How does Louise Erdrich portray politics in Love Medicine?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich tells the stories of two Native American Chippewa families, the Kashpaws and the Lamartines. The stories flow in the telling of the husbands and wives, the lovers, and the children that they have.

Lulu Lamartine describes two "flavors" of politics in the book: the tribal government and "Uncle Sam's" government—with no distinction between the two. In "The Good Tears," she describes how the members of these families do not fare well with politicians—often their lives are especially hard because they are "Indians," not Americans. Specifically these "powers" decide who the land belongs to, or not. Lulu's biggest problem is that the politics of the tribal government are too closely tied to the white's man's government, particularly in the person of Nector Kashpaw, a man that Lulu had loved when she was very young.

After her husband Henry dies, Nector begins to visit Lulu at night. Even though he is married, it continues for five years. Lulu bears Nector a child—her youngest son. Lulu declares that the relationship might have gone on longer, for she was content.

But then the politician showed his true stripe, a lily-white, and the love knot we had welded between us unbent.

Lily-white may allude to the flower symbolic of death—perhaps of their love? The love-knot is a pledge "welded" between them: like liquid metals joined, seemingly strong enough to withstand anything. But Nector "bends" their pledge because politics matter more than his love for Lulu.

Prior to the fire, Lulu explains her hostility for politics and the government of the whites. She feels the census, which is said to be a help to "Indians," is only the government's way of counting how many Indians need to be disposed of; and Lulu and Henry never worried about "owning" their land. If one were precise about ownership—Lulu felt—everything belonged to the Indians, as they had been around first.

The furor begins one day when Lulu finds a legal document—a "regulation," signing her land away—on her doorstep.

It was signed with Kashpaw's hand as representing the tribal government. In turn, that was the red-apple court representing Uncle Sam.

Nector has signed it, and then shows up that night trying to tell Lulu it is meaningless, but she sets the dogs on him.

I was the blood that pounded in his temples. I was the knock of his heart. I was the needle of desire. I worked my way through his body and sewed him up. Yet he was willing to turn me from my house.

Lulu refuses to move—part of a race that had been moved so many times, also with countless politicians' promises. When Henry's brother (Beverly) comes around and asks Lulu to marry him, she agrees. She sees Nector in town and tells him—and his eyes are "hate pits."

A love so strong brews the same strength of hate.

Lulu thinks he may intend to kill her or Bev, but then thinks that maybe the threat she saw means nothing...until the "tribal mob" reveals itself at the tribal council. Her own people turn on her. Lulu recalls:

Indian against Indian, that's how the government's money offer made us act.

Government Indians were ordering others off their land to build a modern factory that would make beads, "plastic war clubs" and tomahawks. Nector, the politician, tells Lulu she must move. The ex-lover and "traitor" in Nector burns her house down, expecting her to be in it.

For Lulu, politics seem stronger than love; whether tribal or white, politics are no good for her or the Chippewa people.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial