Love Medicine

Love Medicine Summary and Analysis of Chapter 12: Crown of Thorns


This chapter takes place in 1981 and is narrated in the third person, with a focus on Gordie Kashpaw. After June's death, Gordie falls into a deep depression. June and Gordie had grown up together, as close as siblings, and married as soon as they could even though they were cousins. Gordie has been drinking relentless since June's death in order to drown his sorrow. His uncle Eli tries to cut these habits short, but to no avail.

Gordie is driving to his home, shaking and nervous. He has run out of alcohol. He calls his friend Royce and asks for some quarts of wine on credit. Royce delivers these, and Gordie spends days drunk and asleep in the small house on a lake that he bought after he and June split up. He accidentally says June's name out loud while he is drunk; this, as he realizes, is a taboo that he should not have broken. Drunkenly, he hallucinates her coming after him. In a panic he gets in his car and speeds away from home.

Gordie realizes once on the road how intoxicated he is, and that he is out of control. He concentrates on slowly driving the five miles into town. As he makes the final turn into town he hits a deer. Because he does not have the keys to his trunk, he puts the deer in the back seat of his car. But after Gordie gets back on the road the deer suddenly sits up: it is not dead, but merely stunned. Frightened, Gordie hits the deer with a thick crowbar to kill it for certain. He then hallucinates that he has actually killed June, that her dead body is sprawled in the back of his car.

The chapter then shifts to the point of view of Sister Mary Martin de Pores, who lives at the nearby convent. She often wakes in the middle of the night to play the clarinet. This night she is awake when Gordie approaches and falls against the convent window. He begs her to accept his confession. She tries to tell him she is not a priest but he barrels on, confessing that he killed his wife and asking her to come see what is in the back of his car.

Sister Mary follows him, expecting the worst, and is stunned to see the body of a deer instead of the body of a dead woman. As dawn approaches, Gordie runs away into an orchard and Sister Mary follows him but loses him. That morning, she can still hear him crying out in the fields when the police come to arrest him.



This is the first chapter after the opening one that takes place after June's death. Erdrich has already introduced Gordie to the reader, but this is the first chapter that focuses primarily on him. Emphasis is placed on his alcoholism, which he has turned to in an attempt to deal with June's death.

While several characters have been shown to have drinking problems (especially Henry Junior), this chapter deals explicitly with alcoholism and its overall destructive effects. Yet there is also cultural context to this story. Alcoholism is a prevalent issue on real-life Native American reservations, and Erdrich here tries to explain how a person might be driven into its grip.

This chapter is told with many sensory details. As a hallucinating drunk, Gordie sees and hears with heightened intensity. This writing style allows the reader to temporarily inhabit the mind of a man addicted to drinking. When Gordie is alone in his house, frightened that the ghost of June will appear to him, he turns on all the electronics in his house: TV, vacuum cleaner, radio, and more. He does this to attempt to drown out the silent sounds of nature: lakes and trees rustling in the breeze, acorns dropping onto the roof. Erdrich's language conveys how attuned Gordie is to all stimuli.

The shocking climax of the story comes when Gordie realizes that the deer he has hit is in fact alive in his back seat. It is a disturbing moment: "He sensed someone behind him and glanced in the rearview mirror. What he saw made him stamp the brake in panic and shock. The deer was up. She'd only been stunned." From there, the chapter descends into nightmare, at least from Gordie's perspective: everything that then happens can be understood as fallout from the deer rising up.

The deer's resurrection is another example of the Catholic imagery that appears in the novel. Gordie feels as though the deer can see into his soul, and uses an explicitly Catholic metaphor to explain his situation: "She saw how he'd woven his own crown of thorns." The animal's unearthly gaze compels Gordie to kill her: he does not want anyone to see into his soul, least of all this Christ-like deer.