Discussion Topic

Character analysis in Louise Erdrich's Love Medicine

Summary:

Louise Erdrich's Love Medicine features complex characters like Marie Kashpaw, whose resilience and strength drive her to overcome numerous personal and familial challenges. Nector Kashpaw struggles with his identity and responsibilities, often causing turmoil in his relationships. Lipsha Morrissey, a young man with healing powers, seeks to understand his heritage and place within the community. Each character's journey reflects themes of love, redemption, and cultural identity.

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Who is the protagonist of Louise Erdrich's Love Medicine?

Louise Erdrich's Love Medicine is not a traditional novel and therefore does not have a traditional protagonist. It is, however, fair to claim that Marie Kashpaw and Lulu Lamertine share the role of “main character” as their stories are woven through the entire book. Let's look at this in more detail to help you understand this statement.

Marie and Lulu have led difficult lives. Marie is a young woman who wants to enter a convent and become a saint, only to be abused by a cruel nun. Instead, Marie marries Nector and has five children. Nector, though, is often drunk and unfaithful. Marie raises her own children and several others, proving her strength and perseverance throughout a life that did not turn out how she expected.

Lulu is also a strong woman, yet she is very different from Marie. Lulu raises eight children, all of whom have different fathers, and she carries on an affair with Nector for years. Lulu is a fighter, and she refuses to be ashamed of who she is. In fact, she uses her actions to her own advantage in her struggle to keep her home.

From these two women, Marie and Lulu, descend many of the characters in the story, and all the rest have interacted with them in some way. These women pass down their heritage, their strength, and their trials to their children and grandchildren, who act as they do, at least in part, because of Marie, Lulu, or both. We can see, then, why some argue that these matriarchs share the role of main character in Love Medicine.

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In Louise Erdrich's novel Love Medicine, who is the main character? Explain.

I do not believe that there is a main character in Louise Erdrich's Love Medicine. Each chapter is about a different character. The stories and characters overlap, but this is not a novel as much as it is a collection of short stories, realistically and poetically shared with the reader.

Newsweek author, Gene Lyons says:

[Regarding] Louise Erdrich's novel Love Medicine...that no matter what the dust jacket says, it's not a novel. It's a book of short stories...

As this is the case, it is impossible to find a main character because the book is not written as a novel, with one overriding conflict, a steady plot and a resolution to the story. It is written as a series of short stories with characters from the same two families. The chronology is out of sync. For example, the first chapter takes place in 1981, but the next chapter takes place in 1934; the story in the second chapter is related to the characters and story in the first chapter, but with a totally different plot, new characters—though somehow tied to previous and future characters. The themes are often the same, showing how the experiences connect the different characters and generations together, but the book does not read as a novel in the format we are accustomed to.

It is not a traditional novel, so I don't see that Love Medicine has a main character.

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Who is the character June in Louise Erdrich's Love Medicine?

In the beginning of the novel, June Morrisey Kashpaw dies in a snowstorm. Despite this, her character remains central to the book. June's story is deeply intertwined with the lives of the other characters.

As a young, recently orphaned girl, June was adopted by her maternal aunt, Marie Lazarre Kashpaw. Marie is married to Nector Kashpaw, a tribal chairman of a Chippewa reservation in North Dakota. Nector has a twin brother, Eli. Despite his love for Marie, Nector finds himself helpless to resist the charms of his sensual lover, Lulu Nanapush Lamartine. For her part, Marie tolerates Nector's infidelity because of her great love for him.

In the book, Marie is portrayed as a loving wife and mother. Although she has initial qualms about raising June, she eventually becomes quite attached to her niece. Yet, despite her every effort to befriend her young charge, Marie finds herself continually rebuffed. In the end, June decides to live with her Uncle Eli, who raises her as his own child.

We learn that June has an unhappy life in her adult years. She marries Gordie Kashpaw, the son of Marie and Nector. Although June loves Gordie, he turns out to be an abusive and insensitive husband. In her unhappiness, she has an affair with Gerry Nanapush (whose mother is Lulu Nanapush Lamartine), and the relationship produces a son, Lipsha Morrissey. In the book, we learn that June continues to have a strong attachment to Gordie despite their strained marriage.

On her last day on earth, June enjoys a brief dalliance with a stranger she meets in a bar in Williston, North Dakota. She dies on Easter Day, 1981, after being caught in a snowstorm.

For more information on June and Love Medicine, refer to the eNotes guides linked below.

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