People have never understood Lulu Lamartine. They often call her “a cat” and say she is incapable of loving anyone, but that isn’t true. Lulu is in love with everyone and everything. Lulu claims she is not cruel, nor is she “a shameless man-chaser,” and she doesn’t want people to forget how she has loved. Still, Lulu knows it isn’t exactly her behavior that has surprised people over the years; it is her absolute refusal to apologize or shed a single tear. It isn’t right for a woman not to cry, they say.
This passage again points to Lulu’s oppression as a woman in a sexist society. Lulu’s behavior doesn’t align with what is considered acceptable behavior for a woman, and she is punished and degraded for it and made to feel like a “man-chaser.” Lulu’s refusal to apologize or change her behavior is evidence of her strength—she refuses to live her life on anyone’s terms but her own.
“I’m going to tell you about the men,” Lulu says, and the “handsome, distinguished man who burnt my house down.” Nector had burned Lulu’s house down not long after she married her third and final husband. Lulu’s head was burnt bald in the fire, and it was all Nector’s fault.
Lulu’s perspective is somewhat different than Nector’s, as she claims it is all his fault. Notably, Lulu had married Beverly yet told no one (this is the first time their marriage is mentioned), which again reflects her independence—she isn’t looking for permission or validation in her relationships.
Nector was Lulu’s first love. She remembers meeting him behind the dance hall to kiss, and she remembers when she realized he was seeing someone else. After Nector took up with Marie, Lulu went to live with Moses Pillager, but when Moses refused to move off the island, she married “a riffraff Morrissey for hurt and spite.” When Lulu married the second time, she did so out of “fondness,” but she always made a point to avoid Nector.
Each of Lulu’s relationships and marriages were, in essence, attempts to either ignore or get back at Nector, which is further evidence of her longstanding love for him. Lulu claims to have married her second husband, Henry, because she was “fond” of him, but Lulu doesn’t say she loved him. Instead, Lulu seems to have reserved her love for Nector alone.
Lulu’s second husband was Henry Lamartine, and he was killed when his car stalled on the train tracks. Of Lulu’s eight sons, not one of them was the “factual” child of Henry, but he had claimed them all the same. It has been 26 years since Lulu has lived in Henry Lamartine’s house. Henry had built the house on tribal land, and after he died, it was where Nector came to visit Lulu, slipping through the window late at night.
Lulu doesn’t seem to believe that Henry committed suicide, as she thinks his car simply stalled on the tracks. Marie believes that Henry killed himself because of Lulu’s infidelity, but Lulu seems oblivious to this. Lulu seems to have more memories of Nector in the house than Henry, which again underscores Lulu and Nector’s lasting love.
Although no one knows it, Lulu found a dead body in the woods when she was a child. She told no one about the dead body and returned the next day. The man still sat near her playhouse, and she removed his hat to make sure he was still dead. His eyes had clouded over, and Lulu put his hat back and went about cleaning her playhouse. It was late summer, about the time to leave for the government school. Lulu knew that some kids never came back from the school, and that is why she did what she did.
Lulu’s discovery of the dead man is clearly linked with her memories of the residential school. She knows that some kids never come back from the school, which is because many of the children are killed outright or die from neglect. Lulu seems to think that her own death at the school is a possibility, which is why she is so curious about the dead body.
Lulu went to the dead body and pulled the old red scarf holding his pants up. The scarf fell to the ground and the man’s pants popped open. Startled, Lulu jumped back. Now, she has absolutely no idea what she saw, if anything, or how long she stayed with the body. Not long after, Lulu got on the bus to go to the government school and began to cry. She cried all the tears she would ever cry, and afterward, her eyes simply dried up.
Not only is Lulu curious about death, she also seems to be curious about sex as well, which is why she opens the man’s pants. Lulu seems somewhat ashamed of this curiosity, as she immediately runs away, but the fact that she doesn’t cry until she boards the bus to the school again associates death with the residential schools.
Lulu has always been happy, but Nector has been the one exception to this general rule. Still, Lulu could not turn him away, and he spent five years sneaking in her window after Henry’s death. During this time, Lyman was born “half Kashpaw,” which is why he is so good with money, Lulu says. Soon, however, Nector proved to be a politician, and their love suffered.
Lulu feels that Nector should have found a way to stop her eviction from the Lamartine land, but Nector considers his work on the tribal council completely separate from his love for Lulu. Lyman is Nector’s son, and both Lyman and Nector suspect this, but Nector never does claim him, which again underscores the connection between the Lamartines and Kashpaws.
Lulu has never believed in “human measurement,” and she doesn’t believe in “numbering God’s creatures.” She absolutely refuses to let United States census takers in the house, and she believes that the only reason the government counts Native Americans is so they know how many “to get rid of.” Because of this, Lulu immediately disliked the government surveyors who came to measure the land where Henry’s house sat. Henry never did buy the land officially because he didn’t care much for measuring either. Henry believed just as Lulu does: if you want to start measuring land, you must “measure right” and realize that every inch of it “belongs to the Indians.”
Erdrich juxtaposes the seizure of Henry’s house and land against the largescale seizure of Native American land by the United States government. Erdrich’s language and reference to “human measurement” and “numbering God’s creatures” connotes the government practices of blood quantum and the measuring of Native blood, but it also connotes the genocide perpetrated by the government. The United States has already killed large numbers of Native Americans, and Lulu has no reason to believe they wouldn’t do it again.
After Lulu received the eviction notice signed by Nector, he came to the house to talk to her. He claimed the eviction meant nothing and begged for her to let him in. He said the tribe was willing to move Lulu and the house, but she had refused to move. The Chippewas had already been moved from the other side of the Great Lakes, and she would not move one more inch west for anyone. She intended to stay right where she was.
Lulu’s refusal to move further west is a reference to the Trail of Tears and the forced relocation of indigenous people from their Native land to areas west of the Mississippi that had been deemed “Indian land.” Lulu’s resistance is further evidence of her strength—even though she is expected to be weak and submissive as a woman, Lulu won’t budge.
Soon after, Henry’s brother, Beverly, came to visit and claimed he wanted to get married. He had been waiting for Lulu for years, he said, and she believed him. She always had a soft spot for Beverly, and she thought he would make a fairly easy husband. Lulu told Nector when he came to visit that she was going to marry Beverly, and he looked at her with a coldness in his eyes that said he would kill both Lulu and Beverly if she did.
Nector’s aggressive reaction to Lulu’s decision to marry Beverly is also evidence of the violence against women in the Native American community. Nector never does act on any desire to hurt either Lulu or Beverly, but the thought is clearly there. Nector has no intention of leaving Marie, but he still expects Lulu to remain available to him.
The tribe wanted to build a factory on the land where Henry’s house stood that manufactured “equipment of false value.” The factory was to make beaded bracelets and “plastic war clubs. Dreamstuff,” Lulu says, so she went to the tribal council to fight. When she got there, Nector formally recognized Lulu on the floor, allowing her to speak. “Mrs. Lamartine has the floor,” Nector had said, and Lulu heard someone remark that she also had half the men on it.
Lulu’s argument that the Native trinkets the factory intends to manufacture are “Dreamstuff” of “false value” implies that the trinkets do not paint an authentic picture of Native culture and identity. The snide comment the man makes when Nector gives Lulu the “floor” is yet another dig at her promiscuity and an effort to further marginalize her.
Lulu argued her case to the tribal council. Their tomahawk factory “mocked” them all, she said, and everything in it would be of “false value.” She said that the Lamartines have always lived on that land and her family deserved to stay. Lulu heard the crowd whispering about her sons and their different fathers. “Ain’t the youngest Nector’s?” someone asked. Lulu stood up straight and faced the council. She offered to name each of the fathers, right there in front of the entire council, and the men grew visibly nervous. Some had forgotten that Lulu even had their sons, but she hadn’t.
Lulu’s account of her argument to the tribal council again reflects her strength. Lulu will not back down in the face of a panel of men, and she tirelessly argues for their collective culture and Native identity just as fiercely as she does for her own home and reputation. Lulu’s refusal to deny her sexual past and her willingness to publicly name the fathers of her sons suggests that she is not ashamed of her past, regardless of how others view it.
The council quickly decided to offer Lulu monetary restitution, and it wasn’t long after that her house burned to the ground. After the fire, Lulu had wished that Beverly had been there to stop it, but he was back in Minneapolis. Lulu had already married Beverly with her sons as witnesses, but after a week, Beverly told her that he already had a wife. She was furious and sent her son, Gerry, back to Minnesota with Beverly to make sure he got a divorce. Lulu had no idea who Beverly’s wife was, but Lulu was sure that she needed Beverly more than her.
Beverly’s secret marriage to Lulu is more evidence of the power and messy complexity of love. Beverly openly admits to loving his wife, Elsa, but he has also been in love with Lulu for most of his adult life, which underscores loves power to make people do unreasonable or ill-advised things. Beverly obviously knows that marrying Lulu is bound to hurt both Elsa and Lulu, but he is compelled to marry Lulu anyway because he loves her so much.
Beverly and Gerry never did come back from Minnesota, and Lulu is pretty sure that Beverly somehow got Gerry thrown in jail. This thought, however, doesn’t upset Lulu too much. She knows that her son can never be confined to a cell for very long. Even though she can’t prove it, Lulu knows that Nector was the one to burn down her house because she could see it in his eyes.
Lulu implies that Nector burned her house down on purpose, which is clearly more evidence of violence against women—even if Nector has convinced himself it was an accident. Erdrich never does reveal what happens to Beverly, but it is King, not Beverly, who gets Gerry in trouble with the law.
On the day Nector burned down Lulu’s house, all the boys were gone except for Lyman, the youngest. Lulu had left Lyman in the house for just a moment and ran next door to trade some rice for cigarettes and eggs. She agreed to have a cup of coffee with her neighbor, and then she noticed the smoke billowing from the windows. Lulu ran into the flaming house, looking for Lyman, and finally found him hiding in a back closet. She got him out of the house and fell in the front yard, her hair singed and gone. The reservation’s fire truck was broken that day, although Lulu supposes “that was their plan.”
Lulu firmly believes that both Nector and the tribal council burned her house down on purpose to get her off of the land; thus, the broken fire truck is merely part of their “plan” to conveniently clear her land. Tragically, Nector nearly kills Lyman in the process, who, ironically, also happens to be Nector’s own son, which again underscores the deep connection between tribe and family.
After the fire, people in town were kind to Lulu and even offered to take her in. She refused, however, and instead stayed on the land in a tiny shack made from tin siding. Each of Lulu’s boys stayed with her, and they lived there until the tribe built Lulu a new house on a better piece of land overlooking the entire town. “I accepted their restitution,” Lulu says.
Lulu holds out and resists, and while she doesn’t exactly get what she wants (she would have rather stayed in Henry’s house on the same land), Lulu’s “restitution” is evidence of her strength and power.
When Lulu turned 65, she began to go blind. She was able to get a small apartment at the senior living complex, and her sons helped her move in. Lulu’s sons bought her some used furniture, and she bought some pictures to hang on the wall, including a copy of Plunge of the Brave.
The fact the Lulu hangs a copy of the Plunge of the Brave—the painting that depicts Nector—on the wall so many years later suggests that Nector has not gotten out of the painting after all. In fact, the permanence of the painting (it hangs in the state capitol and is obviously reprinted), which symbolizes the oppression of indigenous people by white society, suggests that Nector will never get out of the painting, and this bleakly implies that indigenous people will always be discriminated against, in some way, by white society.