Erdrich’s Love Medicine invites its readers to experience the storytelling tradition of an American Indian tribe, the Ojibwa (also referred to as Chippewa), through its use of multiple narrators and resistance to strictly linear plot. There is no main character or focusing narrator; many speak, all with authority. The reader must fit together the pieces to construct the layers of understanding necessary to trace kinship and events. The weaving together of individual voices to form the communal whole is part of Erdrich’s theme. The diverse viewpoints function to reveal the ties of family and tribe as well as to point out how much has broken down between individuals and generations and has been lost, perhaps forever. Every event—June’s death, for example—is viewed differently by each narrator, and the complexity of that which may initially seem simple and straightforward is disclosed. The nature of time is not chronological or linear; it is cyclical and layered. Lipsha says when he comforts his Grandma Kashpaw after the death of Nector, “He [Nector] loved you over time and distance,” suggesting that past, present, and future are united in a profound way.
Although it is realistic in its detailing of contemporary American Indian life— including problems with alcohol, poverty, joblessness, and generational conflict—Love Medicine reflects the fact that powerful myths shape the lives of its narrators, though not in any stereotypical way. There are no rain dances, peace pipes, or sweat lodges in this novel. The only attempted “magic” is the “love medicine” of the title, which goes awry when a largely untrained practitioner—Lipsha—resorts to “an evil short cut” in the ritual, purchasing frozen turkey hearts when he finds it too difficult to procure the hearts of two wild geese. Instead of tribal gods and chanting medicine men, the moments of spirituality, magic, and myth occur within the patterns and enduring qualities of the natural world in the forms of water, fire, air, earth, and animals, all part of Ojibwa oral tradition.
Water, the major symbol in the book, is one of the elements that unifies the novel. The narratives themselves are fluid, flowing together to form the whole. Bodies of water such as lakes, rivers, and creeks are important to many of the interwoven tales. Five of the novel’s fourteen sections are titled with water references, including the first section, “The World’s Greatest Fishermen,” and the final section, “Crossing the Water.” Tears or their absence, boiling water, the lack of...
(The entire section is 1054 words.)
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