Love Medicine

Love Medicine Summary and Analysis of Chapter 2: Saint Marie


This chapter takes place in 1934 and is about Marie Lazarre, whom we have already met as Grandma Marie Kashpaw. In this chapter, Marie is a 14-year-old girl. The young Marie has grown up Catholic and decides that she wants to join the Sacred Heart Convent; the narration is in the first person and channels Marie's voice and perspective. 

Marie went to Sunday School at the convent and has, for years, both admired and hated a nun named Sister Leopolda. Sister Leopolda is a domineering, maniacal, and Satan-obsessed. One day in class, Marie antagonizes Sister Leopolda by smiling in reaction to a vision of the devil. Sister Leopolda screams at her and locks her in a closet in an attempt to get the Devil out of her soul. Marie becomes motivated by revenge: she wants to become a nun in order to get to heaven before Sister Leopolda and shut her out.

Marie enters the nuns' quarters, where Sister Leopolda watches her closely. She has Marie perform manual labor and chores. When Marie drops a cup under a stove, Sister Leopolda makes her retrieve it. And while Marie is retrieving this item, Sister Leopolda pours boiling water on her in order to boil the devil out of her soul.

Leopolda takes Marie to her room and rubs salve on her burns, but Marie has an outburst. The two go downstairs to take bread out of the convent oven, and Marie tries to shove Leopolda into the oven. Then, Leopolda rebounds and attacks Marie: she pierces Marie's hand with a fork and knocks her out with a poker.

Marie wakes up half an hour later to find that she is being deified by the Sisters. In order to cover her violence, Leopolda has told her colleagues that Marie's hand wound appeared from nowhere: it is a miraculous sign of the stigmata. Marie plays along, knowing she has won a victory over Leopolda. Yet the young girl also feels a deep pity and knows that she must leave the convent.



This chapter deals heavily with religious themes and imagery. Marie admits that she has the kind of "mail-order Catholic soul you get in a girl raised out in the bush, whose only thought is getting to town." This simile establishes Marie's superficial interest in Christianity and makes it clear that Marie will use religion to achieve goals for herself in this world, not to reach salvation in the next.

Marie's primary objective in becoming a nun is to prevent her religious teacher Sister Leopolda from getting into heaven. Through Marie, who narrates the chapter in first person, Erdrich writes vividly about the Devil's presence, referring to him as the Dark One. Much of the chapter thus verges on magical realism: Marie and Leopolda see the Devil as though he is alive and react to his presence in moments of high drama.

The strongest religious imagery occurs with the injury that Leopolda inflicts upon Marie: the nun pierces the girl's hand with a fork and later pretends that the marks appeared as stigmata. The other nuns regard the appearance of the marks as a miracle. The entire chapter has played out as a battle of wills between Leopolda and Marie: Marie tries to shove the nun into an oven, a proxy for hell in its fiery imagery. Leopolda appears to win by getting out and attacking Marie. Yet Leopolda must ultimately surrender to Marie in order to save her own reputation: she pretends that the injury she gave Marie was divinely inspired.

This chapter thus showcases the role of religion prominently. Rather than serving as an actual spiritual experience for Marie or Leopolda, Catholicism becomes a tool for lying and psychological warfare. Even Leopolda, who is a nun, lies about a miracle in order to save herself from punishment. Religion, at least Catholic religion, is clearly not to be trusted.