What role does assimilation play in the lives of the different characters in Love Medicine?
A good answer should discuss the government policies that led to forced boarding school education and the effects such practices had on major characters such as Nector and Lulu. Writers of this essay should also talk about Lulu and Marie reclaiming their heritage at the end of the novel. Ultimately, some characters never assimilate, like Moses, and some do entirely, like King. In this regard, consider the different choices the characters make.
What is the effect of the novel's non-linear storyline?
Erdrich's storytelling method provides new insights into characters and forces the reader to constantly reevaluate facts and insights already revealed. This method also shows the continuity and inter-relatedness of the various families in the story; it lends the tale a timeless air. Erdrich's storytelling situates the struggles of the various characters in larger contexts, moving these characters beyond their own individual tales. In its structure, Love Medicine reflects the traditional oral traditions of many Indian tribes.
What does water symbolize in Love Medicine?
Water is present at major moments in the lives of characters, especially moments involving birth, death, and life-altering decisions. For example, Marie sees visions of water when she is in labor, Nector pursues an affair with Lulu after feeling like he has been swept along in the rapids of time for too long, and Henry Junior drowns - an especially disturbing death for a Chippewa, because drowned people are said to be unable to pass into the next world. Water mainly appears to symbolize time and death. Especially telling is Lipsha's concluding remark about the lake that used to cover the Dakotas, a quote that occurs in the novel's last paragraph and establishes a sense of finality.
How and why do characters embody the role of the Trickster?
The Trickster is a traditional part of Chippewa folklore. Gerry and Lipsha are the primary Tricksters of the novel. Gerry's trickery is intentional: he becomes a tribal hero because of his frequent jailbreaks. Lipsha's is inadvertent: he comically messes up every aspect of love medicine. Erdrich's inclusion of Trickster characters situates her novel in the oral storytelling traditions of the Chippewa.
How are different characters "survivors" in different contexts?
Rushes Bear, old Nanapush, Eli, and Moses come from a time of epidemics and government land claims. Lulu, Nector, and Marie come from the era of institutionalization of Indian children through government schools and churches, a process undertaken with the aim of removing Indians from their cultural heritage and forcing them to assimilate. The youngest generation survives in different ways: Gerry is a political activist, Albertine is only half Indian but is being raised as though she is a full Indian, Lipsha embraces his traditional healing powers, and Lyman’s casino plans preserve the heritage of “games of chance." The circumstances that the characters must endure are different, and each of their stories presents a different context in which they and their culture fight to survive.
What is the role of parenting in the novel?
Erdrich shows that abiding love and proactive support are what form a child, not necessarily being raised by biological parents. Lipsha, for example, longs to know his parentage. Despite being ignorant of it for much of the novel, he grows up to be a fundamentally good and intelligent person because of how well Marie raised him. King, in contrast, knows who his parents are and was raised by them, but his disrupted upbringing colors him for life.
How does Erdrich create a realistic discussion of contemporary Native Americans while successfully avoiding stereotypes?
National statistics show that social problems such alcoholism and incarceration are especially prevalent among Native Americans, who have been historically disenfranchised and abused by the U.S. government. Erdrich includes characters whose lives contain elements of the social ills that plague reservations today, but balances her treatment by giving the full history of any character who exhibits these traits. Gordie, King, and Gerry could all be easily stereotyped without Erdrich's careful demonstrations of how these characters took on their negative qualities.
What role does religion play in the novel?
Religion, especially Catholic Christ imagery, is a recurring presence in the book. Gordie is rendered in Christ-like terms, having created his own crown of thorns, as he puts it. His mother Marie hopes that he will rise on the third day after a Lysol binge -- a hope that recalls Christ's resurrection. Earlier in the narrative, when young Marie goes to the Sacred Heart convent, Sister Leopolda pierces her hand with an iron and later pretends it was a spontaneous stigmata. The numerous references to drowning may also refer to Christian baptism. On a more pessimistic note, Lipsha's internal monologue about God's increasing deafness is especially telling.
How does Erdrich depict the social issues crucial to reservation life?
Both historical and modern examples of the injustices that the characters have experienced abound in the novel. Erdrich details a variety of historical issues: devastating epidemics, forced assimilation of children, land grabbing. She also shows what everyday life is like for people like her characters: many live in drab government-issued houses and are constantly dealing with inadequate food rations, orphaned children, incarceration, and alcoholism. Lyman's rant against the government in "Lyman's Luck" bears special relevance to this topic.
What does upholding cultural values mean to the different characters in the novel?
Try to consider characters from different contexts and age groups. Moses Pillager lives in complete isolation, still speaking Chippewa and practicing traditional medicine. In contrast, Lipsha has the medicine touch, but practices it in an entirely modern context. Likewise, Lulu becomes a tribal activist, but refuses to dress in old-time clothes or grow her hair long and braid it in a traditional style. Most characters who choose to uphold traditional values do so in the contexts of their modern lives. The only ones who can approximate the lives of their ancestors as closely as possible are the ones who have cut themselves off from the changing world.