Love Medicine

Love Medicine

Love Medicine Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Louise Erdrich's Love Medicine. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Louise Erdrich

  Louise Erdrich, an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, was born the first of seven children to Ralph Erdrich and Rita Gourneau, a half-Ojibwe, half-French Chippewa woman. Both of Erdrich’s parents taught at a North Dakota boarding school ran by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and Erdrich’s grandfather, Patrick Gourneau, was the chairman of their tribe, much like Nector Kashpaw is in Love Medicine. Erdrich enrolled at Dartmouth College in 1972—the very first year women were admitted to the school—and graduated in 1976 with a degree in English. In 1979, Erdrich earned a Master of Arts in Writing from Johns Hopkins University. She married Michael Dorris, an anthropologist and her former teacher at Dartmouth, in 1981, and the couple went on to have three biological children and adopt three more. They divorced in 1995. Erdrich is a prolific writer and is considered an important voice in Native American literature. Much of Erdrich’s work explores Native culture and identity in modern times, and while she is best known for her novels, she also wrote several poems and short stories early in her career, including “The Red Convertible” in 1974. Erdrich published Love Medicine, her first novel, in 1984; however, many of the characters in the novel appear in Erdrich’s earlier short stories as well. Love Medicine went on to win the National Book Critics Circle Award, and she published Jacklight, a book of poetry, to popular and critical acclaim the same year. Erdrich went on to write numerous novels and books of poetry, including Tracks in 1988, and The Round House in 2012, which won the National Book Award for Fiction. Erdrich lives in Minnesota, where she continues to write and is the owner and operator of Birchbark Books, an independent bookstore that also specializes in Native art and traditional Indian jewelry.   
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Historical Context of Love Medicine

In Love Medicine, Lulu Lamartine refuses to leave her late husband Henry’s home after she is evicted by the tribal council for squatting. Henry never formally purchased the land he built his house on, and even though the tribe offers to move Lulu to another house on the reservation, she won’t budge. Lulu claims the Ojibwe people, who originally lived on the other side of the Great Lakes, were forced to the North Dakota land years ago, and she won’t move one more inch west. Lulu’s resistance to moving further west is a direct reference to the forced relocation of Native Americans by the United States government after the Indian Removal Act was passed in 1830. The act was signed into law by President Andrew Jackson, and it effectively forced Native Americans living on ancestral lands in the east—particularly those in the southeast—westward, past the Mississippi River, to land that had been deemed “Indian Territory.” The forced migration of Native Americans began with tribes in the southeast, including the Choctaw, Seminole, and Cherokee people, and it was a vital step in the mass genocide of thousands of Native people perpetrated by the United States government during the 19th century. Those who survived the violent and dangerous trip west were placed on small reservations far from their families and forced to assimilate to European ways. They were required to become Christians, and they were stripped of their Native language and culture. The Indian Removal Act was met with staunch critics, especially in the north, but any opposition to the act was ultimately unsuccessful. President Jackson claimed that the fall of the traditional Native lifestyle was unavoidable, and the act eventually led to the Trail of Tears, another forced relocation program that effectively removed all indigenous people from the southeast, save for a small band of Seminoles in southern Florida. 

Other Books Related to Love Medicine

As a piece of contemporary Native American literature, Louise Erdrich’s Love Medicine explores Native culture and identity, particularly the impact of westward expansion and the role of European influence on the forced assimilation of indigenous people. Other important pieces of contemporary Native American literature that interrogate similar themes include James Welch’s Fools Crow—a story about the Lone Eaters, one of the last bands of Blackfeet Indians to live on ancestral lands in Montana—and Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko, a novel based on the traditional stories of the Pueblo and Navajo people. Erdrich cites Jane Austen as an influence on her own writing, and the strong women seen in Austen’s novels, such as Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility, are reflected in the resilient female characters of Love Medicine. In addition to Erdrich, there are several other prominent female Native American writers, such as Joy Harjo, the first Native American United States Poet Laureate and author of How We Became Human, and Paula Gunn Allen, a Native American poet and critic who wrote The Woman Who Owned the Shadows and Coyote’s Daylight Trip. Erdrich also names George Eliot, the English author of Middlemarch, and Toni Morrison, best known for her novels Beloved and The Bluest Eye, as major influences on her own writing. 
Key Facts about Love Medicine
  • Full Title: Love Medicine
  • When Written: 1984
  • Where Written: Minnesota
  • When Published: 1984
  • Literary Period: Contemporary American
  • Genre: Contemporary Native American novel
  • Setting: An Ojibwe reservation in North Dakota, as well as Fargo, North Dakota and Minneapolis, Minnesota. 
  • Climax: When Gerry Nanapush breaks out of prison and shows up at King Kashpaw’s Minneapolis apartment.
  • Antagonist: America’s whitewashed society and the United States government.
  • Point of View: Love Medicine is told through many different points of view. Depending on the chapter and character, it is either first-person or third-person omniscient.

Extra Credit for Love Medicine

Will Write for Money. When Erdrich was a child, her father always encouraged her writing and even paid her a nickel for each story she wrote.

Beauty and Talent. In 1990, Erdrich was named one of People Magazine’s 50 Most Beautiful People, alongside others including Tom Cruise, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Princess Diana Spencer.