially enlightening is the development of Lulu’s personality in her later years. She is an innately loving, independent, and unapologetic woman: "And yes, it is true that I've done all the things they say," Lulu recollects. "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." Lulu lives with fierce independence, and Erdrich makes this aspect of her character apparent in the confrontational tone that Lulu takes in describing her life.

Erdrich also depicts Lulu as a champion of indigenous rights, unwilling to assimilate according to government wishes. She refuses to comply with the census: "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." Lulu also refused to move off her land for months after her house burns down, and later defied the tribal government's collaboration with a factory designed to manufacture fake Indian trinkets for tourists. 

Water imagery and its opposite -- fire imagery -- appear once more in this chapter. Erdrich tells the reader more about the end of Nector and Lulu's affair, particularly about the destruction of Lulu’s house: the tribal fire truck was broken and the house went up in an unstoppable blaze. Yet when Nector had set the fire, he had first knocked on the door, and when no one had answered he had assumed that the house was empty. Erdrich lends a more desperate and dark side to this story when she reveals that Lyman, then a young boy, was in fact alone in the house while Lulu quickly went to a neighbor's. Lulu ran back after Nector had left and barely escaped with Lyman. In a dark irony, Nector almost killed his own son in this incident. In returning to events from previous chapters, Erdrich adds new layers of complexity to the total narrative of Love Medicine.

Water further symbolizes by Lulu's lack of ability to cry: both by choice before her eye surgery, and after her eye surgery her eyes remain dry. Fittingly, water also plays a part in how Lulu and Marie finally unite after the loss of the man they both love: Marie puts eyedrops into Lulu's eyes. As Lulu says about her lack of tears: "There were so many things I never cried for. I knew if I started now I would have to waste all the rest of my last years." This lack of tears has made her strong, though her lack of sentimentality has also made her an object of scorn in her community. Yet in the end, symbolic tears bring Lulu and Marie together.

Erdrich also tells the reader, through Lulu's memories of Moses Pillager, that death by drowning is the worst way for a Chippewa to die. Drowning has been a prominent motif in the novel: June supposedly tried to drown Lipsha when he was a baby, King tried to drown his wife Lynette in Marie's kitchen, and Henry Junior died by drowning. Moses had told Lulu that if a Chippewa drowns, "the drowned weren't allowed into the next life but forced to wander forever, broken shoed, cold, sore, and ragged. There was no place for the drowned in heaven or anywhere on earth." This revelation sheds new light on Lulu's sorrow for the death of her son.