NEA Big Read
Love Medicine

Love Medicine

by Louise Erdrich

To be mixed blood is great for a writer. I have one foot on tribal lands and one foot in ordinary middle-class life.

The discussion activities and writing exercises in this guide provide you with possible essay topics, as do the Discussion Questions in the Reader’s Guide. Advanced students can come up with their own essay topics, as long as they are specific and compelling. Other ideas for essays are provided here.

For essays, students should organize their ideas around a thesis about the novel. This statement or thesis should be focused, with clear reasons supporting its conclusion. The thesis and supporting reasons should be backed by references to the text.

  1. Love Medicine does not have a traditional narrative arc in which events build gradually to a single climactic event and then wind down to a conclusion. In addition, the events of the novel do not fall in a straight chronological sequence. The novel follows more of a circular pattern, beginning in 1981, looping back to the 1930s, and then moving slowly forward through the decades, finally ending up back in the mid-1980s. How do these unusual structural choices shape the reader’s understanding of the story?
  2. Many of the novel’s chapters were first published as stand-alone short stories. Re-read one of the chapters and consider how the reader would react to it as a separate narrative. How does knowledge of the entire novel enhance, or alter, the reader’s perception of the individual stories? Are there elements of these narratives as stories that might be lost when the novel is considered as a whole?
  3. Several characters in this novel struggle with drug and/or alcohol abuse, and a number of them commit suicide. How does Erdrich balance these characters against the characters who struggle to survive? Does Erdrich portray the characters who choose to end their lives as weak?
  4. In the novel’s title chapter, Lipsha Morrissey and Marie Kashpaw attempt to concoct a love spell for Marie’s husband, Nector, in order to end Lulu Lamartine’s power over him and strengthen his bonds to Marie. But their plan backfires when Nector chokes to death on the turkey heart that Marie tries to feed him. In his confusion and uncertainty about how to create a traditional Chippewa love spell, Lipsha unsuccessfully attempts to have the turkey hearts blessed by the local catholic priest. Thus this chapter brings into sharp relief the conflicts between Native American beliefs and catholicism. What other examples are there in the novel of the tension between Native American spirituality and christianity? Which characters are most affected by this conflict?
  5. In “The Tomahawk Factory” (included in the 1993 edition and in the PS section of the 25th anniversary edition), Lulu Lamartine pressures her son Lyman to hire representatives from certain clans and families at the newly opened factory. The reader is given a taste of the contemporary political struggles that occur within Native American communities. The factory’s products are knockoffs of Native American artifacts and the factory, after a very slow start, is destroyed. In what ways might the events in this chapter reflect the impact of American consumerism and mass production on Native American life?
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