Essential Quotes by Character: June Kashpaw
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1443
Essential Passage 1: Chapter 4, “The Beads”
I didn’t want June Morrissey when they first brought her to my house. But I ended up keeping her the way I would later end up keeping her son, Lipsha, when they brought him up the steps. I didn’t want her because I had so many mouths I couldn’t feed. I didn’t want her because I had to pile the children in a cot at night. One of the babies slept in a drawer to the dresser. I didn’t want June. Sometimes we had nothing to eat but grease on bread. But then the two drunk ones told me how the girl had survived—by eating pine sap in the woods. Her mother was my sister, Lucille. She died alone with the girl out in the bush.
Marie Kashpaw, June’s aunt, is the matriarch of the community, taking in stray children who need a home, as well as providing a home for her own children with Nector. When June is brought to her, Marie sees a wild, untamed child. Found in the wilderness by the Cree Indians, June is given a necklace of beads, not for her protection, but the protection of the Crees against whatever dark spirits are associated with the girl. Having survived on pine sap after her mother’s death, June comes to live with Marie and Nector (and will eventually run off with and marry her cousin Gordie). Though Marie loves June as one of her own, the child finds a closer bond with Eli, the twin brother of Marie’s husband, Nector. Never quite fitting in with the others, June nevertheless forms an integral part in the lives of the characters throughout the novel.
Essential Passage 2: Chapter 1, “The World’s Greatest Fishermen”
Even when it started to snow she did not lose her sense of direction. Her feet grew numb, but she did not worry about the distance. The heavy winds couldn’t blow her off course. She continued. Even when her heart clenched and her skin turned crackling cold it didn’t matter, because the pure and naked part of her went on.
The snow fell deeper that Easter than it had in forty years, but June walked over it like water and came home.
June Kashpaw is broke, having only enough money for a bus ticket, given to her by the last man she was with. She is on her way home to the reservation where her family lives: the aunt and uncle who raised her, her husband Gordie, and her children. She is tired from the journey and seeks someplace to rest and someone for companionship. Stopping at a bar with Andy, a man she met on the way, she goes with him in his car and has sex with him. This is the usual way she has managed to survive, finding a man to pay her way and then having sex with him. It is nothing new. After Andy falls asleep, June climbs out of the car and starts walking. Her thinking hazy from alcohol, she ignores the signs of the changes coming in the weather and keeps walking. The snow falls and the winds blow strongly, but still she keeps on walking. Becoming lost in the blizzard, June eventually freezes to death.
Essential Passage 3: Chapter 14, “Crossing the Water”
It’s a dark, thick, twisting river. The bed is deep and narrow. I thought of June. The water played in whorls beneath me or flexed over sunken cars. How weakly I remembered her. If it made any sense at all, she was part of the great loneliness being carried up the driving current. I tell you, there was good in what she did for me, I know now. The son that she acknowledged suffered more than Lipsha Morrissey did. The thought of June grabbed my heart so, but I was lucky she turned me over to Grandma Kashpaw.
Lipsha Morrisey, who has been raised by his great-aunt Marie, has discovered that his father is really Gerry Nanapush, the son of Lulu. Escaping from the reservation, Lipsha goes to the Twin Cities, hopefully to connect with Gerry, who is in prison. At about the time Lipsha arrived, Gerry escaped from jail and happened to enter the apartment where Lipsha is staying with his half-brother King. Winning King’s car (which he bought with the insurance money after his mother June’s death), Lipsha and Gerry escape, with Gerry running to safety across the border. As Lipsha stands on the creek bank, he contemplates this journey to find his father that has led him back to the mother he lost, and in fact never had. He sees in her a symbol of the loneliness that he and the other members of the family have felt as Native Americans living on the reservation. Despite the loss when his mother gave him up, Lipsha is grateful to her for giving him to Marie to be raised. Having come to some type of closure with the loss of June and now the loss of his rediscovered father, Lipsha goes on home to the reservation in his mother’s car.
Analysis of Essential Passages
By telling the stories of the Kashpaw family out of time sequence, Louise Erdrich presents the death of June Kashpaw as a pivotal event in the lives of the characters, though June dies in the first chapter. She is a thread that runs through the story, often hidden, with only occasional appearances as those who have known her and been affected by her reflect on her impact on their lives.
Born of Lucille Lazarre, the sister of Marie, June was left to fend for herself in the woods when her mother died. As in the typical archetype of the orphaned child raised apart from her true heritage, June is adopted into the Kashpaw family, but never seems to fulfill her destiny. Suspected of some dark power, the Crees who find her place a necklace on her for their own protection against evil spirits. It is under this cloud that June has entered into the civilized world of the reservation and the Kashpaw family. Set apart from the others, she feels her strangeness, even going so far one time in a childhood game to try to convince her cousins to hang her. She senses that her death is required, even in play. She feels a need to pay for the sins of her existence.
June never seems to find a home. Relying on the “kindness” of strange men, she sleeps her way along, just in order to survive. Always searching, without looking, she is a lost soul, whose death is symbolically connected with being lost in a blizzard. Like a Christ-figure, she “walks on water” through the snow, and finds her way “home,” meaning her death. As the influence of Christ remained and grew after his death, so June continues to be a presence in the lives of those whom she has come in contact with, for better or worse.
Death is the only home she really has. She is a being that does not belong to this world. In fact, she belongs to no one. Her parents are gone, and the people who raised her are not the mother and father that the others have. Her husband is not always present, and neither is she. Her sons, too, do not stay, but go on their own tortured journeys, following in many ways their mother’s footsteps of loss and alienation.
In the end, it is her son Lipsha, on his own journey of discovery, who most accurately identifies June’s function in this world. To him, she is a symbol of loneliness. In one way or another, each of the major characters in this novel is lonely, and shares in the dissociation that June feels. Not having normal family relations, yet still being a strong family, they are each separated from belonging to either the person they desire or the life they wish for. Representative of the Native Americans as a whole, June is a symbol of the alienation of a people without a country, without a home, without a culture, that is a foundation of their present-day existence. By having June die at the beginning, all focus is on life in the past,. Time is out of joint for a people who only have a past. The efforts to assimilate in the current culture, yet be true to ancient traditions and beliefs, have set them up for a feeling of loneliness. Through June, Lipsha identifies with alienation and loneliness which cannot be resolved.