Love Medicine

Love Medicine

by

Louise Erdrich

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The Plunge of the Brave Symbol Analysis

The Plunge of the Brave Symbol Icon

The Plunge of the Brave is the painting Nector sits as model for, and it symbolizes the racism that Native American people face, but, more specifically, it also symbolizes the negative representation of Native Americans in popular culture, such as in arts and entertainment. Nector is initially excited to sit for the painting, until he is asked to remove his clothes and pose nearly naked. Then, Nector is painted as a brave man jumping from a rocky cliff to certain death to the river below. The painting, which depicts Nector’s demise, hangs in the state capitol in Bismarck, and to him, it perfectly captures Custer’s famous saying: “The only good Indian is a dead Indian.”

Like The Plunge of the Brave, Nector’s demise is also represented in the Hollywood film he acts in, in which he is asked to grab his heart and fall dead off a horse. Furthermore, this popular trope of killing Indians is reflected in the childhood game of cowboys and Indians that Gordie and Aurelia play as children, in which they try to hang June from a tree in the backyard, and this game undoubtedly is rooted in films similar to the one Nector acts in. After Nector sees The Plunge of the Brave for the first time, he is shocked and angry, and he vows to “get out” of the painting, a metaphor for America’s racist society. Of course, Nector is never able to “get out” or escape the racism of American society, and this is evident years later, when Lulu moves into the senior living complex and hangs a copy of The Plunge of the Brave on her living room wall. Nector is still in the painting both literally and figuratively, and as long as the painting exists, the negative representation of Native Americans in popular culture continues, further fueling and perpetuating racism against Native American people.

The Plunge of the Brave Quotes in Love Medicine

The Love Medicine quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Plunge of the Brave. 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.
The Plunge of the Brave Quotes

I could not believe it, later, when she showed me the picture. Plunge of the Brave, was the title of it. Later on, that picture would become famous. It would hang in the Bismarck state capitol. There I was, jumping off a cliff, naked of course, down into a rocky river. Certain death. Remember Custer’s saying? The only good Indian is a dead Indian? Well, from my dealings with whites I would add to that quote: “The only interesting Indian is dead, or dying by falling backwards off a horse.”

Related Characters: Nector Kashpaw (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Plunge of the Brave
Page Number: 120
Explanation and Analysis:
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The Plunge of the Brave Symbol Timeline in Love Medicine

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Plunge of the Brave appears in Love Medicine. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
The Plunge of the Brave
Tribal Connection and Family Ties Theme Icon
Native Culture, Assimilation, and Racism Theme Icon
...from a horse. A famous painter even painted his portrait once. The painting is called The Plunge of the Brave , and it hangs in the Bismarck state capital. It depicts a naked Native American... (full context)
Native Culture, Assimilation, and Racism Theme Icon
When Nector first saw The Plunge of the Brave , he thought of Custer’s saying—“the only good Indian is a dead Indian”—and he refused... (full context)
The Good Tears Part 1
Native Culture, Assimilation, and Racism Theme Icon
...furniture, and she bought some pictures to hang on the wall, including a copy of Plunge of the Brave . (full context)