Themes and Meanings
“Saint Marie,” the second in the cycle of fourteen linked stories that make up Louise Erdrich’s novel Love Medicine (1985), centers on the complex relations between Indians and non-Indians, a theme that runs throughout the book. Marie in this story and the next, “Wild Geese” (which takes place on the same day, as Marie leaves the convent), is a tough, intelligent, willful daughter of adversity. The nuns look down on her as “Indian,” whereas her future husband, Nector Kashpaw, regards her as merely a “skinny white girl” from a family of drunken horse thieves. She is truly an orphan.
Marie Lazarre is engaged in an archetypal quest for a mother. Seeking a better home than that of her own impoverished family, she enters the convent as the protégé (though really, it is suggested, the slave) of Sister Leopolda. As if in a fairy tale, Sister Leopolda turns out to be a wicked stepmother: Like Cinderella, Marie must dress poorly (not like the other sisters), sleep behind the stove, and eat meager and coarse food. Worse yet, Sister Leopolda physically mistreats the girl, and when Marie attempts to thrust her tormentor into the oven, the witch rebounds and stabs Marie.
The central conflict resembles a legendary joust: Leopolda sees herself as fighting the devil for control of the girl’s soul and insurance of her salvation, while Marie perceives that to be thus controlled is to perish. The contest is imaged in parodies of...
(The entire section is 403 words.)