Summary and Analysis Revised Edition Chapter 16

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In 1993, Louise Erdrich published a revised and expanded edition ofLove Medicine. Four chapters were added, each further exploring the novel's characters.

Summary Told from the viewpoint of Lyman Lamartine, the son of Lulu and Nector, this chapter expounds on the relationship between Lulu and her son. Following the suicide of Henry Junior, Lyman believes himself to be a changed man. He has lost his magic touch with money. If he rises in the world, he believes, it is at the expense of someone else. His relationship to his brother was problematic, but it was real and cannot be ended by death. Lyman is bothered by the tradition that says if a Chippewa drowns, he will not be able to rest. Lyman talks to his brother, hoping that somehow Henry Junior will answer back, but he gets no response.

For a year following Henry Junior’s death, Lyman wallows in grief. He loses money and stays drunk most of the time. He receives from the government a notice that he owes back taxes. Distraught, he rages against the government until he thinks that, if he files for the past year, he might be due some money from overpaying his taxes. After he files, he notices on the form he received that it had been misaddressed. He did not owe taxes after all. He is grateful that this mistake brought him out of his misery and back into life.

Lyman signed on for a job with the Bureau of Indian Affairs in nearby Aberdeen. One day, he receives a call that his mother is in another office, ranting about a proposed factory that will make cheap Indian souvenirs that are currently made overseas. Ironically, this is the very project that Lyman is working on. He learns that his mother is bringing the project up in the Bureau’s next meeting.

Lulu has in mind a factory that produces “museum-quality” artifacts rather than junk for tourists. Lyman is transferred back to the reservation from Aberdeen to run the new factory. He resents being dragged back, but Lulu is determined to preserve that Indian heritage, even to the point of replacing the buffalo that once roamed the prairies. She has given him a list of the job applicants, broken up into families and clans, so that all will be represented in the factory.

Despite his mother’s interference, Lyman designs an assembly-line schedule for the production of tomahawks, as well as other “genuine” Indian-made products. He hires his mother and Marie, the wife of his father, to work in the factory. Since Nector’s death, the two have become allies, enjoying each other’s company, to a certain extent. Lyman has difficulty figuring out the relationship, especially since his parentage cannot be brought up. Lulu continues to interfere with Lyman’s management of the factory, implying that the workers are unhappy. Lyman fires his mother, despite her threats that the workers will walk out with her. He eventually rehires her.

Throughout the winter, business slows, and Lyman is forced to lay off workers. Marie and Lulu’s relationship returns to what it had been before and sparks fly. When past history is brought up, the sparks turn hot. The fight between Marie and Lulu spreads throughout the factory, and all the workers are in a battle with each other. The factory is almost destroyed.

In despair, Lyman drinks a bottle of alcohol, meant to open frozen gas lines. As he lies drunk, Lipsha comes in and tries to control him. Leaving the factory, Lyman goes down to a bar, where he meets Marie. He apologizes and asks if his father, Nector, ever talked about...

(This entire section contains 1133 words.)

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him. Marie does not answer. Lyman notices her hands are marked with shapes. Marie confesses that she put her hands in the birch bark imprinting machine. Lyman is troubled that her hands that had comforted so many have been hurt. Lyman apologizes again, and then he and Marie dance.

Analysis Lyman is climbing back to life following the death of his brother, Henry Junior. Losing more than a brother, Lyman has lost a father figure, since his own father, Nector, is married to another woman. Lyman’s sense of displacement grows to the point that he cannot function. He loses his money and descends into an alcoholic haze for a year. His sense of purpose, however, returns as the result of an error by the IRS. As he says, “Uncle Sam giveth, and Uncle Sam taketh away.” In this case, Uncle Sam took away first before he gave it back.

Faced with a new sense of purpose, Lyman begins work for the Bureau of Indian affairs, climbing up the corporate ladder, so to speak, in the commercial welfare of the Chippewa tribe. He has regained his “magic touch” with money, something he lost with Henry Junior’s death. His identity is found apart from the reservation of his birth, away from his mother and her renewed interest in Native American historical culture, and away from the obligations of family. He has become his own man, and is resentful of any intrusion by any of the people from his past. Yet his mother does intrude, taking apart his dream piecemeal, trying to implement a plan of her own. Though she fails, she still manages to establish herself as a fixture in Lyman’s new factory, even to the point of having him transferred back to the reservation and building the factory there.

It is the return to this environment that causes Lyman to lose his magic touch again. Orders decrease, and he is forced of lay off workers. As a kind of personal revenge for the rejection of her plans for the factory, Lulu establishes herself as a type of liaison for the workers. When Lyman fires her, she threatens to take all the disaffected workers (which is almost all of them) with her. It is this threat that causes Lyman to bow under his mother’s demands and thus rehire her. With an overwhelming sense of depression, Lyman sinks back into alcohol.

The strained relationship with his mother Lulu is shown, as he works in conjunction with her on the factory. Her constant interference drags him back down to the depths, almost as deep as he was following the suicide of his brother. He finds comfort only in the forgiveness of Marie, the legal wife of his father. This forgiveness brings about a type of redemption, handing him back an identity he was denied by being an illegitimate child of a married man. As the recognition of a mistake by the IRS secures his redemption after the death of Henry Junior, so the recognition of the “mistake” of his father in his procreation secures his redemption following the destruction of the factory.

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Summary and Analysis Revised Edition Chapter 17