Love Medicine

Love Medicine Summary and Analysis of Chapter 4: The Island


Lulu Nanapush narrates this mystical chapter. Lulu's mother Fleur is gone and Lulu has grown up in government schools, where she was a troublemaker and frequently tried to run away. At the beginning of the chapter, Lulu has returned to the reservation and is taken in by Nanapush and Margaret Kashpaw, or Rushes Bear. Rushes Bear resents Lulu's presence, while Nanapush is very caring. Rushes Bear leaves to visit her Kashpaw relatives for a time, and Nanapush and Lulu grow closer. When Rushes Bear comes back, she is kinder to Lulu yet still critical. 

Lulu goes to the nearby lake and looks at the island in the middle where her relative Moses Pillager lives. She is attracted to Moses because she is not supposed to be with him: they are related. She asks Nanapush and Rushes Bear about him, and both attempt to discourage her attraction. As a boy, Moses's mother had pretended that Moses was dead so that the spirits would spare him from death in an epidemic. This experience left him a lonesome and mysterious man who lives alone on an island and may practice some form of evil magic.

One day, Lulu rows to the island. Moses lives in a rough house and the island itself is overrun by cats. At first Moses ignores Lulu, but she is persistent and he allows her to stay. She seduces him that night and lives with him through the winter. Once virtually mute, Moses opens up to Lulu and speaks in their native language. He also tells her his real name.

Lulu becomes pregnant. She suggests that they find a new place to live, but Moses grows distressed and Lulu that realizes she needs to stay with him. In the spring, Lulu worries about giving birth without either a midwife or her mother. Yet she is happy to be with Moses, too, and each morning she chooses to stay.



Lulu Nanapush narrates this chapter in lyrical and mystical prose. Like many of the other characters in the novel, Lulu is deeply observant of nature and its patterns. Yet her choice to live with Moses, isolated on an island with only each other, cats, and nature for company, marks her as more in tune with nature than some of the other characters.

The language that Erdrich employs to describe how Lulu sees the world is particularly telling in its nature imagery. As Lulu explains: "When I came back to the reservation after my long years gone, I saw the leaves of the poplars applaud high in wind. I saw the ducks barrel down, reaching to the glitter of the slough water. Wind chopped the clouds to rolls that rose and puffed in whiter, whiter...They could not cage me anymore." Lulu has finally escaped from government schools and revels in the nature that surrounds her. Erdrich's fine attention to these details of nature shows the reader Lulu's mindset: she was like a trapped bird and has been set free.

Lulu's affair with Moses invokes further nature imagery. Lulu notices everything about the island, which brings this setting fully to life: "I heard the scrape of the bronze leaves and the waves licking, just behind me." Moses, after living for so long with only his cats, has become one with nature: "He had found his voice and it purred continuously." Like Nector and Marie's passionate encounter in the previous chapter, Lulu and Moses's affair is accompanied by fine attention to the details of nature that surround the two characters and that the two characters embody. Their love story becomes mystical and sensual, bound up in the changing seasons that herald the growing life within Lulu.

This chapter also brings up new aspects of Chippewa/Ojibwe history. Rushes Bear tells Moses's backstory, explaining that there was a great epidemic that killed many of their people. And Chippewa culture is central to this story's conflicts in another way: like Nector, Lulu grew up going to government schools, where she hated the harsh sound of English and longed to escape.