What is the theme for chapter 11 of Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich?

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Chapter eleven of Louise Erdrich's Love Medicine is mostly told from the point of view of Gordie Kashpaw; unfortunately, he is not a reliable narrator because he has two factors working on his mind: guilt and alcohol and the two are connected. He is suffering from guilt about his role in his wife June's death and has turned to the bottle for some relief.

The theme of this chapter seems to center around how one deals with guilt. Gordie rather lives in two worlds, the Christian world and the Native American World. He calls his wife's name, something his grandmother warned him not to do:

“Never, never, ever call the dead by their names...They might answer.” 

As soon as he does, he acts on this superstition and does all kinds of loud things hoping to avoid hearing June if she does appear. His elaborate ruse does not work and he has a hallucination of June's face at this window.

He hits a deer and puts it in the backseat, and he has another hallucination in which the deer becomes June and he kills the deer but sees it as his wife. The guilt of realizing that, just as he killed the deer, he probably killed June due to his chronic abuse of her overwhelms him. 

The conflict happens in the last part of the chapter which centers around Sister Mary Martin and the Sacred Heart Convent. Gordie goes there to confess and meets Sister Mary Martin who does not quite know what to do when Gordie insists on confessing to her. 

Things get even more complicated when the nun goes to the car and weeps at the loss of the deer. Thinking she is helping, Sister Mary Martin starts to give the deer last rites, and this is the end for Gordie. He has one final hallucination in which the nun becomes June, and this forces Gordie, in his guilt, to run away.

If he had found an actual priest, perhaps Gordie would have been able to reconcile himself to the Christian faith, ultimately finding his way to forgiveness and restoration. Instead, he chooses his Native American legacy and runs away from any possibility of confession (and therefore redemption). He heads for the “reservation grass and woods.” 

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