6 November 2018
Waves Hold Us Together
Louise Erdrich writes a powerful story of family and overcoming in her novel Love Medicine. The novel embodies and represents water in more way than one. Erdrich uses water in powerful ways, building the story through symbolism and metaphors. The chapters all flow in different directions and yet still come together like streams meeting to create a larger river flowing stronger together. Water is life destroying and comes with great sadness. And finally, water brings clean and fresh outlooks to life, bringing people home to where they belong. Water is powerful and embodies so many emotions. Erdrich creates an influential novel by choosing the powerful symbol, water, to represent and build so many stories.
Love Medicine is a novel made up of many differing viewpoints and stories all coming together to create one body, like a river. The chapters of the novel could be described as small creeks all flowing together slowly to create one large river together telling the story. The chapters each contribute their own “minerals” or pieces and viewpoints of the story to the main picture and rooting story throughout the novel. June’s death and how it affected everyone is the river. June is a recurring thought in everyone’s minds. For example, Gordie is haunted by June in his mind. As written, “Her face. June’s face was there. Wild and pale with a bloody mouth. She raised her hand, thin bones, and scratched sadly on the glass” (Erdrich 214). Gordie imagines June following him around and her taking an almost revenge on him for his actions. He really feels a lot of guilt for how he treated her while they were married. Marie remembers how June acted in her young age though. She reflects, “At first, because I liked her so, I thought I knew what she was thinking, but as it turned out I did not know what went through her mind at all” (87). June did not want to be at Marie’s and she had no faith in the people around her. She lived in the woods alone growing up and the only person she eventually seems to trust to live with is Eli.
Henry’s drowning in the river plays a significant role in the life of Lulu and their Chippewa beliefs. Henry Lamartine drowns in the river with his red convertible following the war and coming home. The water is like a calming oasis that takes him from this life and brings him into the next. The entire fact of drowning is not a true Chippewa way to die and looked down upon according to legend. As written, “Moses told me, … how drowning was the worst death for a Chippewa to experience. By all accounts, the drowned weren’t allowed into the next life but forced to wander forever, broken shoed, cold, sore, and ragged” (291). Poor Lulu worries that Henry will be stuck in between the human life and the afterlife so she prays for him constantly. She also breaks tradition and speaks his name although he has died, which is sinful according to Chippewa legend as well. Lulu hopes for Henry to have made it to the afterlife and for him to have peace. She knows how much he struggled coming home from the war.
June is connected to the water through her death. She freezes to death walking across the snow and people seem to find her in the water like a Jesus-like figure. Erdrich writes, “The snow fell deeper that Easter than it had in forty years, but June walked over it like water and came home” (7). June is simultaneously walking over the snow as she is also “drowning” in the snow. How she is compared to walking on water also connects her into a Jesus figure. The mere fact that June was able to walk through the snow like that is a miracle. And this great act happens on Easter of all days, how spiritual is that. There were greater forces at work in June’s death, whether it was Chippewa gods or the Catholic God. She journeys home to heaven through the water. Her loved ones see her in the water throughout the novel as well. Lipsha says, “It’s a dark, twisting river. The bed is deep and narrow. I thought of June. The water played in whorls beneath me or flexed over sunken cars” (333). June is connected to and remembered in the water in many ways. Characters throughout see and remember June when they are on the water’s edge.
The final chapter, “Crossing the Water,” brings a peaceful closure to the novel after crossing the river. Lipsha successfully aids Gerry and drives him to Canada. This really seems to place a mend in Lipsha’s relationship towards his parents and how he felt so abandoned. It was very good for Lipsha and Gerry to have that time together in the car to reflect and talk. The men cross a river near the border that brings a great metaphoric idea. Crossing the river is sort of like letting go of June and starting new beginnings. Lipsha says, “It was easy to still imagine us beneath them vast unreasonable waves, but the truth is we live on dry land. … A good road led on. So there was nothing to do but cross the water and bring her home” (333). In crossing over the bridge, Lipsha finds a fresh start in the water. Lipsha has found his new outlook on life and chooses to now devote himself to living for the present. He has found his meaning for life and is going to thrive. The river here is like a clean rag, wiping eyes clear for the future.
Love Medicine is a powerful novel full of symbolism through water. Water is represented in how the novel is organized, the role it plays in death, and how it brings closure and peace. Erdrich writes her chapters with fluidity and brings them together like a monstrous river. Henry drowns and June freezes in the snow creating complicated and majestic scenes with the water and what it means for spiritual well-being. And finally, Lipsha fights his own internal struggles at the river and creates a new outlook on life. The water of the rivers, lakes, ponds, and streams bring new stories and futures with every wave they make.
Erdrich, Louise. Love Medicine. Harper Perennial, 2009.