Analysis Of The Critical Interpretations Of Louise Erdrich’s Novel Love Medicine

April 20, 2022 by Essay Writer

Love Medicine weaves together the tales of three generations of the Chippewa people. Love Medicine examines the struggle to balance Native-American tradition with the modern world.


Louise Erdrich was the oldest out of her seven siblings. She was born in Little Falls, Minnesota on July 6, 1954. She later moved to Wahpeton, North Dakota which was where her parents taught at the Bureau of Indian Affairs School. Erdrich was given a nickel a story by her dad and her mother made book covers for her first couple of books she wrote as a young adult. Erdrich continued her writing in high school by keeping a personal journal. In 1972, Erdrich was among some of the first women admitted to Dartmouth College (John Hopkins University). She majored in English and creative writing, and took courses in the Native American Studies program that was led by her future husband, Michael Dorris (John Hopkins University). She graduated from Dartmouth in 1976.

Erdrich’s marriage to Dorris also created a literary relationship between them. Dorris became a collaborator and agent for Erdrich. They wrote a romantic fiction book under the name Milou North to earn extra money. Milou was a compounding of their first names, and north referred to their location (North Dakota). They also collaborated on Erdrich’s other novels and Dorris offered editorial suggestions on her writing. However only two books contain both Erdrich’s and Dorris’s names, The Crown of Columbus and Route Two, a collection of travel essays. Erdrich and Dorris had three children together in addition to the three children Dorris adopted when he was single, before their marriage. Unfortunately, according to Your dictionary Biography, the couple separated in 1995 in the wake of allegations of sexual abuse brought against Dorris by some of his children. After an investigation left the accusations unresolved, Dorris committed suicide in 1997.


The main themes that were prevalent in this story included, character development, religion, and alcohol. At first Nector and Lulu were sent to boarding schools off the reservation. Nevertheless both of them return to the reservation instead of embracing the western Christian lifestyle that has been drilled into them. Their education left them with a last effect of a desire to raise large families. They wanted their kids to be involved in the American lifestyle, but still keep their traditional ways. Marie also undergoes character development. She wants to live with the nuns and reject her native tribal heritage. Yet by the end of the At the end novel Marie has come to fully embraced her Native American Chippewa life. Marie often speaks the traditional Chippewa language.

In a like manner, religion, specifically Catholic, is a recurring theme throughout Love Medicine. Gordie made himself a crown of thorns just like the way Jesus did. He is presented with Christ-like characteristics. His mom Marie even hoped he would resurrect himself on the third day after his death (like Jesus did) after a Gordie had Lysol binge. Additionally, Love Medicine has multiple references to drowning which can correlate to baptism.

This story contained a lot of alcohol abuse, specifically from the male characters. Nector claimed that alcohol was his escape for him when he was younger. As the characters got increasingly unhappy, their alcohol consumption correlated by getting worse. Gordie turned to alcohol after June died and was so desperate to escape reality that he ended up driving while drunk in search for more alcohol. The prominent alcohol abuse in the story really calls attention to the severity of characters’ sadness and depression.

Louise Erdrich is enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, a federally recognized tribe of the Anishinaabe (also known as Ojibwe and Chippewa) (Hopkins 2), which is why I think she felt a desire to write Love Medicine. She has a deep connection to Native Americans (especially the Chippewa tribe) because of her parents teaching at the Bureau of Indian Affairs School and her studying Native American Studies in college. She has a unique outlook on Native Americans since the culture has had such a big impact on her life. These aspects are why I hypothesize she felt compelled to write Love Medicine.

Critical Interpretations

Two critical interpretations with opposing opinions of Love Medicine really stood out to me. One is from Leslie Marmon Silko, who was the first woman Native American to publish a novel. The other interpretation is from Mary Anne Carter, who is the 12th chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts.

Leslie Marmon Silko was not entirely pleased by Erdrich’s work. The structure of Love Medicine was inspired by the works of William Faulkner. Faulkners techniques that Erdrich adapted had been “unprecedented” (Silko). Leslie Marmon Silko criticized Louise Erdrich for “being more interested in technique than in the problems experienced by American Indians” (Silko). Silko assumed that novels written by Native Americans should be specifically about Native Americans. According to Silko Erdrich only scarcely talks about “the forced division of lands according to the Dawes Act (1887) and subsequent land-purchase scandals, as well as abuse by the Catholic Church and high rates of alcoholism, these issues come through as background” (Silko).

This interpretation came out very quickly after Love Medicine was released (for the first time). Historically Indians have been known to be very mistreated by white people specifically and I think the reason Silko was so upset by it was because Erdrich identified as part of the Chippewa tribe. Silko probably wanted a better representation of all the ways Native Americans have been treated in the past, instead, in Silko’s eyes, Erdrich just barely touched the subject, which can be seen as an insult.

On the other hand, Mary Anne Carter praises Edrich on her outstanding ability as an other. Carter is extremely impressed with the way Erdrich was able to revise Love Medicine multiple times since it was first released in 1984. There have been several editions of the novel published since then. Carter says, “By allowing these characters and others to tell their own stories with varied voices and perspectives, Erdrich created both memorable individuals and a testament to the ways that family can bind us together.” (Carter 7). Mary Anne Carter was genuinely impressed by Erdrich’s way of tying love, family, and religion all together into one story.

Useful Resources

The resource that I found the most interesting was the YouTube video I watched about Louise Erdrich’s culture ( It was called Culture : Louise Erdrich. It was about a seven minute video that gave a general idea about who Erdrich is as a person and how she became an author. This source helped me construct my biography and provided very helpful insight on why Erdrich was inspired to write Love Medicine. The video elaborates on her Native American past and how that has affected her writing. Erdrich talks about how her college studies about Native Americans were one of the main things that really peaked her allurement. Erdrich talks about how her parents were great storytellers, this led to a huge inspiration to Erdrich as a child because it manifested into her telling/making her own stories that she wrote down. Her parents always encouraged and supported her throughout her whole writing career that started during elementary school.

I also found the Overview of Love Medicine by NEA Big Read very instructive. The article was written by Mary Anne Carter who is the twelfth chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. She provided very positive feedback on Erdrich’s work that I also agreed with. Carter’s article helped validate my opinions on Love Medicine. This resource was very helpful during the critical interpretation part of the assignment. Carter shared her personal critical analysis of the story. This also included an interview she had with Erdrich. Carter asked Erdrich about the geographical scene descriptions in the story and Erdrich replied with “I grew up in the Red River Valley, where you really just have a flat tableland and horizon. To me, the intimacy of the detail on the ground was always so wonderful and beautiful. The changing landscape of the clouds was something that was always there for me. So I didn’t grow up wandering among trees, or with streams of water around me; I grew up really looking at the sky.” (Erdrich 3). This insight from the resource helped show how the setting in Love Medicine was created.

Lastly, I found the Love Medicine Plot Analysis published by Course Hero to be intuitive. Love Medicine used multiple different points of views. The story is told in Third Person Limited Omniscient and First Person Central Narrator. The narrators alternate. When using first person point of view, Nector Kashpaw, Lyman Lamartine, Albertine Johnson, Marie Lazarre Kashpaw, Lulu Nanapush Lamartine, and Lipsha Morrissey all had a different first person perspective.

The structure was confusing and complex to me. I had to reread pages multiple times. The Course Hero resource helped me figure out what was happening when Erdrich was switching between the first-and third-person narration. This resource helped me keep track of the overall plot of the story through the multiple different points of views from the narrators. It helped with some clarification questions that I had.


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