All of the characters in Love Medicine are motivated by love in some way, even when it works directly against their strongest desires. For example, Rushes Bear, who is married to both Nanapush and Kashpaw, has a rather volatile relationship with Nanapush, which is only made worse by her dislike for Lulu, Nanapush’s niece, whom he also raises. Rushes Bear tries to “punish” Nanapush by spending more time with Kashpaw, but she can’t stay away for very long. “What’s your love medicine?” Lulu asks her Uncle Nanapush. “[Rushes Bear] hates you but you drive her crazy.” Nanapush jokingly says it is his rejection of clocks and “white time,” which means he has extra time to pleasure his wife, but Erdrich’s point is clear: Rushes Bear keeps coming back to Nanapush because she loves him. Similarly, the other characters are driven by love as well, and while their lives may take them far away from the reservation, they are each brought home because of the deep love they feel for their families. With the depiction of love in Love Medicine, particularly that of “love medicines,” a traditional form of Anishinaabe spirituality and “an old Chippewa specialty,” Erdrich ultimately argues that love has the power to overcome anything—including distance, betrayal, and even death.
Most of Love Medicine revolves around the love triangle of Nector Kashpaw, his wife Marie, and his longtime lover Lulu Lamartine. Despite the pain that Nector and Lulu’s affair causes themselves and Marie, their triangle is never broken, which speaks to the lasting power of love. When Nector is just a young man, he falls in love with Lulu, and she makes him “greedy.” There are many girls who would like to date Nector, but he wants only Lulu, and he becomes “selfish” for her. The young couple meet behind the dance house and kiss, and they flow “easily toward each other’s arms.” Their love is natural and strong. However, Nector soon meets Marie when he goes up the convent hill to sell some geese, and he immediately falls in love with her. While Nector doesn’t fully understand it, everything changes when he meets Marie. His whole life begins to “loop around and tangle,” which suggests that love has the ability to completely disrupt one’s life. Nector and Marie marry and immediately begin a family, but he never stops loving Lulu, nor does Lulu stop loving him. They rekindle their affair at key times during their lives, and they even secretly have a son, Lyman, together. Nector’s love for Lulu endures even illness, and when he slips into the dementia of Alzheimer’s disease, Nector never forgets his love for Lulu—or for Marie, to whom he married until the day he dies.
The power of love is perhaps most prominent in Lipsha’s conjuring of the Chippewa “love medicines,” which he hopes will rekindle Nector’s love for Marie and cause him to finally reject Lulu. Of course, Nector never does stop loving Lulu, which again implies the resilience of love, even in the face of Ojibwe “magic.” Lipsha’s “love medicine” consists of the hearts of two geese, which, according to Lipsha, “mate for life.” Lipsha claims that if Marie and Nector each consume the raw hearts of a mated pair of geese, they, too, will mate for life, loving only each other. Lipsha and Marie’s belief in the geese heart ritual underscores the importance of love, loyalty, and mating to the Ojibwe culture as a whole, since the ritual is part of their traditional medicine. However, Lipsha is never able to obtain the hearts from a mated pair of geese, and he is forced to use frozen turkey hearts from the grocery store as a substitute. Marie immediately swallows the raw heart Lipsha presents to her and she encourages Nector to do the same, but Nector is not as easily convinced. Nector is skeptical, even though he belongs to the same tribe and holds the same beliefs, which suggests that his love for Lulu as well as Marie transcends even his most deeply-rooted traditions. His hesitation again speaks to love’s power to transcend all else. Marie claims the heart has been ordered by Nector’s doctor, who insists he needs more iron in his blood, but Nector still won’t swallow the heart. To expedite the process, Marie strikes Nector on the back, between his shoulder blades, hoping it will cause him to swallow. Tragically, Nector chokes on the raw heart and dies, leaving both Marie and Lulu alone and heartbroken. The fact that Marie’s insistence and impatience regarding the ritual (lying about the heart, forcing him to eat it, and causing him to choke by hitting him) is what kills Nector shows the power of love to drive people to do dangerous, destructive things in order to hold onto their loved ones.
After Nector’s death, his ghost comes to visit Marie. “It’s the love medicine, my Lipsha,” Marie says. “It was stronger than we thought. He came back even after death to claim me to his side.” Nector doesn’t just visit Marie, but Lipsha and Lulu, too, which suggests that Marie was not the only one to benefit from the love medicine. Erdrich, however, implies that Lipsha’s love medicine isn’t, strictly speaking, in keeping with the traditional Chippewa ritual of love medicine. Lipsha’s love medicine is, after all, made not from mated geese but from frozen turkeys, and the process does go horribly wrong. In this way, Erdrich shows that it is merely Nector’s love, not Lipsha’s love medicine, that is responsible for Nector’s supernatural abilities. This ultimately suggests that love alone has the power to transcend both time and death.
Love Quotes in Love Medicine
I saw that tears were in her eyes. And that’s when I saw how much grief and love she felt for him. And it gave me a real shock to the system. You see I thought love got easier over the years so it didn’t hurt so bad when it hurt, or feel so good when it felt good. I thought it smoothed out and old people hardly noticed it. I thought it curled up and died, I guess. Now I saw it rear up like a whip and lash.
But when she mentions them love medicines, I feel my back prickle at the danger. These love medicines is something of an old Chippewa specialty. No other tribe has got them down so well. But love medicines is not for the layman to handle. You don’t just go out and get one without paying for it. Before you get one, even, you should go through one hell of a lot of mental condensation. You got to think it over. Choose the right one. You could really mess up your life grinding up the wrong little thing.
As I walked back from the Red Owl with the rock-hard, heavy turkeys, I argued to myself about malpractice. I thought of faith. I thought to myself that faith could be called belief against the odds and whether or not there’s any proof How does that sound? I thought how we might have to yell to be heard by Higher Power, but that’s not saying it’s not there. And that is faith for you. It’s belief even when the goods don’t deliver. Higher Power makes promises we all know they can’t back up, but anybody ever go and slap an old malpractice suit on God? Or the U.S. government? No they don’t. Faith might be stupid, but it gets us through. So what I’m heading at is this. I finally convinced myself that the real actual power to the love medicine was not the goose heart itself but the faith in the cure.
“Love medicine ain’t what brings him back to you. Grandma. No, it’s something else. He loved you over time and distance, but he went off so quick he never got the chance to tell you how he loves you, how he doesn’t blame you, how he understands. It’s true feeling, not no magic. No supermarket heart could have brung him back.”
And so when they tell you that I was heartless, a shameless man-chaser, don’t ever forget this: I loved what I saw. And yes, it is true that I’ve done all the things they say. That’s not what gets them. What aggravates them is I’ve never shed one solitary tear. I’m not sorry. That’s unnatural. As we all know, a woman is supposed to cry.