The Characters (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
The physical tie between the characters is a piece of land originally allotted to Nector Kashpaw’s mother, Rushes Bear. Most of her children were assigned to parcels in Montana, but she managed to get a piece of North Dakota wheatland and live on it with her young twins, Nector and Eli. Nector went to boarding school, learned white reading and writing, and grew up to be Tribal Chair and a man of importance; Eli, hidden by his mother in a root cellar, lived in the woods and kept some of the old skills. These two men, who became adults in the 1930’s, represent the oldest generation in the novel; the women with whom their lives are entangled include Marie Lazarre and Lulu Lamartine. Marie went into a convent intending to become a saint; after marrying Nector, she compulsively takes in unwanted children. Lulu, with what seems equal compulsion, makes her own babies—eight boys, each by a different father, who grow up supporting, fighting, and caring for one another. Both Marie and Lulu know how to use power; Marie pushes Nector into becoming Tribal Chair, and Lulu, in a truly wonderful scene, forces the council not to sell her land by threatening to reveal publicly—right then in the meeting—who fathered each of her children. Both remain vivid personalities in their old age, strong and salty women using very different tactics to win what they desire.
The members of the middle generation are not quite so compelling; perhaps they are seen less clearly...
(The entire section is 577 words.)
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Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Marie Lazarre Kashpaw
Marie Lazarre Kashpaw, the wife of Nector Kashpaw. A loving and long-suffering woman, biological mother of five children and mother substitute to numerous others not her own, she is a kind of maternal ideal. She rears June and Lipsha Morrissey. Nector, when he meets her in 1934, calls her “a skinny white girl . . . pale as birch.” In her youth, she enters the Sacred Heart Convent as a means of escaping the reservation, but she later leaves. She marries and tolerates her husband’s infidelity, never giving up hope that she can have him exclusively. To that end, as an old woman she resorts to love medicine.
Nector Kashpaw, formerly a film actor and later tribal chairman on a Chippewa reservation in North Dakota. A man of divided impulses and loyalties, he loves his wife, Marie, but also has a passion for his first love, Lulu Nanapush Lamartine. His vacillations are both serious and comic. His wife claims credit for his political success, having nominated him as tribal chairman and kept him sober enough to do the job, and he cannot control his attraction to Lulu. As an old man, he chokes to death on Lipsha Morrissey’s love medicine.
Lulu Nanapush Lamartine
Lulu Nanapush Lamartine, a strong and willful woman, the object of many men’s desire, and the mother of eight children, including Gerry Nanapush. Her many sexual affairs and her political clashes with the tribal council make her something of an outcast. She has a lifelong love for Nector Kashpaw that is less a secret than she thinks. Her narrative in the...
(The entire section is 666 words.)