What is the meaning of "love medicine" in the novel Love Medicine?

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"Love medicine" refers to a specific practice that is part of the indigenous belief system represented in the novel. "Medicine" is not necessarily related to substances taken for health (like aspirin or penicillin) but to actions taken to improve peoples' lives or have a specific effect. In a way the concept of "medicine" in the novel is a form of folk magic, and "love medicine" is a form of love spell. One of the examples of love medicine represented in the novel occurs when Lipsha wants to help his grandparents resolve their disputes and be in love again. He knows a bit about this tradition and thinks that killing a wild goose and feeding its heart to them would help them realize their love again, because wild geese mate for life. But in the end Lipsha gets lazy, and instead of going hunting for geese, he buys frozen turkey hearts at the grocery store. He later realizes this would not have the same effectiveness, and he blames himself for the love medicine not being successful—partly because of his own guilt and doubt and the sense of failure he feels at not trying hard enough to perform the love medicine properly. In this way we are given to understand that love medicine is not only about the acts of magic performed but about the belief and faith in the process.

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Love Medicine, by Louise Erdrich, is actually a collection of short stories which deal with the lives of two families (Kashpaws and Lamartines) of the Chippewa culture, and how each family, in the several generations described, do their best not only to survive, but to learn how to deal with the world, and find their place within that world.

I believe that the concept of "love medicine" is the hope that there is something that will heal the wounds of the characters in these fourteen stories. And although "love medicine" is referred to in one story about Lipsha Morrissey (who is said to have a special mystical gift, handed down through the ages by his ancestors), it would seem that this is a broad concept that is woven throughout all the stories in this collection.

The stories do not only speak of the relationships between the characters (of the two families in the book), but take on social aspects of the Native American culture that fragment the individual and the society, for which healing is necessary, if it can be found. These social aspects include the lures of the white man's world—drunkenness, government control, the harshness of the prison system, and organized religion.

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