Love Medicine

Love Medicine Summary and Analysis of Chapter 8: Flesh and Blood


Marie Kashpaw delivers the first-person narration for this chapter, which takes place in 1957. The events here coincide with the events of "The Plunge of the Brave", on the day that Nector leaves Marie a note announcing that he is leaving her for Lulu. That morning, Marie and her 16 year-old daughter Zelda set off to visit the nuns. Sister Leopolda is dying and Marie wants to bring her canned apples, despite their altercations twenty years ago. Marie puts on her nice purple wool dress and she and Zelda set off on this hot summer morning. Marie says that Zelda is shy around boys, nothing like she was at her daughter's age.

They climb the hill and ask to see Sister Leopolda. The nun who answers the door does not recognize Marie. Marie and her daughter go to Leopolda's room, which is the same one that Leopolda occupied twenty years before. Leopolda's mind is deteriorating, but she remembers Marie. They engage in verbal competition, with Leopolda mocking Marie's lifestyle while Marie tries to defend herself and asserts that she has come up in the world.

Marie wants to steal Leopolda's precious iron spoon. While Zelda receives a blessing from Leopolda, Marie tries to take this possession from the nun. Yet Marie is unsuccessful. Leopolda tries to beat Marie with the spoon while Marie is receiving a blessing. They physically struggle and Leopolda falls back on the bed. Marie realizes that Leopolda will soon be dead and decides to struggle with her no longer.

Marie and Zelda then walk home. Zelda says she might want to live with the nuns one day. Zelda goes into the house first and finds the note that Nector left under the sugar jar for Marie. Marie reads it and is in shock. She tries to process what has happened. Zelda runs off to find Nector while Marie peels potatoes and waxes the floor. Gordie, Aurelia, and June return from hunting. Marie tells them to stay outside and cook the goose that they have caught while she sits inside and thinks.

Before Nector gets home, Marie puts the letter back on the table under the salt can. She will never mention that she read the letter to Nector, but wants him to wonder, for the rest of his life, whether he put it under the sugar or the salt.



This chapter both brings the story of Marie and Leopolda full circle - thus rounding out the chapter "Saint Marie" - and provides an ending to the previous chapter, "The Plunge of the Brave." In this chapter we once again see Marie as a middle-aged woman, probably in her mid-thirties but with a lifetime of experience behind her.

Heat figures prominently in this segment of I[Love Medicine]. The events occur on a blistering hot summer day, yet Marie dons a wool dress, wanting to look respectable for the nuns. Leopolda, the reader will recall, had a fixation on the Devil and hell. The hellish temperature of the chapter reflects Leopolda's obsession, as well as Marie's devilish desire to conquer the old woman. This is yet another chapter that explores the novel's theme of religion, especially Catholicism. For example, Marie's hand still aches where Leopolda injured it years ago.

Later in the chapter, Marie discovers a letter from Nector telling her that he has been cheating on her with Lulu and that he has found true love. Marie's rationality comes through in this chapter: she is a methodical woman and refuses to lose her composure as a result of this revelation. Marie's attempt to deal with Nector's news reveals a great deal about her character. She sets about peeling a mound of potatoes, as she has done many times before: "I had peeled enough potatoes in my life so far to feed every man, woman, child of the Chippewas." She comforts herself with routinized, mechanical work. Her physical actions clearly show the actions of her in-control mind.

After peeling the potatoes, Marie waxes the floor. The waxing is an even more overt symbol of her state of mind. She thinks about all the imperfections in the floor and about how, no matter what, she is happy to be able to keep the floor smooth. It is as though she hopes that by waxing smooth her floor she can wax smooth the gigantic jagged rip that has just broken the center of her marriage. Indeed, Erdrich presents this idea explicitly when Marie says, "I'd shine when they stripped off the wax!"

Marie's final trick on her husband also reveals a lot about her character. Once she hears Nector coming home she realizes that he is not going to leave her for Lulu. Nevertheless, she wants him to suffer for what he has done to her. She puts the letter under a salt can rather than under the sugar jar, its original placement. For the rest of his life, "He'd think to himself: salt or sugar? But he would never be sure." Marie is ready to move on with her marriage and to continue to love Nector. Yet this action reveals the crafty ideas that rumble beneath her calm exterior.