Love Medicine

Love Medicine Summary and Analysis of Chapter 5: The Beads


This chapter takes place in 1948. Marie Kashpaw narrates it in the first person.



Marie takes in her niece June Morrissey after June is found in the woods, eating pine sap to survive now that her mother has died. A group of drunk Lazarres drop June off at Marie's house. Marie is hard pressed to take care of all of her own children, but cannot bring herself to turn away the nine year-old June. June is wearing a rosary that the people who found her put on her, since they were afraid of who she might be, as a former resident of the dark and mysterious woods. 

Marie cleans June and finds clothes for her, though June does insist on wearing the rosary beads. For her part, Marie is glad to see that there is no Devil in June and defends June against the antagonism of her children (Zelda, Gordie, and Aurelia). Marie also thinks about how she can make her husband Nector into "something big on this reservation." He is smart but prone to drinking and lack of motivation.

In one episode from Marie's past, Zelda runs into the kitchen to tell her mother that Aurelia and Gordie are hanging June in the barn. Marie rushes to the barn to stop the children, and learns that they were playing-acting; June was a horse thief and had told the others to hang her. Her rosary beads are wrapped around her hand and she stands below a tree with a rope around her neck. June, until then a quiet child, unexpectedly lashes out at Marie: "You damn old bitch," she says. "Damn old chicken!" Marie is shocked and proceeds to wash out June's mouth with soap.

Marie continue to reminisce. She wishes that Nector would stop drinking and become more invested in the progress of the family. Eli comes around and bonds with June. He makes her more talkative and helps her to open up and trust adults again. In another set of recollections, Marie's female friends engage in malicious but veiled gossip about one another's lives. For their part, Eli and Marie have a moment of charged sexual tension. But eventually, Nector comes home with a lot of money and puts June to bed before sleeping with Marie. The next morning, Nector and his money are gone, and June announces that she is going to live with Eli.



Rushes Bear arrives at Marie's home. Nector has been absent for a while. Marie is edgy in Rushes Bear's presence, especially because she is pregnant and realizes that Rushes Bear will be staying for a while. Rushes Bear begins to criticize everything that Marie does; Marie cannot stand her and threatens to throw her out. Yet after Rushes Bear becomes docile and admits that she has nowhere else to go, the two women bond over their shared loneliness. 

After Marie goes into labor, Nector comes home and says that she should go to a hospital, but Marie refuses. So they call for Fleur Pillager, a midwife (and Lulu's mother). Marie believes that she will die while giving birth. After a difficult labor, and with the support of Fleur and Rushes Bear, Marie delivers a baby boy. By this point, Rushes Bear has developed genuine affection for Marie and tells Nector that Marie is more of a daughter to her than he is a son. She praises Marie's brave labor, in which Marie never cried out despite being near to death. From that point on, Marie takes care of Rushes Bear uncomplainingly and views her as her own mother. Their connection, based on mutual loneliness, continues to run deep.



The first section of this chapter is highly religious. Marie adopts June, who arrives in wild disarray and wearing rosary beads; indeed, these beads appear as a symbol throughout the first part of the chapter. June obtained them when a group of rural Native Americans found her in the woods, living off the land after her mother died, and tried to protect themselves against any evil spirit in her by outfitting her with the rosary beads. After entering Marie's care, June consistently wears the beads. When Marie finds June at the hanging scene, June is clutching the beads in her hands. Yet when June leaves to live with Eli, Marie keeps the beads as a memento. 

At the end of the first section, Erdrich's language makes it clear that these beads are meant to symbolize June. Marie reflects: "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." June arrives at Marie's house already broken down by her mother's death. As the reader already knows from the first chapter, by the end of her life June has come to witness countless hardships. Erdrich's language at the end of the chapter, which employs imagery that construes the beads as small stones smoothed and broken by waves, refers to June's past and foreshadows future difficulties. Beyond these resonances, the beads are also a potent reminder of the power of religion in Marie's life.

The second part of the chapter deals with Marie's complicated relationship with her mother-in-law, Rushes Bear. Though their relationship starts out with mutual antagonism, by the end of the chapter the two women have formed a strong lifelong bond. This happens because Rushes Bear assists Marie in a difficult childbirth. This chapter reinforces the strong sense of comradeship between women, which recurs throughout the novel.

Erdrich's water imagery recurs throughout the chapter, too. Marie's labor is describes in terms of water: "I understood that I was to let my body be driven by the waves, like a boat to shore, like someone swimming toward a very small light." And in the last paragraph of the chapter, Marie and Rushes Bear's lifelong bond also develops through water imagery. At first, their relationship is seen as the very opposite of nurturing water: "Before the birth of that child, Rushes Bear was a hot fire that I wanted to crush," as Marie puts the case. Yet their eventual bond quenches this fire: "I knew that in her old age she shared that same boat, where I had labored. She crested and sank in dark waves. Those waves were taking her onwards, through night, through day, the water beating and slashing across her unknown path." Water, the great breaker-down of rough stones, is the element that unites Marie and Rushes Bear, different and antagonistic though they initially were.