Essential Quotes by Theme: Home

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Essential Passage 1: Chapter 13, “The Good Tears”

All through my life I never did believe in human measurement. Numbers, inches, feet. All are just ploys for cutting nature down to size. I know the grand scheme of the world is beyond our brains to fathom, so I don’t try, just let it in. I don’t believe in numbering God’s creatures. I never let the United States census in my door, even though they say it’s good for Indians. Well, quote me. I say that every time they counted us they knew the precise number to get rid of.

I believed this way even before those yellow-bearded government surveyors in their tie boots came to measure the land around Henry’s house. Henry Lamartine had never filed on or bought the land outright, but he lived there. He never took much stock in measurement, either. He knew like I did. If we’re going to measure land, let’s measure right. Every foot and inch you’re standing on, even if it’s on the top of the highest skyscraper, belongs to the Indians. That’s the real truth of the matter.

Summary Lulu has lived in a small house on land that was “settled” by her husband Henry. After Henry’s death (most likely by suicide, parking his car on a train track), Lulu continued to live there with her eight sons. Yet Henry never bought the land, but merely settled on it. He was known as a “squatter,” someone who lives on property that is uninhabited but is either owned by someone else or is owned by the government. In this case, the land where Lulu was living was owned by the tribal government. With their intent to build a factory on the land, the tribal council voted to evict Lulu (the order being signed by the tribal chief and Lulu’s lover, Nector). Yet Lulu refuses to move. She claimed the land by living on it, by improving it, by building a home on it. When the contractors come to measure the land, she reflects on this need by the authorities to measure things, whether it is land or people. Counting gives power to the counter. It is this against which Lulu rebels.

Essential Passage 2: Chapter 12, “Love Medicine”

It hits me, anyway. Them geese, they mate for life. And I think to myself, just what if I went out and got a pair? And just what if I fed some part—say the goose heart—of the female to Grandma and Grandpa ate the other heart? Wouldn’t that work? Maybe it’s all invisible, and then maybe again it’s magic. Love is a stony road. We know that for sure. If it’s true that the higher feelings of devotion get lodged in the heart like people say, then we’d be home free. If not, eating goose heart couldn’t harm nobody anyway. I thought it was worth my effort, and Grandma Kashpaw thought so, too. She had always known a good idea when she heard one. She borrowed me Grandpa’s gun.

Summary Nector (Grandpa) continues his almost lifelong affair with Lulu. Though mostly at this point in his life, his advancing age and his diabetes spur him to visit her more for candy than for sex. Yet still, Marie (Grandma) is hurt by his unfaithfulness, though over the years she has had to face it many times. Her love for Nector has never faded, and now that the end of their lives is approaching, she would like for him to at last become solely dedicated to her, his wife. Lipsha, their grandson, wants to help his grandma...

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fulfill her dream of keeping his grandpa at home. Known throughout the reservation has having a magic touch, known as “love medicine” that inspires devotion and fidelity, he devises a plan to help his grandparents. Since geese mate for life, he plans on shooting a pair of mating geese, cut out their hearts, and give them to his grandparents to eat, believing that this will cause the love to blossom and bond. Though he shoots the geese, he cannot cut out their hearts, so he buys turkey hearts at the grocery store, and gives them to Nector and Marie instead (not telling them of the switch). Unfortunately, Nector chokes on the heart and dies. Yet Marie claims he continues to visit her after his death, a sign to her that the love medicine worked.

Essential Passage 3: Chapter 1, “The World’s Greatest Fishermen”

…The bus ticket would stay good, maybe forever. They weren’t expecting her up home on the reservation. She didn’t even have a man there, except the one she’d divorced. Gordie. If she got desperate he would still send her money.

SummaryJune Kashpaw has been away, leading quite a rough life, depending on men to help her survive. She is heading home to the reservation where she was brought up, where her family still lives. Though June has not led a happy or successful life, she is still loved by her family. At a bus stop, she wanders off to find a drink and runs into a man named Andy. He buys her a drink and then, inevitably, she has sex with him in the front seat of her car. She does not get back on the bus. Going home will wait. The Kashpaws, Marie, Nector, and Eli, (the ones who raised her) do not know she is coming, but she knows they will take her in, as they always have before. Even her husband will help her out, despite her wanderings and her frantic unfaithfulness. She can always come home.

Analysis of Essential PassagesThroughout Love Medicine, Louise Erdrich presents a multitude of characters within or connected to a specific family—the Kashpaws. Through them the concept of home is examined in its many manifestations, both traditional and nontraditional. Of specific importance is the idea of home for the Native Americans on a reservation in the twentieth century.

Lulu, who has led an emotionally nomadic life, has found herself in a home built by her husband Henry on land that does not belong to them but to the tribal council and the tribe at large. When the decision is made to evict Lulu after her husband’s death in order to build a factory, Lulu contemplates what makes a home. The United States government has first set aside land for the Chippewa people in North Dakota. The concept of a “reservation” is foreign to the traditional concept of home to the Native Americans. The idea of ownership of land is something that was completely foreign to them, which led to many conflicts with the European settlers when they arrived and “bought” land to build their homes. To the Indian, the whole earth was available to everyone, so how could a single person claim a piece of it exclusively for himself? It is this idea that Lulu continues to fight well into the middle of the twentieth century. However, she is not fighting the white man’s government, but the leaders of her own people. They have assimilated the white man’s ways to the extent of believing that ownership of land by an individual or a community is the proper way to live. For Lulu, it is living on the land that makes it a home, not the measurement of it, stating that “from this point to this point belongs to me.”

Beyond the ownership of land is the concept of family that makes a home. Throughout the story, the troubled relationships of the characters do not destroy what makes a family. Through Marie and Nector especially, the notion that a family is blood far more than agreement is developed. Lipsha likens marriage to the fidelity of wild geese, who mate for life. Such is the case, to him, for a husband and wife. Through his “love medicine” he endeavors to bring Nector back to this definition of home. Though the ritual ends in Nector’s death, to Marie it has been accomplished in Nector’s “visits” after he has passed away. Lipsha tries to point out to his grandmother that the “magic” was not the root, since he had substituted turkey hearts for those of geese. It was love, rather than magic, which has made their marriage continue beyond the grave. That love is what has formed the foundation of the home.

The central character of June, the lost soul who dies in the first chapter, epitomizes what home means. She is returning to the reservation after her wanderings, knowing that, though her family does not know she is coming, they will welcome her home. As Robert Frost states in his poem “Death of the Hired Man,” “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, / They have to take you in.” Because the Kashpaws are a displaced family of a displaced race, this concept of home becomes the touchstone of their existence. Through all their wanderings, through all the running from that which is most true, the Kashpaws always come home.


Essential Quotes by Character: June Kashpaw