Love Medicine

Love Medicine Summary and Analysis of Chapter 7: The Plunge of the Brave


This chapter takes place in 1957. Nector Kashpaw narrates it from a first-person point of view. Here, Erdrich writes about the love triangle that draws together Nector, Marie, and Lulu when they are all middle-aged. 

Nector, whose Kaspaw kinfolk are the last hereditary leaders of the tribe, lives a blessed life. "I never wanted much," he says, "and I needed even less, but what happened was that I got everything handed to me on a plate." After high school, Nector had gone out to Hollywood to act as an Indian extra in Westerns. After being assigned a role that involved faking his death while falling off a horse, he decided to quit. He then becomes a wheat thresher in Kansas, and makes easy money when an old woman pays him $200 to pose naked while she paints him; the resulting image, Plunge of the Brave, depicts him jumping off a cliff and later becomes famous. Yet Nector is disillusioned by the public's desire to see dead Indians, so he goes home.

Nector's favorite book since his time in the government Catholic school has always been Moby Dick. He reads it repeatedly and sometimes quotes it. He also develops a crush on Lulu Nanapush, but soon falls in love with Marie. The two marry and have baby after baby; they also take in and raise children from other Indian families. Seventeen years of Nector's life fly by in a haze of work and family; finally, he takes the time to look up and realize that he never had conquered his attachment to Lulu.

One summer day, Nector is helping to move tons of surplus butter; Lulu agrees to assist him and they become reacquainted. Their car ride together is initially tense, but they have passionate sex once evening arrives. For the next five years, Nector carries on an affair with Lulu, who has a child that may or may not be his. Along with his narration of these events, Nector relates the story of his involvement in national Indian politics.

After a time, Beverly comes to visit (the same visit that is described in "Lulu's Boys") and Lulu hints to Nector that she might marry Beverly. Nector desperately decides to leave Lulu, but then reverses course and writes Marie a letter announcing that he is leaving his family. He also signs a notice authorizing that Lulu's land, which does not belong to her, will become the site of a factory. Nector goes to Lulu's house, intending to give her a letter proposing marriage, but she is not home. He drops the letter and sets it on fire with a half-smoked cigarette. Nector neither encourages nor stops the blaze that soon flares up, and soon Lulu's whole home has been engulfed in flames. Before leaving, Nector experiences a vision of a young Marie.



The most prominent motif in this chapter is water, which appears in different images throughout Nector's narrative and is meant to direct the reader's attention. Water first occurs when Nector poses for the old female artist. She paints him jumping naked off a cliff and titles the image Plunge of the Brave, which could refer either to the quality of bravery or to the idea of the noble savage, often called a "brave." The degradation of posing for this image and the troubling experience of playing a dead Indian in a Hollywood film motivate Nector to move home.

Nector's favorite book is Moby Dick, and he often quotes its famous first line, "Call me Ishmael," to himself. Somewhat like Ishmael, who escapes from the aggression of a whale, Nector sees himself as having escaped from the rich lady's picture. Water imagery abounds: "The river wasn't done with me yet. I floated through the calm sweet spots, but somewhere the river branched." Water has become a symbol of Nector's life. 

Seventeen years of Nector's life then pass quickly, and Erdrich once more describes Nector's existence with water imagery: "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... And then it was like the river pooled... What I saw was time passing, each minute collecting behind me before I had squeezed from it any life... 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." In this long inner monologue, Nector presents 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 before it's too late.

Water images also emerge later in the chapter. Lulu and Nector's affair on the sixth night of every week is described in fluid terms: "I was full of sinkholes, shot with rapids. Climbing in her bedroom window, I rose. I was a flood that strained bridges." Here, Erdrich represents Nector's transformation through water imagery. Unlike Marie, who holds Nector down, Lulu "could run with me, unfolding in sheets and snaky waves." Their lives, like currents of powerful water, align. 

Despite all these references, literal water only appears once in Nector's narration. When Nector is deciding whether he should leave Lulu, he dives to the bottom of a local lake. He contemplates drowning himself, yet the water buoyantly pushes him back up. At the bottom of the lake are cold and silence, the attributes of a grave. For the first time in the chapter, water means death, not life. 

It is fitting, then, that after this rebirth out of water the chapter must end in fire. Much of the story has taken place in the blazing heat of the summer, and Erdrich reminds the reader that, although Nector's mind may be engulfed in cool waters, the real world is prone to conflagration and destruction. At the end of the chapter, Nector accidentally burns Lulu's house down.