What is the depiction of familial relationships in Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich?

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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In the novel, Love Medicine, by Louise Erdrich, the depiction of familial relationships seem to mirror everything about the lives of the two families in the story, the Kashpaws and the Lamartines. The struggles these families face in a "white man's world" are similar to the frustrations they bring upon each other simply by trying to survive in their often times harsh environment.

There is no question that the ties within these families are very strong. These people love their "kin" without ceasing—much the way they are with those they fall in love with: caring passionately, even if these husbands or lovers are the worst thing that could happen to them. Within the family, regardless of how it is defined, devotion and loyalty for each other, even when paired with anger or disappointment, are cherished.

The connections with regard to family is seen in how the characters define themselves in terms of "who" they have come from. At the front of Erdrich's novel (printed in 2009) there is a family tree. The "legend" helps distinguish how these many family members are related, and is defined in terms of relationships (marriage or affairs) and children. There is a distinction between children of biological birth and adoption, but these are not necessarily in place to show the separation between the "kinds" of children as much as to illustrate the how far the arms of the family spread through the children.

Some of these family relationships are functional and some are not. Lulu describes her relationship with her boys:

Some did me grief, though I was proud of them.

Her pain and pride go hand-in-hand. Gerry was "in and out of prison," but was able to speak to their people, moving their hearts and spirits. Tragically, Henry, Jr., went off to war, but came back so changed and broken, and he eventually took his own life, though his brother Lyman tried to lie to make Lulu believe it was an accident. Lyman wanted to protect his mother, but in losing his brother, he was never the same.

"Family ties" is one of the novel's major themes.

...very strong ties exist among all the characters—the ties to their common families and heritage.

The ties that bind in this novel are those of family, which transcend poverty, abandonment, loss, and tragedy. While historically much has been done to subjugate the Native American and dismantle his cultural heritage, this book demonstrates that love is often the "strongest medicine" of all.


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