Ideas for Group Discussions
Because of Love Medicine's lyrical writing and fascinating look at Native American life, readers are usually eager to give their impressions of the novel. Probably discussions examining Erdrich's artistry and subject matter would be the best topics to pursue. Figurative language, image, and symbol leap out at readers, but so too does the shifting narrative perspective of the stories. Just as medievalists ponder the design and order of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales and the relation of teller and tale, readers of Love Medicine feel groupings of stories by character and theme and the arrangement of the stories. Early reviews alternately called the book a novel or a collection of stories. If the book is a novel, something needs to be developing in place of a central character; determining what that would be could be a fruitful topic to pursue.
Many of the characters in Love Medicine start as stereotypes that whites could employ to identify Native Americans. Gordie is a drunken Indian; Nector is a womanizer; June is a loose, tough woman; Lipsha is a confused adolescent; yet each is more than a reductive label because Erdrich supplies causes of behaviors and understanding of their situations. Discussing what is healthy and unhealthy about Native American life might be a fruitful way to discuss the book's subject matter.
1. Is Love Medicine a novel or a collection of short stories? If this book is a novel, what action is developed within it?
2. Reviewers and readers are swept away by Erdrich's symbolic method. After identifying some of the prominent uses of symbol and image in the stories, try to figure out why this aspect of Erdrich's writing is so powerful.
3. Erdrich alternates between omniscient and retrospective first person narration in Love Medicine. When and where does she use each point of view? Why does she primarily use retrospective first person?
4. Try to establish the stereotypes, the biased pictures, of the Native Americans in Love Medicine. How does Erdrich blow apart these stereotypes? Obviously, one needs to look at this matter character by character.
5. The prospect of living on or off the reservation leads to problems of identity for many Native Americans portrayed in Love Medicine. Take characters who live on and off the reservation and describe their problems of identity. June and Beverly Lamartine might be good to examine here.