Love Medicine

Love Medicine

by

Louise Erdrich

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Sister Leopolda Character Analysis

A nun at the Sacred Heart Convent. Sister Leopolda is a cruel and abusive woman, and she sponsors Marie when she decides to join the convent as a young girl. Sister Leopolda carries a long wooden pole meant for opening high windows, but instead of its intended use, she uses the pole to beat Satan out of her young students. Sister Leopolda convinces Marie that she is more vulnerable to the evil of the Devil simply because she is Native American, and she subjects Marie to continued violence to bring her closer to God. She scalds Marie with boiling water and stabs her through the palm of the hand with a fire poker before knocking her unconscious. Sister Leopolda covers up her abuse by telling the other nuns Marie had been spontaneously struck with the wounds of stigmata. Marie leaves the convent soon after, but she returns to visit Sister Leopolda years later on her deathbed. Leopolda is still cruel, despite her failing health, and she aggressively beats a metal spoon on her bedframe to ward off evil. She levels racist insults at Marie and insists she will spend eternity burning in hell. Sister Leopolda represents Christianity within the novel, and her racist and abusive approach paints both Leopolda and her religion in a negative light. Sister Leopolda and the Sacred Heart Convent should offer spiritual guidance and support to the Native community in which they serve, but they prove instead to be just another way to assimilate the Native people to white culture, oppressing and further marginalizing them in the process.

Sister Leopolda Quotes in Love Medicine

The Love Medicine quotes below are all either spoken by Sister Leopolda or refer to Sister Leopolda. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Tribal Connection and Family Ties Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Harper Perennial edition of Love Medicine published in 2016.
Saint Marie Quotes

So when I went there, I knew the dark fish must rise. Plumes of radiance had soldered on me. No reservation girl had ever prayed so hard. There was no use in trying to ignore me any longer. I was going up there on the hill with the black robe women. They were not any lighter than me. I was going up there to pray as good as they could. Because I don’t have that much Indian blood. And they never thought they’d have a girl from this reservation as a saint they’d have to kneel to. But they’d have me. And I’d be carved in pure gold. With ruby lips. And my toenails would be little pink ocean shells, which they would have to stoop down off their high horse to kiss.

Related Characters: Marie Lazarre / Marie Kashpaw (speaker), Sister Leopolda
Page Number: 43
Explanation and Analysis:

I was that girl who thought the black hem of her garment would help me rise. Veils of love which was only hate petrified by longing—that was me. I was like those bush Indians who stole the holy black hat of a Jesuit and swallowed little scraps of it to cure their fevers. But the hat itself carried smallpox and was killing them with belief. Veils of faith! I had this confidence in Leopolda. She was different. The other Sisters had long ago gone blank and given up on Satan. He slept for them. They never noticed his comings and goings. But Leopolda kept track of him and knew his habits, minds he burrowed in, deep spaces where he hid. She knew as much about him as my grandma, who called him by other names and was not afraid.

Related Characters: Marie Lazarre / Marie Kashpaw (speaker), Sister Leopolda
Page Number: 45
Explanation and Analysis:
Love Medicine Quotes

It was Grandma Kashpaw who thought of it in the end. She knows things. Although she will not admit she has a scrap of Indian blood in her, there’s no doubt in my mind she’s got some Chippewa. How else would you explain the way she’ll be sitting there, in front of her TV story, rocking in her armchair and suddenly she turns on me, her brown eyes hard as lake-bed flint.

“Lipsha Morrissey,” she’ll say, “you went out last night and got drunk.”

How did she know that? I’ll hardly remember it myself. Then she’ll say she just had a feeling or ache in the scar of her hand or a creak in her shoulder. She is constantly being told things by little aggravations in her joints or by her household appliances.

Page Number: 236
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Love Medicine LitChart as a printable PDF.
Love Medicine PDF

Sister Leopolda Character Timeline in Love Medicine

The timeline below shows where the character Sister Leopolda appears in Love Medicine. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Saint Marie
Native Culture, Assimilation, and Racism Theme Icon
God and Religion  Theme Icon
...nuns who can’t get along in other churches, so it doesn’t really surprise Marie that Sister Leopolda has been placed there. (full context)
Native Culture, Assimilation, and Racism Theme Icon
God and Religion  Theme Icon
Marie thinks that Sister Leopolda is just the nun to help her “rise.” Leopolda knows all about the “Dark One,”... (full context)
Native Culture, Assimilation, and Racism Theme Icon
God and Religion  Theme Icon
Sister Leopolda is the nun that has sponsored Marie to come up the hill to the convent.... (full context)
Native Culture, Assimilation, and Racism Theme Icon
God and Religion  Theme Icon
Female Oppression and Strength  Theme Icon
Marie arrives at the Sacred Heart Convent, and Sister Leopolda answers the door. She leads Marie into the kitchen and tells her that she will... (full context)
Native Culture, Assimilation, and Racism Theme Icon
God and Religion  Theme Icon
As Marie bends to grab the cup, she has a strange feeling. She sees Sister Leopolda lift the poker and hears it scrape the metal of the stove above. Then Marie... (full context)
Native Culture, Assimilation, and Racism Theme Icon
God and Religion  Theme Icon
Sister Leopolda tells Marie that it is time to bake, and two other nuns come in the... (full context)
Native Culture, Assimilation, and Racism Theme Icon
God and Religion  Theme Icon
Sister Leopolda opens the oven and reaches for the bread with the long poker. As she bends... (full context)
God and Religion  Theme Icon
...couch in Mother Superior’s office “being worshipped” by the nuns. As Marie opens her eyes, Sister Leopolda goes to her. She has told the others of Marie’s “passion,” Leopolda says, and how... (full context)
Flesh and Blood
God and Religion  Theme Icon
Marie had heard that Sister Leopolda was sick and dying, but she still couldn’t think of one good reason to go... (full context)
God and Religion  Theme Icon
Others look to Sister Leopolda like she is some kind of saint, but Marie knows better. Sister Leopolda has to... (full context)
God and Religion  Theme Icon
Female Oppression and Strength  Theme Icon
...the Sacred Heart Convent and are greeted by a pleasant nun. They are shown to Sister Leopolda ’s room, where the old nun sits in complete darkness. Leopolda does not at first... (full context)
Native Culture, Assimilation, and Racism Theme Icon
God and Religion  Theme Icon
Marie sits near Sister Leopolda and tells her that she feels sorry for her illness. Leopolda tells Marie that she... (full context)
Native Culture, Assimilation, and Racism Theme Icon
God and Religion  Theme Icon
Female Oppression and Strength  Theme Icon
Sister Leopolda tells Marie that it is her husband who has done well in life, not Marie,... (full context)
Native Culture, Assimilation, and Racism Theme Icon
God and Religion  Theme Icon
Female Oppression and Strength  Theme Icon
As Sister Leopolda bangs the iron spoon on the bed, Marie knows that she must have the spoon.... (full context)