Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
In Love Medicine, Louise Erdrich opens up a new territory of contemporary Native American life and demonstrates a compassionate yet uncompromising attitude toward its people. She also crafts a piece of fiction whose technique amplifies its meaning. In doing the work to trace out relationships, keep track of the characters, and understand how they are tied together, the reader becomes a part of the linking and weaving that is the novel’s theme. The pleasure of solving puzzles is secondary. What really matters are the bonds of love and mystery and anger, the desires and strengths and weaknesses that keep these people together, even though some are reservation-bound, others thoroughly urbanized, and a few have hardly any Chippewa blood.
Because the stories are presented through their narrators, with no outside viewpoint to provide explanations, the evocation of Native American life is clean and subtle, without pandering to the picturesque or the sentimental. Furthermore, the book’s structure is used to alter the reader’s consciousness from within. For example, although June Morrissey Kashpaw dies in the first tale, her character is one of the threads that provides links among the people and the stories—various characters talk about her; there are questions about her own parentage and about the husband she left and the baby she never acknowledged; Gordon takes to drink after her death; Albertine’s mother and aunt tell their version of an incident from June’s childhood. In other words, Erdrich, using only the literary conventions of a white cultural tradition, thoroughly and convincingly demonstrates that a person who is dead can remain an important presence for the living. From that point it is only half a step to the other stories, the ones in which a dead...
(The entire section is 730 words.)
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