Love Medicine

Major themes

The interconnectedness of the entire family/clan/tribe is emphasized. The Kashpaws and Pillagers were leaders of a community in the past before the move to the reservation. Their lineage and heritage was proud, but broken due to government policy that divided the clans and tribes.

Native American government policy is a recurrent topic, especially because the Kashpaw family is (according to Nector) “respected as the last hereditary leaders of this tribe.” As we learn from Lyman later, the Pillagers were members of the Midewiwin (medicine men and women who were blessed by the Higher Power to help others): “The Pillagers had been the holdouts, the ones who wouldn’t sign the treaties, the keepers of the birch bark scroll and practitioners of medicines so dark and helpful that the more devout Catholic Indians crossed their breasts when a Pillager happened to look straight at them.” Native American politics and government policy actually turn out to be the family’s saving grace as the novel describes gambling: “one of history’s small ironies... to take money from retired white people who had farmed Indian hunting grounds, worked Indian jobs, lived high while their neighbors lived low, looked down or never noticed who was starving, who was lost” (327).

Loss of a cultural identity and Native American spirituality characterizes and separates the two generations in Love Medicine: “They gave you worthless land to start with and then they chopped it out from under your feet. They took your kids away and stuffed the English language in their mouth.” The generations that Erdrich covers experience that loss of culture. The youngest family members (or, perhaps those who attend American schools) are socialized in an American tradition rather than a Native American tradition. With each passing of a generation, vital knowledge of the culture seems to be lost.

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