An Analysis of Love Medicine’s “Lulu”

November 7, 2020 by Essay Writer

Lulu Nanapush Lamartine is a symbolic and admirable Chippewa Woman in Louise Erdrich’s Love Medicine. As a Native Woman character, Lulu reclaims and redefines space that is usually taken up by unjust stereotypes by using her shameless beauty and compassionate sexuality. Margaret Galloway argues that Lulu, as one of the most distinct female characters in Native American fiction is “the future of the Indian woman unrevealed and undefined…Since literature forms a very basic aspect of cultural experience the depiction of Indian Women should be of paramount importance.”[1] Lulu’s character breaks free of westernized norms that have impacted her community and culture. Lulu unapologetically lives a sensual and passionate life that satisfies parts of her feminine experience: lover, daughter, friend and political figure. As a feminist studying the representation of female characters in literature, I will analyze these specific roles in her life, explore how her lifestyle is not easily accepted by societal norms and clarify ways she reclaims space by working against patriarchal pressures.

Lulu As Lover

The societal norms that surround Lulu force judgment on her for her assumed sexual deviance. She tells us: “No one understood my wild and secret ways. They used to say Lulu Lamartine was like a cat, loving no one, only purring to get what she wanted. But that’s not true. I was in love with whole world and all that lived in its rainy arms.”[2]Lulu has loved many, her love is seen by other characters in the book as easy, and maybe even manipulative. But what most misunderstand about Lulu is that sex and men are not all that she desires; it is the love and passion that comes with it. It is the intimacy and beauty that stems from the soul and the intricacy of people’s lives. She is “in love with the whole world”[3] and all the emotions that inhabit it: anger, sadness, jealousy, hurt and want. Lulu’s relationship to men is an expression of her sexuality that strengthens her identity. Her love for the world allows her character substance and fosters her many sexual affairs and marriages. Many women are judged as inconsiderate beings, as erratic and incapable of stable relationships when they have had multiple sexual partners. Lulu’s character transcends these judgments with her appreciation of all the men she has been with. Her relationships are not careless flings. They can be magical, passionate and tender. Jeanne Smith writes: “The vibrant, strongly self-aware Lulu is the best illustration that dissolving physical boundaries can strengthen identity. Lulu posses an exceptional ability to merge with and absorb her environment…Even the men she is famous for chasing are largely just a part of her ability to absorb beauty.”[4] But men do not just act as an aid for Lulu, and Lulu is not an aid for men. She reflects: “There were times I let them in just for being part of the world.”[5] Lulu’s love is a gift; she shares her love so that others can feel the passion, gentleness and generosity that her love can offer. When Lulu sleeps with men, she shares these very pieces of herself with them. Rushes Bear, Lulu’s mother like figure, once told Lulu that “the Woman is complete. Men must come through us to live.”[6] Lulu lets men live through her and she lives through their experience together.

Two men in particular that love and live with and through Lulu are Nector Kashpaw and Moses Pillager. These relationships are examples of how Lulu’s connection to men is not artificial and it is not her selfishness that leads her to being with the many men she has been with. Lulu knows what people say about her but they only view and judge what they see on the surface which does not translate into what really is. What really is, are her relationships to men that hold passion, self-respect, understanding and pain.

When Lulu is young, she falls in love with a mysterious, timeless man named Moses Pillager who lives on a small island in the “dark at the center of a wide irritation of silver water.”[7]She is intrigued by the parts of him that others do not understand or appreciate. He seems to others to be sick, lonely and dangerous. There are even stories of how he “ate his own wife.”[8] Lulu knows he is much older than her and close in relation, but that does not stop her from willingly seeking him out on her own: “Dark, eager, I felt my own power stir.”[9]She gains power by choosing to find him, choosing him as the ageless and beautiful man he is; “too handsome to be real.” Her power extends to Moses, who has been invisible since birth. “His people spoke past him. Nobody ever let out his real name. Nobody saw him. He lived invisible, and he survived.”[10] But Lulu sees him and Moses comes alive and is visible again after Lulu enters his dark world. Together, Moses and Lulu can live in the moment, separate from the world of linear time, rules and judgments. They swim and sleep in the cave, they make love to each other and to nature. The lovers create space for each other to work through their pasts and get to know who they are as people to each other and to themselves. But the world Lulu and Moses create cannot last because Lulu will not leave the rest of the world that spreads beyond the island, the world that she craves to soak in. Lulu’s first attempt to leave the island ends up causing the most pain. Moses does not let her leave and with unwelcome force, he makes her stay longer than she is comfortable with. The strain he ends up causing her forever remains a thorn in her heart. After many years she still feels that: “To this day, I still hurt. I must have rolled in the beds of wild rose, for the tiny thorns—small, yellow—pierced my skin. Their poison is desire and it dissolved in my blood.”[11] Nector Kashpaw is also gifted by the love of Lulu. His life is measured by pleasure, and when it comes to Lulu, she satisfies him in a way nobody else can. Nector’s love for his wife, Marie Lazzare, is everlasting, but he cannot resist returning back to Lulu. She is what drives him to live. Nector feels alive with Lulu, he feels important and useful and says that Lulu ”… brought back my youth.”[12] Nector feels helpless in his home with Marie, where he is an alcoholic and Marie does most of the work—most of the work being to take care of Nector and bringing his health back from the bottom of the barrel. But even Marie’s generosity and love does not let Nector ignore his and Lulu’s relationship. Their “passion overtook them”; and Nector “…found true love with her.”[13] Nector brings love, and with that love, pain into both his and Lulu’s lives. They are each other’s first loves and they struggle to be together their whole lives. However, Nector’s indecision and unwillingness to commit to Lulu lasts throughout their relationship together. At one point, he does try to commit to Lulu, but in the process of leaving Marie and finding Lulu to give her a note that promises his love to her, “till hell freezes over…”[14] he accidentally burns down her beloved and hard-worked-for home. There are many men that Lulu draws into her life, lets into her life and many who are left behind or leave her. Lulu’s sexuality is not a tool she uses to manipulate men or for men to manipulate her. She is, as Smith says, a ”vision of a wholly transpersonal state of being.”[15] Smith talks about how Lulu’s relationships are examples of how her female character “questions even the possibility of imposing boundaries.”[16] Lulu’s story and character makes it clear that she is not in love with the world for its excitement and sex alone. She takes all the painful and joyful aspects of relationships in with grace. Lulu tells us that “I was in love with whole world and all that lived in its rainy arms.”[17] Therefore, her character cuts through the stereotypical boundaries that judge female characters as incapable and manipulative. What makes Lulu’s character so effective in her ways of reclaiming space as a liberated and sexual woman, is her refusal to be apologetic. Lulu declares, “And so when they tell you that I was heartless, a shameless man-chaser, don’t forget this: I loved what I saw.”[18] She owns her own body and spirituality and when society puts her in a category that she doesn’t fit into, she rejects it and will not apologize for a life she lives in the best way she can. Love Medicine is a piece of literature that gives power to Native Woman who proudly expresses her sexuality and and is not inhibited by her true self.

Lulu As Daughter

Most of the characters in Love Medicine are in one way or another connected, and by the look of Lulu’s family tree, she lives in the center. She bears nine children with six different men, all of whom she loves or had loved. Although, it is only men who stem from that center where Lulu resides. Where are the women in Lulu’s life? Growing up, Lulu and her mother’s relationship did not last. Furthermore, none of the other mother figures Lulu encounters support her. Because of that lack of nourishing relationships, Lulu does not easily trust or connect with other Women. Sara Ahmed, a feminist theorist, describes how women who grow up without a support system are often judged as disobedient and self righteously seduce men because they hate themselves.[19] Women who only correspond with men are usually placed in a cowardly category and are exclusively threatening to other women.[20] However, Erdrich provides a life-story that gives Lulu space to reclaim her identity. Ahmed believes that all Women “…have a story to tell. This story can be treated as a teaching tool, as well as a way of teaching us about tools.”[21]It is not the attention or the competition in men that Lulu is searching for, it is the mother she never had that she wants to find. Lulu’s growing up without a mother and other female influence gives readers an insight into how women fall into relationships with men. “I never grew from the curve of my mother’s arms. I still wanted to anchor myself against her. But she had torn herself away from the run of my life like a riverbank. She had vanished, a great surrounding shore, leaving me to spill out alone.”[22] Lulu grew up without her mother, Fleur, and according to Erdrich’s other novel Tracks, Fleur left Lulu as a result of not having the capacity and dedication to sufficiently mother her daughter. Instead of leaving Lulu alone or with other family members, Fleur sends her away to government school which is the start of Lulu’s resentment toward her mother.[23] “It was on that bus [to the government school]…that Lulu Lamartine cried all the tears she would ever cry in her life.”[24] From then on Lulu only encounters discouraging female influences which range from abusive school teachers to her unfriendly aunt. Where did she learn to be the resilient and brave woman that she is? When Lulu is old enough to live on her own, she seeks out men to replace the lost love of her mother with the physical and spiritual validation she gains from them. The one person in her life that parented her was a man, her uncle Nanapush, Lulu says: “I held him near as I might a father, the pattern for all other men.”[25] The only other woman in Lulu’s life growing up was Margaret Kashpaw, also known as Rushes Bear (Nanpush’s wife) who Lulu hated and claims: “I never forgot how hard it was to live beneath the stones of her will.”[26] [1] Lulu may have resented her mother figures but as she grows older she realizes how similar she is to them as a “passionate”, “power-hungry” and independent woman, just as Rushes Bear and Fleur were. “I needed my mother the more I became like her—[a] kind of woman with a sudden body, fierce outright wishes, a surprising heart.”[27] Even with this awareness, Lulu chases after the motherhood she was never given throughout her life. She was robbed of that sense of belonging, appraisal and validation that a daughter should receive from her mother and other female influences. Thus Lulu seeks those needs in her own way by being with one lover after another. Lulu implies that she “wanted to fill her [mother’s] tracks, but luck ran out the holes. My wishes were worn soles.”[28] She wants to feel strong and beautiful and she knows she can find that in the way men treat her, in the way men see her. Lulu knows this, she accepts it and tells us: “I had noticed how the eyes of grown men stuck to me…Dark, eager, I felt my own power stir.”[29] Soon after Lulu escapes from school she begins her journey in seeking out Moses Pillager; in seeking the stolen touch of her mother. She even tells Moses that she came to the island because: “I was looking for my mother.”[30] Lulu wants Moses to love her, cherish her and validate her femininity, just as a daughter might receive from her mother. Lulu’s character is full of empowering forces that deconstruct stereotypes. In her story of growing up, she may be viewed as a woman who is incompetent and disobedient due to being an unruly child and growing up without a mother. When really her character is proving the opposite. Ahmed argues: “When girls exercise their own will, they are judged willful…designated a problem child (a girl who is not willing to obey) such that if there is a problem, she is assumed to be the one behind it.”[31] Therefore the patriarchal dome of shame would put Lulu at fault for not having a mother and accusing her for being a man chaser. Lulu’s awareness and unashamed intentions to find affirmation from men does not invalidate her experiences with her lovers. Her need for motherhood does not imply that she was not loving these men with all her heart or that she was exclusively with them to find her mother, or to please only herself. Her own accomplishments as an independent woman, mother and her friendship with Marie Lazzare towards the end of her life, are positive examples of Lulu’s character dismantling the feminine stereotypes one might put her in with these motherless ideas in mind. Lulu’s motherhood is described as protective, loving and proud towards her children. One of Lulu’s lovers, Beverly Lamartine, observes that: “Lulu managed to make the younger boys obey perfectly. While the older ones adored her to the point that they did not tolerate anything else from anyone else.”[32] Unlike Lulu’s own mother, there are multiple scenes where Lulu puts her life and happiness at risk for the sake of her children. Such as, when Lulu runs back into her burning house to save her youngest son, Lyman.

Lulu and Other Women

Marie and Lulu’s relationship after Nector dies finally gives Lulu a chance to fill her hollowness around female solidarity and motherhood. After almost a lifetime of Lulu not shedding a tear subsequent to losing her mother, Marie enters Lulu’s later life as motherly figure creating a space where the tears that Lulu needs to shed are encouraged and together they cry. In that moment, Lulu feels “for the first time I saw exactly how another woman felt.”[33] With the strength and compassion provided by both women, they are able to see each other for who they are and in their grief of the man they both loved, a friendship blooms. The empowerment developing from Lulu and Marie’s relationship continues when Lulu admits that her love for Marie’s husband is not a burden and not something she will hide. In their blossoming alliance Lulu and Marie bravely share their individual experiences of Nector. Lulu admits that “it took Marie to grow him up.”[34] and how she transformed him from a “drunk” to “tribal chairman,” and “that handsome, distinguished man”[35] whom Lulu fell in love with. As Marie starts to understand Lulu’s position of sleeping with her husband and Lulu understand Marie’s position as the wife, together they find harmony in each other. Karah Stokes writes that many Women portrayed by euro-centric ideas in literature and cinema, are never given solidarity between each other.[36] Stoke’s writes: “Erdrich turns this pattern in a different direction…Focusing… outward, on the internal development of each woman and the connection of both to the earth. Lulu Lamartine and Marie Kashpaw are the Women whose relationship gives a different shape to Love Medicine.”[37] Women’s relationships to each other are mainly familial and most Women are portrayed as jealous of each other and almost always brought together by a man in their life. The man is usually the object of desire that the women fight over, which indicates men are the center of everything and Women cannot work together.[38] Well, Marie and Lulu are in fact brought together by a man, although their relationship carries itself out without a man. While Women are often victimized, Lulu and Marie are not. Lulu loved Nector but was not controlled by him and after he burned her house down she stopped seeing him. Even though she loved him, she let him go. Marie knew Nector wanted to leave her for Lulu, but that did not destroy her and she continued to be the compassionate and strong mother and wife she wanted to be. As their relationship grows Lulu tells us: We mourned him the same way together. That was the point. It was enough. For the first time I saw exactly how another woman felt, and it gave me deep comfort, surprising. It gave me the knowledge that whatever happened the night before, and in the past, would finally be over once my bandages came off.[39] In the tender moment where Marie helps Lulu remove her eye bandages so that she can see again, Marie shares her infinite love as a mother. While she removes the bandages off of Lulu’s eyes, Lulu is seen by Marie “the way a mother must look to her just-born child.”[40] After a lifetime of being isolated from women and searching for her mother in her surrender to men, Lulu is able to find refuge in Marie’s yielding, forgiving and motherly embrace.

Lulu as Political

In “An Eco-Feminist Reading of Love Medicine” Ting Bo magnifies on the patriarchal forces that have integrated themselves into Native Culture and specifically in Native Women’s lives.[41] Bo writes, “In Love Medicine, the land and female characters are not persecuted by patriarch, in other words, patriarchy is the original cause of oppression of nature and Women on reservations.”[42] Bo defines patriarchy as the source of most oppression that happen in the United States; the systems surrounding patriarchy under the euro-american influence especially objectify Women and nature. Bo brings up the passivity that impacts Native Women and how the Allotment Act destroyed people’s sense of self, the earth and all at the hands of the imposing the patriarchal ideas of male leadership and the “nuclear family onto many maternal Native societies, in which property and descent are dominated by women.”[43] Again and again, readers can witness Lulu’s character managing to push back against these patriarchal, colonizing walls by being the powerful, non-conforming and political Woman she is.

Lulu is seemingly disempowered by her community who talk about her as if her multiple husbands and lovers make her powerless and untrustworthy. “…most of her life Lulu had been known as a flirt. And that was putting it mildly. Tongues less kind had more indicting things to say.”[44] Her community creates a surface level perception of Lulu when really, little do they know she is holding together many moving parts of the reservation’s financial securities. Her son, Lyman Lamartine, with the help of Lulu, becomes the head of the Tomahawk Factory. The factory brings many jobs to the Chippewa community and starts to create a somewhat financial stability to the reservation. Lulu guides Lyman on how to run the establishment smoothly and make the workers and community satisfied. She helps him figure out how to offer and spread jobs equally to families on the reservation and quickly establish equal pay. Lyman describes his mother as: “You know Lulu Lamartine if you know life is made up of three kinds of people—those who live it, those afraid to, those in between. My mother is the first. She has no fear, and that’s what’s wrong with her.”[45] Lyman is frustrated with Lulu because she is controlling the situation when really he is just frustrated with the responsibility of keeping the factory together and having his mother, a Woman, be the one who is actually in charge and knowing he is incompetent. Lulu’s political stance, confidence and admirability are not common in the themes that eurocentric americans have stereotyped onto Native Women. Galloway argues that the Native Woman stereotype is usually split among two roles; the squaw and the Indian princess. These roles are based purely out of the white-male gaze that views Native Women as either the domestic Indian Woman who does all the cleaning and cooking for her husband, or the Indian princess who needs to be rescued from her tribe by a white man who will keep her rich and safe.[46] Galloway speaks to this in her articles and claims that Love Medicine demonstrates: …the ability of Indian Women to survive under adversity. It is stated that the image of Native American Women has been dictated by the Western European male to suit his cultural understanding and desire for dominance. Until the Native American women overturn the shallow stereotypes that have served as their image, their voice will be lost in the continuing history of a people.[47]

Lulu’s character takes on the role of hyper-femininity that is most often sexualized, objectified and undervalued and replaces the shallow stereotype with a competent woman who is uninhibited sexually, politically involved and is anything but a squaw or Indian Princess. Lulu has always been fighting for her rights. From the day she ran away from the government school, to refusing to leave her land where her home was after Nector burnt it down, and finally to providing jobs for her Chippewa community. Not only does she fight back by living her true self, bringing people together and her refusal to meet society’s standards, she also knows who she is fighting for and who she is fighting against. After resisting to sell her land and move from her property, she asserts: “I never let the United States Census in my door, even though they say it’s good for Indians. Well, quote me. I say that every time they counted us they knew the precise number to get rid of.”[48] In her fight to try and stay on her land and her continuation to fight back against the oppressor, it is obvious that Lulu’s character Erdrich has created is breaking up the unjust pattern of the historical reputation Native Women have been given.

Lulu as Inspiration

Lulu shamelessly and courageously lives her life. Lulu tells us: “When I came back to the reservation after my long years gone…I watched my own face float over the grass, traveling alongside me in the dust of the bus window, and I grinned, showed my teeth. They could not cage me anymore.”[49] Nobody can cage Lulu, she is a magnetic life force in this novel that is satisfying her cravings, accomplishing her dreams and holding onto her identity of being Native and Woman. Galloway argues that women are not given space to be self-governing beings: “The image of Native American women has been dictated by the Western Europe male to suit his cultural understanding and desire for dominance.”[50] Therefore, Galloway persists that literature is a sufficient instrument that can remove that image because Native women need to be portrayed accurately as individuals and not defined by the stereotypes commonly placed on them.[51] I believe Erdrich, in her literature, depicts her female characters, Lulu in particular, as charismatic Women who know what they want and who are willing to live their lives outside of patriarchal restraints. Through the re-claiming of space in being Woman as lover, Woman as friend, Woman as Native and Woman as a fearless literary character, Lulu gives a new story, a fresh start to how Women can be portrayed as autonomous and fierce, with no shame attached. Through storytelling and writing Louise Erdrich has gifted the literary world with a voice lead by Women who re-tell, re-store and re-be the force of love that they are.

Works Cited

Ahmed, Sara. Living a Feminist Life. Durham: Duke University Press, 2017.

Erdrich Louise. Love Medicine. New York: HarperCollins, 1984.

Erdrich Louise. Tracks. New York: Henry Holt & Co, 1988.

Galloway, Margaret E. “American Indian Women in Literature: Stereotypical Characterizations of Insufficient Self-Determination” Speech, Annual American Indian Conference, Mankato, MN May 7, 1987.

Smith, Jeanne. “Transpersonal Selfhood: The Boundaries of Identity in Louise Erdrich’s Love Medicine.” Studies in American Indian Literatures 3 (Winter 1991): 1-15.

Stokes, Karah. “What about the sweetheart?: The ‘”Different Shape”’ of Anishinabe Two Sisters Stories in Louise Erdrich’s Love Medicine and Tales of Burning Love.” Oxford Journals 24 (Summer 1999): 89-105.


[1] Margaret Galloway, “American Indian Women in Literature: Stereotypical Characterizations of Insufficient Self-Determination” ( Speech, Annual American Indian Conference, Mankato, MN May 1987). 7.7

[2] Louise Erdrich, Love Medicine ( New York: HarperCollins, 1984), 276.

[3] Ibid. 276

[4] Jeanne Smith, “Transpersonal Selfhood: The Boundaries of Identity in Louise Erdrich’s Love Medicine,” Studies in American Indian Literatures 3 (Winter 1991): 18.

[5] Erdrich 217

[6] Ibid. 82

[7] Ibid.73

[8] Ibid. 75

[9] Ibid. 75

[10] Ibid. 81

[11] Ibid. 82

[12] Ibid. 126

[13] Ibid. 120

[14] Ibid. 140

[15] Smith. 18

[16] Ibid. 17

[17] Erdrich. 276

[18] Erdrich. 108

[19] Sara Ahmed, Living a Feminist Life (Durham: Duke University Press, 2017), 67.

[20] Ibid. 67

[21] Ibid. 67

[22] Erdrich. 68

[23] Louise Erdrich, Tracks (New York: Henry Holt & Co, 1988), 146.

[24] Erdrich, Love Medicine. 280

[25] Ibid. 69

[26] Ibid. 70

[27] Ibid. 71

[28] Ibid. 68

[29] Ibid. 75

[30] Ibid. 78

[31] Ahmed. 61

[32] Ibid. 118

[33] Ibid. 297

[34] Ibid. 73

[35] Ibid. 277

[36] Karah Stokes, “What about the sweetheart?: The ‘”Different Shape”’ of Anishinabe Two Sisters Stories in Louise Erdrich’s Love Medicine and Tales of Burning Love,” Oxford Journals 24 (Summer 1999) : 91.

[37] Ibid. 92

[38] Ibid. 92

[39] Erdrich. 297

[40] Ibid. 297

[41] Ting Bo, “An Eco-Feminist Reading of Love Medicine,” Journal of Language Teaching and Research 7 (May 2016): 505.

[42] Ibid. 506

[43] Ibid. 506

[44] Erdrich. 277

[45] Ibid. 302

[46] Margaret E Galloway, “American Indian Women in Literature: Stereotypical Characterizations of Insufficient Self-Determination” (Speech, Annual American Indian Conference, Mankato, MN May 7, 1987).

[47] Ibid. 1

[48] Erdrich. 287

[49] Louise Erdrich, Love Medicine (New York: HarperCollins, 1984), 69.

[50] Galloway. 11

[51] Ibid. 7

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