LOVE MEDICINE: Week Three

Sergei Lobanov-Rostovsky
October 13, 2009
Comments 75

Great comments, Danville! Keep ???em coming! I especially like the arguments that some of you have made about the title of “The Bridge.” You’re right to see that chapter as about Albertine’s transition to womanhood, but I also agree with Robin that there’s more than one bridge being built here. Henry Jr.’s bar trick is building a bridge out of three knives interlapped so that they make “a bridge of knives suspended in air” between the two glasses. That’s a sharp, evocative image, and it also evokes the idea of these interlapped stories that connect past to present (as Robin notes) and one life to another.

While this is mostly Albertine’s story, it shifts point of view when they go back to the hotel room so that we’re seeing her through Henry Jr.’s eyes. That’s another kind of bridge, and then we get one more on p. 175, while they’re making love. Henry, suddenly sober, looks at Albertine closely, takes in her smells, and then thinks of “diving off a riverbank, a bridge.” The thought makes him close his eyes and see the whirling patterns of the water below, evoking his plunge into the river in the next section. I read this as Henry’s last attempt to build a bridge to someone else, his last chance to make it home across the river that surrounds the reservation, marking the divide between home and the white world that sent him to war and now offers him no way to recover from his wounds. But the bridge he builds is too fragile to carry the weight of all his emotional burdens, so he jumps.

The book is full of images of men jumping into rivers and being swept away. (For example, Nector’s “plunge of the brave” and the way he defines his life as being passively carried along by a powerful current.) It’s also full of images of the bridge that must be crossed to get home. Someone posted a good comment on my first post about the symbolism associated with cars in this book, and I have to confess that I find that final image of the red convertible sinking into the river, its headlights still searching through the dark water, really haunting. It carries a sense of loss, but also hints at a ghostly world beneath the water where the ghosts of the dead wait just beyond our sight. Drowning is a bad death in this book, because it leaves the spirit to wander, never making it to that great dance hall in the sky that Albertine pictures way back on p. 37.

Anyone tempted to connect all this water and drowning imagery to Nector’s stealing a copy of Moby Dick on p. 120? “Call me Ishmael,” he says to himself sometimes, and at other places he compares himself to Ahab. What do you think, Danville? Or how about you, Mount Vernon? Fredericktown? Don’t let Danville run away with this. Show us what you’ve got!

But I think all this imagery of bridges and cars also reflects one of the narrative strategies that Erdrich uses to shape the meaning of this book with such a delicate touch. She puts her metaphors into the minds of her characters, rather than simply tossing them out at us. It’s Marie, for example, who suddenly focuses on Sister Leopolda’s spoon in “Flesh and Blood,” seeing it as an image of their battle of wills:

I wanted that spoon because it was a hell-claw welded smooth. It was the iron poker that she’d marked me with, flattened. It had power. It was like her soul boiled down and poured in a mold and hardened. That was the shape of it. If I had that spoon I’d have her to stir in my pot. I’d have her to whack the bannock, fry the fish, lift out the smoking meat. Every time I held the spoon handle I’d know that she was nothing but a ghost, a black wind. I’d have here helpless in the scar of my palm.

Similarly, it’s Lyman who sees the red convertible as Henry Jr.’s salvation, taking the time to beat it up so that his brother can get angry at its condition and find meaning in his life again by fixing it. It’s Marie who thinks to switch the sugar and salt jars on her table when she puts Nector’s letter back, knowing that the uncertainty will both drive him crazy and reflect his own divided soul.

Reading this book isn’t simply an exercise in deciphering its meaning. We watch the characters build their own metaphors, which slowly connect like the knives in Henry Jr.’s bridge to create a web of meanings that holds all their lives together.

75 thoughts on “LOVE MEDICINE: Week Three

  1. I’m in junior college and in my Native American literature class we just read Love Medicine And I agree the the book does have alot of symbols.It is made up of water, bridges, food and the love medicine it self. This is a very interesting book with a lot of interesting short story.

  2. Lauren I agree with almost everything you posted except for when you mentioned Nector not loving Marie anymore. Did he ever love her in the first place? In my opinion Nector just became trapped in a relationship with Marie because of the way he views life as just going with the flow. He probably never really loved her but never made his own decisions until he started his affair with Lulu.

  3. I wanted to comment about the reaction that Marie had to the letter from Nector. To her, the worst effect of him leaving her is that she would lose her status in society. She would go back to being remembered as a \"dirty Lazarre\" again. The effort that she put into making Nector into a man of respectable standing in their Indian society, would be completely lost. Their marriage was already going bad. They had so many children and Nector was always either working or drinking; neither of them had time to work out any issues that might have been between them. Nector was tied down by this life, he needed some kind of escape from his family and his marriage. He saw Lulu as this escape and I doubted that she would deny with him with her past of promiscuity. Going back to my beginning point, Marie could handle the fact that Nector didn\’t love her anymore, but she couldn\’t handle losing her place in society. Her punishment for Nector, by changing the placement of the note was good. It was subtle because Nector would wonder if Marie ever read it. He would wonder if she would know what kind of coward he was for trying to leave his marriage.

  4. As mentioned above, I believe the amount of symbolism used toward the end of this story was rather unnecessary. While some of the symbols were relevant, such as the red convertible, they began to lack meaning after the first part of the story because they were so overused. I began to lose interest and it was harder to relate to the characters with all the random symbols being thrown in. I also think that the connection back to June at the end of the book was not really necessary. The author was seemingly just attempting to tie up loose ends and make a connection, but it was not entirely successful.

  5. I feel the same as HM about the ending of the novel. It was hard for me to comprehend the ending and get all the loose ends tied up the first time that I read it. After reading through the ending a seccond time though I realized how everything came together. Iw as a little confused at first about how June was Lipsha\\\’s mother but after reading it again all the pieces fell together and i was able to understand it all.

  6. While the various points of view and characters are an important part of this novel, I also believe that the way the plot jumps around it can confuse readers. Large amounts of information are being thrown at the reader as every chapter is almost a separate story in a way. Keeping all the characters straight and remembering their signifigance can be a challenge, especially the characters of less importance. Without this \"bouncing around\", however, the novel\’s meaning is lost. So in this aspect, the reader must give careful interpretation in order to understand the underlying message of the book.

  7. I agree with Roger. The book has way too many of what seem like alternate themes and it just confuses the reader and makes it harder to comprehend and easier to just put down and stop reading.

  8. I think the ending was very well written. I feel like the loose ends make us readers think about what is happening and we conclude what we want.

  9. Although many people don’t think the ending was very well written because it left too many loose ends, I disagree. I think the ends were already tied up in previous chapters. The only characters I personally cared about knowing what happened to were Lulu, Nector, and Marie and we already know what happens to them. Nector dies from choking on the heart. Marie takes care of June when she is blind and a friendship emerges between the two. I think this was enough information to settle the anticipation of what happens to them in the end. I wasn’t left wondering about anyone or anything at the end of the novel.

  10. In my English class we are beginning to discuss the connection that June has with other characters in the novel. We are also discussing the reason that the novel began and ended with June’s character. One reason that I believe that the novel is this way is because each character has been influenced by June; either by her relationship with them or in the way that her life had affected them.
    At the start of the novel we are introduced to June as a woman that is not very appreciated by those in her family. Many in her family do not seem to be affected by June’s death. We also can observe the influence that June has had on Albertine and how Albertine looked up to her. ““June was a good aunt to have- the kind that spoiled you.” (p.8)
    In the ending we see how Lipsha was influenced by June, when he discovered that she was his mother. When Lipsha first realized this, he was upset because of the fact that June was his mother, and he wanted to think of Grandma Marie as his mother because she had been more of a mother to him. But in the end in “Crossing the Water”, we see that Lipsha has forgiven June, and now he respects her as his mother. “The thought of June grabbed my heart so , but I was lucky she turned me over to Grandma Kashpaw“ So there was nothing to do but cross the water and bring her home.”(p.333) Here even though Lipsha had been unaware of his past, we see that in the end he is able to accept that June and Gerry are his parents, and is able to “cross the water”, which was period of his life when he didn’t know what decisions to make. He has gained recognition and in that is made able to overcome situations in his life.

  11. On the topic of the ending of the book, while i cant say i am very fond of it as a whole, i think the ending is appropriate for this type of story. During the first chapter i felt like an outsider witnessing the intimate events of one family, but by the end, after knowing so much more about the characters I feel included, like I was an actual member of their family tree. And even though i dont really like this book,i still think it is strong because you dont necessarily have to like you own family. Since this book seems so realistic to me i think the ending is perfect because real life isnt perfect.

  12. It’s very strange to me the way Erdrich begins the novel making it obvious that June is the most important character and then proceeds to leave her rather undeveloped and not talked about for much of the novel after the first chapter. We learn a lot more about the lives of other characters who seem to be less important. I think this may be done to emphasize the way she wants it to be realistic. After the death of a loved one which occurs in the first chapter of the book, those who were in contact with the person will get together and talk about their memories just as they do in the section narrated by Albertine. After this initial time however they are often forgotten or become a sore topic of conversation. Just as this happens Erdrich chooses to leave her out of much of the novel until a sufficient period of time has passed and she can be remembered once again by the other characters. Along with this, Lipsha has basically made peace with her in his mind and takes her back home as the car.

  13. In the chapters The Plunge of the Brave and Flesh and Blood were interesting chapters to read because they were both told at the same time zone but from different points of view. In the chapter A Bridge, I didnt understand for what reason Albertine ran away. To feel she had control of her own life? In the red convertable, I had to think for a while about what had really happened between Lyman and Henry.

  14. The Nector, Marie, and Lulu love triangle is one of the most intresting parts of the book in my opinion. Nector is very torn between the two women. Lulu seems to represent Nector more in his youth. Their relationship is carefree and has no real strings attached. His relationship with Marie is more adult in its purpose.When Nector tries to change his relationships, by leaving Marie to have a “real” relatioship with Lulu, he burns Lulu’s house down. I think this shows that all that their relationship could ever truely be is a care free fling and not a true relationship. Nector needs a someone to push him and take care of him. Lulu, in my opinion, could not have adequately done this for him.

  15. Roger, I’m not sure I agree with you on your analysis of Erdrich’s symbolism. It is true that she goes to great lengths to creat symbols, and is quite the prolific symbolist, but that does not necessarily take away from their meaning.

    Most, if not all, of her symbols are extremely interwoven, and connect incredibly well. Just because metaphors are commonplace does not mean they are not of high quality. Erdrich has shown her prowess as a writer by making sure that each one of her symbols are strong, connect to the others, and couldn’t be any better. At the same time she leaves just enough ‘unknown’ in each of them to start a compelling discussion. She is not a novelist trying excessively hard to be known as ‘one of the greats’ but rather is in fact just that – a great writer who has yet to be appreciated in full.

  16. There are many symbols in this book. Obviously. Near the end of the book, the symbols begin to be forced and strained and they lack effect. Any chapter in this book begins with a character who goes through this or that and interacts with him or her, and somehow at the very end of the chapter a symbol is thrown in that is related to the title. At first, the symbols had deep meaning and left the reader with an inquisitive mind about what the metaphors meant. But near the end of the novel, they lacked appeal and just seemed to be thrown in just because. In my mind, there were a few exceptions, such as the water and the red convertible. These symbols represented the lives of different characters, and described the internal struggles and changes within them.

  17. Upon inspecting the actions of the characters at the forefront of this novel, I have concluded that their actions are almost always corresponding to their own self-interest. There seems to be a lack of empathy for other characters, the ones they are supposed to love. Later on, the characters seem to be able to get more in touch with their love and sympathy for others. However, once this occurs some,such as Gordie, cannot deal with the sorrow they feel from these years of neglect for their loved ones.

  18. Does anyone think that Gordie is dead at the end of Resurrection? On page 270 Erdrich gives a discription of Gordie. The erie atmosphere in the dark room and Gordie’s apperance from the shadows seem to suggest that Gordie is no of this world. However, he still seems to have attributes of the living.
    I think in his attempt to drown out the memory of June with alcohol he effectivly drown himself. This would account for his lurking around the dark room with features of someone who is not dead, but not alive. He is in the between realm where the drown wonder for all eternity. What do you guys think?

  19. Im being forced to comment on here for a grade so I guess the only thing I have to say about it the book is that, as mentioned above, the author tried to fit entirely too much symbolism into the novel as a whole. Some of the symbols in this book just seem so blatently obvious that they feel like the author is shoving them down your throat. Im not against a small amount of symbolism in a book or a strong underlying symbol repeated throughout the story but at a certain point it just becomes tedious and cluttered when the author tries to focus on a thousand different issues.

  20. To elaborate on “Tattoo’s” comment, I believe the red convertible symbolizes the connection between Lyman and Henry Jr. These two brothers purchased the car together and served as the bond between the two of them. For example, when Henry leaves for the war the convertible is put away and remains untouched until he returns home. Once Henry returns, he works on the car again and takes one last ride with Lyman.

    Toward the end of the section when Henry dies in the water, Lyman lets the convertible go into the water as well. “The headlights reach in as they go down, searching, still lit even after the water swirls over the back end” (p.189). At this moment we see last of the bond between Lyman and Henry.

  21. Today in class we discussed why the author may have chosen to end the book with a connection back to June. I think that it is possible that the author discovered that she’d left all these individual plights open with no way to tie them up efficiently. So, she thought that the best way to “end” the story would be to tie it back to June, who she began the book with. However, I think that although by ending the book in this way, she still did not succeed in tying up loose ends. Maybe this was intended, but I personally think she slacked off a bit at the end of the story.

  22. I think that the reason Lyman pushed the car into the river is that he beleived that it was Henry’s. Henry is now floating in the river for eternity so it only seems right that the car should be there with him

  23. I thought it was very interesting the way Erdrich switches perspectives and time frames throughout the novel. It keeps you wondering about the thoughts and feelings of the characters who aren’t narrating at the time and gives a unique but realistic view on the affects that characters have on each other.

  24. After analyzing the characters in the novel the two that stand out the most are Nector and Lulu. The relationship shared between the two is such an odd one because first of all it is an entire secret and cannot be shown to others, and secondly they each share a similar ego that collides into a mess. Lulu and Nector are both very greedy and simply get what they want, not thinking of the aftermath or who they may be harming. Obviously Lulu is the stronghold in the couple and because of the greed they she rings upon Nector he is unable to stop his urge onto her.

  25. Love Medicine is a confusing story that is bloated with symbolism. As a reader, being constantly berated with symbols becomes tedious and suffocating. If Erdrich is trying to make the story seem realistic by writing it in short stories, then should there be so many symbols? I know that when it comes to my family stories there are not a surplus of symbols. In fact I dont think there are any. Love Medicine would be much stronger if Erdrich could learn to temper her love for symbols.

  26. In addition to “Tattoo’s” comment about the red convertible, I saw the car as a symbol of Henry himself as well as the brother’s relationship. The car brought the brothers together during the summer, and then again when Henry returned from the war. Then when Henry drowns, Lyman sends the car into the river as well. The car is put down when their relationship is ended by Henry’s death.

    The car as a symbol of Henry makes sense as well. The car is in good condition when Henry is with Lyman that summer, then put away and not used when Henry is in the war, and finally the car is put in the river when Henry drowns.

    Nice comments ROG!

  27. I think Lyman put the convertible into the water because he believed that it was Henry’s car and now Henry is lost in the river so that is were the car belongs too.

  28. In my women’s lit class we are reading this book and are starting in on this blog for a grade. In the Plunge of the Brave Nector uses symbolism to compare Marie and Lulu, bitter and sweet. In Flesh and Blood, Marie uses symbolism in the black spoon. The spoon represents Sister Leopolda and the control she had over Marie when she was younger. Marie wanted to show how she turned out and impress Leopolda. In The red convertible i see the headlights “searching” symbolizing that its searching for Henry

  29. In the chapters Plunge of the Brave and Flesh and Blood, both chapters are very similar because their being told in the same time but just from two different people. I enjoyed reading them. In the chapter A Bridge, I didnt get why Albertine ran away from home. Just for the hell of it? I had to really think about what had really happened when Lyman drove the car into the river. I was very curious at why he did this, but it was just to cover up for Henry who had killed himself by jumping into the river.

  30. Apparently I didn’t make myself quite clear enough above, when I explained why each of the intended symbols was so painfully obvious. I’m not sure how else to word it, though, so I guess we can each have our own opinion.

    Additionally, I would argue that anyone who sees nothing in the whale Moby Dick shouldn’t waste their time with that enormous read. The focal point of a ‘great classic’ considered meaningless? Unrealistic, I think. This novel is one with an incredible amount of symbolism, and I’m sure some of the symbols I am only noticing due to the basis of discussions. But, that does not change the fact, in my mind, that Erdrich is working very hard to create them.

    Like I said, if you can’t see how hard she is working to make the numerous metaphors, then we can end this discussion in disagreement.

  31. I do agree with you Maria, It does make me curious as to what those other characters are now, in other novels, I just was almost surprised by the ending, I almost felt it was too dull for the rest of the book. I just didn’t enjoy the ending of the novel as much as the rest of it.

  32. I think the ending is completely in keeping with the rest of the novel. Kara, you are right that certain characters seem to never resolve their main conflicts; however, isn’t that more realistic than some skipping-into-the-sunset ending where everyone has made peace with their personal demons and has found some inner enlightenment? It rings much truer to me to have people who are still searching for answers, fighting their own personal antagonists, and struggling to find that balance at which point they can conduct their lives in a successful manner. One of the things I have been most impressed with throughout the novel has been the feeling that Erdrich has gotten these characters right. We see them struggle, we recognize elements of ourselves, and we empathize with them. One of my biggest pet peeves is an author who wraps everything up with some unrealistic solution or revelation that decreases whatever impact the story has made up to that point. I almost prefer the feeling that some characters are left hanging, so to speak – it makes me feel like I have truly been a part of a conversation or telling of some personal history. It also makes me excited to jump into some of her other novels that center on characters from Love Medicine; I anticipate finding out even more about some of these intriguing people.

  33. I am not saying symbols don’t exist in the book, they do, I ma saying that we find symbols that are not there. All I am saying is that we read into some stuff a little too much. Normally when you are searching for something you will find it if it is there or not. I do think the Red Convertible can be seen as a symbol but I do not think that it was meant to be one. That is all I am saying is that we often find symbols that are not actually in the text because we are told to do so, and have done so for a long time. This is one book that is racked with fabricated symbols. Roger said that the book has to many symbols, which diminishes the book; I think that some of the symbols he is finding are fabricated (nothing against you Roger we all do it). So before you attack me think back to the book and decide for yourselves was every single symbol we talked about in class fit in with the story or, if it did fit with the story do you think it was maybe just an event that needs to be taken at face value. Authors do put parts in the story as filler to make it a good length, not every statement or paragraph is going to have a symbol in it. As Taby said before “the whale in “Moby Dick” is just a whale!”

  34. Evan, I always say it’s best to be the better person and not to follow the “eye for an eye” principle. However, Marie feels trapped inside her home. She loves Nector and feels she cannot leave him, even though he treats her terribly. Although as she gets older, she gets more submissive, by placing the note under the salt she has found one small way to stand up for herself and get back at Nector for what he has done to her. There’s a difference between stooping to someone’s level and standing up for oneself.
    Also, I don’t really understand why you call it a “cat-and-mouse game.” She’s simply playing a mind trick on him.

  35. Was anyone else surprised by the fact that Marie and Lulu become friends when Nector dies? I found this very interesting. I always thought that if those two confronted each other Marie would not like Lulu for what she had done. When Nector dies the two seem to really hit it off though. They become friends and are known as the two that stir up quite a bit of gossip about everything. Maybe they have a love for Nector in common and thats what brings them together? Or maybe Nector is the reason these two women were not very good friends throughout their lives?

  36. Roger, thank you for commenting me back. I see why you think that she is trying to hard. You make great points and that showed me that she is trying a little to hard. I have never read “Fountainhead” so i may need to read it to see the comparison of writing styles and symbolism between the two. Thanks again from your cyber buddy sam.

  37. Overall I think this book is about family struggles. Every chapter tells a different story about a different person and in a way they are all connected. The chapters are all about the struggles that person is going through and how they face them. Although the chapters skip around a lot they all end up tying together.

    In our class when we started reading this book we said that June was the main character because it started out with her death. Once we finished the book we thought that there wasn’t a real main character. All the stories are different and they are about different people, there isn’t really one main person that the entire book is about.

  38. I see what Craig is saying about other books. In some books we look too hard for symbols. Though in Love Medicine there are symbols everywhere and I think that Erdrich wanted us to find all of those symbols and look deep into them. To find out what they mean and why we think she put them in her novel.

    Craig is right that in other books we look to hard in stories and look for the symbols the author didn’t intend to be symbols.

  39. Evan, as much as i love Nector I have to say that he deserves anything that woman gives to him. The fact that Marie is just playing a \"cat and mouse game\" with Nector, and not beating him in the head with a shovel shows how controlled and faithful marie is. Do not misunderstand this Nector is my favorite character. He is exciting and fun to read, but If i were in Marie\’s, or even Lulu\’s shoes I don\’t know if i could handle what he is doing so calmly.

  40. One of our final essay questions when finishing the book is about how each short story is connected to the others. We had to address the fact that if we take one story out would it lose its meaning or would it mean something else. I took out the first chapter to see how this would affect the book and it does. The stories are all connected to each other and are important to the next. I don’t see them as short stories I see them as a family tree like at the beginning of the book they are all connected and branch off each other. Each story is important to the next.

  41. People, no one’s saying symbols don’t exist in this book. If you thought that, go back and read both Craig’s comments and mine. We’re just trying to stir up a different sort of discussion, which everyone is blatantly ignoring and instead attacking us (especially Craig) because apparently we said that symbols don’t exist, ever, at all.

    Robin, while I have to say I agree with you that Nector probably deserves the cat-and-mouse game Marie is playing with him, can we really say that it’s right for Marie to do that? She’s obviously not doing the same thing that he did to her, but would it not be “good” for her to just be the better person? By the way, thanks for answering my question!

  42. Sam, it\’s clear to me that Erdrich is trying too hard, because the symbol quality is decreasing. You agreed with that yourself. It seems to me when an author begins to strain themselves, and stretch beyond their capabilities, their writing quality declines.

    I do agree that you can have very extensive discussions over each of the symbols – of that there is no doubt. However, because there are so many, and they are so interrelated, there are any number of contradictions that can be drawn. Instead of using the novel to debate a few strong symbols (again, finding one\’s self, progress, going home, to name a few), \"Love Medicine\" is so saturated with symbols that discussion is no longer direct. It is easy to back a symbol with a different symbol, which is backed by another symbol…and it continues. While Erdrich is making a heroic effort at covering a whole host of issues, it takes away from the most important ones.

    But, to an extent, that\’s personal preference. I\’d much rather take several important and deep symbols and support them throughout the novel. Others might enjoy a more broad-spectrum discussion of many different symbols, but I think it is harder to go into the same depth, and have the same enlightenment. Or, to go to the same depth, the novelist must be incredibly genius, and more time must be given for analysis. This is a good book to prepare students for the literary world, though – if you can handle the constant barrage of symbolism in this book, I think you can manage most anything.

    Allow me to make a comparison. In Ayn Rand\’s \"Fountainhead\" there is one very strong underlying theme. Many other elements of the novel build off of it, and even go in different directions, but the underlying current dominates everything. That book is several times the length of \"Love Medicine.\" Does that mean Erdrich is several times as good of an author as Rand, for managing to fit so many symbols in such a small space? I don\’t think so. While she is certainly a different brand of writer, she writes too densely for my taste. She doesn\’t prove her point through the novel very well, or at least not as well as Rand does. Perhaps Erdrich is only trying, as I said earlier, to make the readers think for themselves? I\’d agree with that, except for her clear opinions, an example being Eli\’s success relative to Nector\’s, due to Eli\’s preservation of Native American ideals, and Nector\’s lack thereof.

    On an unrelated note, you other students are very fortunate you have a chance to get on here during the day (I assume during English class)! It would be great if every school got that chance…

  43. Wow, great job with these comments! I’m glad to hear you’ve been writing stories about your own families. Write enough of them, and you could start to tell the story of your own town.

    Coming back to the general topic of symbols, I’d argue that a symbol (or metaphor, which is the word I prefer) is simply an object or action that we endow with meaning. We do that with lots of objects and actions outside of fiction: I’ve got a gold ring on the fourth finger of my left hand. It’s not a very expensive ring, but if I lost it, wouldn’t that suggest something about me? We attach meaning to all kinds of objects, including, for example, cars. How may of you feel (or wish you could feel) that the car you drive expresses some aspect of your identity?

    Similarly, we “read” people’s actions as meaningful, even if they don’t intend them that way. If I lost that ring on my left hand, I’d have some ‘splaining to do to the person who put it there, even if the reason I took it off was to protect it while I worked on my car. Or let’s say you’re a Vietnam vet with an unsettled mind, and a pretty girl in a bar asks you to do a bar trick. Is it “meaningful” if you choose to build a bridge out of knives? A psychologist would probably say so, and a novelist counts on her readers to read her characters’ actions with that same eye for meaning. Henry Jr. may not have consciously intended the bridge of knives to reflect his psychological state: maybe this is the only bar trick he knows. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a meaningful action. Part of the pleasure of reading, at least for me, is to draw together these strands of metaphor to create a coherent web of meaning.

  44. Personally I have to say that at times I have to agree with Craig. We look at stories or novels and look for the symbols in them. Sometimes we read novels and our teachers want us to dive in and find all the symbols that are there and we start to find things that are not really symbols. There are also times that we over look symbols or we don’t look deep enough into the symbols we have and know what they mean and if we knew what the deeper meaning was we might be able to understand it more.

    Though at the same time I disagree with Craig. In this book there are many symbols and we need to find the deep meaning of short stories. There is a lot of symbols. I personally don’t think we are looking deep enough at all the symbols. I know that in class we have looked at the different symbols and discussed them. Some of the symbols we talked about was; food, cars, and water. Then within that we talked what kinds symbols were in the foods, cars and water. We found in the foods there was the pies, the butter and we also put in the alcohol. Within the cars we put King’s car that he bought with June’s insurance money, the red convertible and Lulu’s car. Then the water was the rivers under the bridges and the snow that claimed June’s life. Then as a class we discussed them and decided why they were symbols.

    So personally I don’t think you could go through this novel and not find a type of symbol. Though in other novels that you read you could go through them and not find anything but in the case of “Love Medicine” there are a lot of symbols.

  45. I would agree that there are times when we over do the symbolism meaning of things in novels. In Love medicine I feel that symbolism has everything to do with the story and affects all the characters in the novel. In class we discussed the food, water, and cars and how they were all symbolic to the different characters. I would encourage everyone to look at all the different meanings and symbols in the book and think deeper of what they mean and stand for. I would not say that we are over doing the symbolism in this novel.

  46. Ok, first I would just like to point out how Craig completely contradicts himself. He first states how there are symbols in the book, like the red convertible and the bridge of knives, then he later says how the book is just short stories and we’re seeing the symbols when they’re not meant to be there.

    I would also like to talk about the ending of the book. I’m not very impressed with the ending of the book. I was expecting a little more…pizazz in the ending. I was however, taken by surprise by how Lipsha ended up with June’s car in the end. Lipsha was able to find closure with his life: with King, his mother June, and his father Gerry. It seems as if Lipsha and Lulu and Marie were really the only characters who found any closure. The rest of the characters still seemed to have problems just like in the beginning. In all I was almost disappointed at the end of the book.

  47. About the symbolism in the book, I agree with both Sergei and Craig. I agree with Sergei because I think that a book isn’t really anything without symbols that get you thinking. I know we spent most of our class discussions focusing on the symbols in this book. We talked a lot about the symbolism of cars. We talked about the convertible symbolizing freedom and King’s new car symbolizing June coming back to home. Symbols are a very important part of a book and they are meant to be there, but I do think sometimes we focus too much on them. Our class spent a lot of time focusing on “The Bridge.” We looked for symbolism in this chapter and tried to find why this chapter was called ‘The Bridge.” A bridge is mentioned twice in that chapter, but I don’t think either part is much of a symbol. I know for myself I thought way too much about it, looking for symbols and just found myself almost making something up. I think symbols are important and they are meant to be there but I think sometimes we focus too much on them and make symbols up that aren’t really there.

  48. Authors use symbols in their writing, we know this. And the things we interpret as symbolism usually fits in rather well, but I think we occasionally read too much into them. In my Honors English class, we discussed the red convertible and how it could represent freedom, because when the top is down the driver and passenger can take in the whole world around them. However, if the car is not meant to symbolize anything and is simply a red Olds convertible, the story still makes sense. I think we all just have different opinions on how important symbolism is.

  49. I would agree that there are times when we over do the whole symbolism idea with some novels, but not this one!!! I would encourage everyone to think deeper and grasp the true meaning of the objects in the novel and think of its symbolic meaning!!! In class we even discussed the different symbols in the book and how the symbols work into the story. We talked about the food, water and cars and how these things all represented something in each of the characters lives. There is much symbolism in this book and I don’t feel that we are over doing it with this novel.

  50. When reading the book in class, one of the SYMBOLS we discussed was food. One of the first things that came to my mind was the pies. In the first chapter, we see the family get together. They work so hard to make the pies together. As soon as King has his episode, the family falls apart. When the family falls apart, the pies fall apart, literally. Directly after the incident some of the family rushes to the pies and tries to piece them back together. This represents the family, some of them care about making things work while others put it to the wayside.

  51. Roger…you make a great point. The symbol quality has went down from the beginning of the book to now. I am not sure I agree that she is trying to hard though. Please explain your reasoning that she is trying to hard in your next comment. There are many symbols in Love Medicine. Even in our class discussions we really don’t over think them. Our class even made a list of the symbols of the cars, food, and water. Each group had a full sheet of paper and made great points of each.

  52. If there were no symbols in this book then the author would not have named the chapter “The Red Convertible” she would have named it “Henry and Lyman’s excellent adventure.” I agree with sergei. I even think it is fun to find all the different symbols in this book. My personal favorite is the bridge of knives,and the beads. I know that the beads are a very strong symbol, and I think that this story is centered around June. If the book isn’t centered around June then why does the book start with her, and end with her son?

  53. I am not just talking about Love Medicine but when a person reads any other book they seem to pull symbols out of it that are not there. Sometimes things are as they appear, and it is just an interesting story, nothing more or less.

  54. Craig and Evan…I have to say I agree with Sergei. This book is fiction, although it is based on a family\’s struggle to overcome all of their problems, it is still fiction, Edrich added to it and made it her own. she purposely added symbolism, and it is very important to the flow of the story. We had a class discussion about all of the important symbols–the cars, the water, bridges, those did not just appear in the story, they all serve literal and symbolic meanings, some even only have symbolic meanings. Take for example Albertine, on page 175 when she says that she \"had crossed a deep river and disappeared\" Obviously she did not really cross a river or disappear, symbolism is a very important part of this story and cannot be ignored.

  55. Reading the book all the way through we talked about the overall meaning of the book in class. I think the overall meaning is about the family’s struggles. There is not really a main character it’s more about the whole family and how they are connected. Having the first chapter being about June causes us to think that maybe June is a main character and that the book may tie everything to her. But really June’s death was just a piece to this struggle. Every story was a new struggle or obstacle to the book and it tied everyone together because they all had struggles and everyone was connected to each other by these struggles.

  56. I am not saying that some stuff was not put in there to be a symbol. The Convertible is a symbol I am saying that these are short stories told by the people who lived them, in real life you do not do things to create or use symbols. Louise Erdrich may have put these things in to be symbols but if Love Medicine is supposed to be a story of peoples lives than the symbols would be conjured. Someone is not going to do a bar trick (the bridge of knives) because it represents the bridge of one persons life from one point to the next, it is to do a cool trick to impress, in this case, a pretty girl. The symbols may be there but I think that many of them are conjured up in our own minds as we read the stories because that is what we are conditioned to do.

  57. In our honor English class we are reading Love Medicine. I really enjoy discussing the book because you may think it means one thing then when you discuss it, it can mean something completely different. Something you didn’t even think it could mean it can mean if you just think about it a different way. Love medicine is this way throughout the whole book. We see a lot of symbolism in the book. “ A bridge” for example is not an actual bridge. It is symbolizing Albertine cross over from childhood to adulthood. Albertine is making some decision that not all young lady and it was a big adult decision that she made. Then another symbol is “red convertible” it is symbolizing the freedom they have until they return and when they return they put the top back up as if they have to become sheltered and not enjoy life they could before. Like several people have already committed there is tons of symbolism in the book.

  58. Evan, I think it’s interesting that you say Marie is causing Nector pain “in spite” and then ask whether this is good or bad. Has Nector not caused Marie pain? Has he not been cheating on her since the beginning of their relationship? Has he not been drinking and returning home, expecting her to still love him? And has she not kept on loving him? I think that a simple thing like messing with Nector’s mind is not even close to the payback he deserves to how he is treated Marie. So my answer is yes, it’s a good thing, and something that made me smile when I read it because it channeled back to the Marie we met in the beginning of the book.

  59. Today the Danville’s honor English class finished the book but will be going back to read “the tomahawk factory” and “Lyman’s luck.” Before we began reading Love Medicine we wrote many short stories of our own families. Some people struggled to find words but others couldn’t shut up. After we finished today we discussed how their town in the book was the same and different than ours. We also posed the question could a book be written in the same fashion about our lovely town of Danville.

  60. To quote a teacher of ours here, the whale in “Moby Dick” is just a whale! no need for its color or large whale like features need to be thought of more than how that dang whale was meant to be. Also as a Shout out to Craig you are so contradicting in one comment you say its all about symbols and in the next you say its not. You confuse me Craig!

  61. to quote a teacher of ours here, the whale in “Moby Dick” the whale is just a whale! no need for its color or large whale like features need to be thought of more than how that dang whale was meant to be.

  62. Also, to take a very brief stab at the requested question, connecting water to Nector\’s stealing of Moby Dick…

    I think Nector shows even more, by comparing himself to two different characters, that he never has, nor will he, accept or find himself. He leads a double life for the entirety of the novel to this point, and when he tries to stop (when he goes back to Marie, after burning down Lulu\’s house), he loses his mind. Nector spent his entire life between two worlds, being swept along in the symbolic river that is progress, fate, and the like. He has never committed himself to doing one thing and not the other (Lulu vs. Marie, Indian life and schooling vs. American life and schooling), and the trend has been to set in his life to reverse at such an old age. Nector sees himself as both Ahab and Ishmael, because he really doesn\’t know who he is. Nor does he never find out. When he finally tries to make a decision, it backfires on him, and he is reduced to the shell of a man, and begins is \"second childhood.\"

  63. I wasn’t totally dismissing that symbols exist, only trying to stir up a different type of discussion that is not near as often used, one that really makes it up to the reader to determine how they should think of the characters in the book! It seems that sometimes people just say “this is a symbol for this” and it’s accepted universally. While sometimes it’s accepted because it’s blatantly obvious (like the car) it’s interesting to see how differently people feel about different events that happen in the novel.

  64. Craig and Evan, it would appear Sergei beat me to the punch. While it is easy to over-analyze writing, I think Erdrich’s novel is an example of just the opposite. Erdrich really has put a symbol in nearly every action or object that is described in the book – it goes so far as to be painfully obvious sometimes. For that reason, Love Medicine can be slightly frustrating (at least to me). It is one thing to keep a base of strong, underlying symbols, and have a few other symbols that tie in to reinforce them, but Erdrich seems to be incredibly caught up in it. I can think of numerous situations where a mere paragraph is used to describe something (or someone, or an action) and the wording shows that it is intended to be a symbol. These include the wording (if not the length) describing knitting in “Scales”, and the beads (p254, “Love Medicine”). Erdrich is also ridiculously predictable with the placement of symbol discussion-very, very often at the end of chapters, or after a chain of events before a few lines of space on the page. (Ex. p101 of “The Beads”)

    Following that line of though, Erdrich’s symbols lose their power to me. Although there are several strong, continual symbols that are very powerful (water, to name one), the regularity of symbols – there are sure to be several every chapter – makes it more of a typical task to investigate them, instead of the interesting and deep thought kept throughout the reading that a strong symbol can be.

    I do understand she has motivation to do such things, and who doesn’t love a good symbol every once in a while. But every five pages? It turns compelling thought into drudgery. Also, I can see how it would tie in with each chapter having the potential to stand alone as a short story – indeed, some of them did. However, related short stories are still just that, related short stories. The necessary discussion for 16 short stories far exceeds that of a novel, and therein lies Erdrich’s mistake – she has simply put too much into the novel.

    Perhaps it’s my nubile literary mind, and it certainly is a personal opinion, but I think she has simply tried too hard, and by this point in the novel is showing reduced symbol quality, and is taking away from the reader’s experience.

  65. Craig and Evan, if the manufacturer puts a part on a car, you assume it’s there for a reason, right? Novelists work at their craft intensely for years, and once they’ve finished writing drafts, they start cutting out everything that doesn’t absolutely have to be there. Often an author like Erdrich will cut out more than she leaves in. By the time a novel is finished, there’s rarely anything in it by accident. In the case of the bridge of knives and the convertible, we’re not digging out deeply hidden meanings. Erdrich titled those sections of the book “The Bridge and “The Red Convertible” to mark those images as important, and the characters see — or even create — those meanings for themselves. For example, the brothers may buy the convertible to look good, but when Henry Jr. comes home from the war broken in spirit, Lyman sets about making the car into a symbol for him, something to give him a reason to live. Should we dismiss it as only an “inadvertent symbol” if one of the characters tells us why it’s important?

  66. I have to say I agree with Craig here. I think all too often we look for symbols that may or may not be there, that sometimes we have to just look at the raw text and what it says in order to better understand the story.

    One part that really interested me in this book was when Marie puts Nectors note under the salt. Not because I think it was a symbol, but it seemed that she was doing this in order to cause him the pain of not knowing, the pain of being a “limbo” of some sort. It seems that she is resentful of the pain that he has caused her by cheating on her for all this time. Basically, she’s causing him pain in spite. But the text of the book never comes out and says, “this is a good thing” or “this is a bad thing” it’s almost as if the author is leaving it up to us to decide. So my question is does anyone think that her action is good? Bad?

  67. Like water, cars are a recurring theme in “Love Medicine.” As Louise Erdrich says herself, King’s car represents June. King buys the car with June’s insurance after she dies. Eli, who took care of June as a child, refuses to ride in it. As Zelda says in the chapter “The World’s Greatest Fishermen,” “Eli doesn’t like it, or so I heard. That car reminds him of his girl.” Finally, in “Crossing the Water,” the car makes a reappearance when Gerry, King, and Lipsha play cards. Lipsha wins the game by marking the deck. He takes the car as a prize. I believe this represents Lipsha finally coming to terms with who his mother really was–June.
    Another car with a major importance in the book is Henry Jr’s little red convertible. I agree with Craig that the convertible is a symbol of freedom for Henry Jr. and Lyman. In “The Red Convertible,” Henry Jr and Lyman travel to Alaska. They leave the roof down the entire trip. I think this is a symbol of absolute freedom from responsibility and troubles. When they return home, though, Henry Jr has to leave for the Marines. He separates himself from home, family, the reservation, and the red convertible. Lyman refuses to touch the convertible while Henry is gone. I think that Lyman believes that if he does this, he will use up Henry’s freedom while he is gone. This idea of only having a certain amount of freedom left returns when Henry sinks into the water with the convertible. I think this represents how much Henry valued freedom, and that when he used it all up, he couldn’t live any longer.

  68. I wanted that spoon because it was a hell-claw welded smooth. It was the iron poker that she’d marked me with, flattened. It had power. It was like her soul boiled down and poured in a mold and hardened. That was the shape of it. If I had that spoon I’d have her to stir in my pot. I’d have her to whack the bannock, fry the fish, lift out the smoking meat. Every time I held the spoon handle I’d know that she was nothing but a ghost, a black wind. I’d have here helpless in the scar of my palm.

    In our Honors English at DHS there was a little bit of confusion and numerous opinions on the iron poker and the spoon. Some believed that the spoon was literally the iron poker the Leopolda changed. Others believe that the spoon is a metaphor and that when Marie notices the spoon she thinks of the iron poker. I personally think that either way Marie is still haunted by the poker and that’s why she wanted to take the the spoon away. The poker/spoon was the source of Leopolda’s power, the thing that Marie always wanted because it had hurt her and made her leave before she proved herself to the Nuns.

    I also love how Marie finds the paper under the sugar and puts it under the salt. She was playing a mind game with Nector. He would always wonder if she read the letter or if he put it under the salt jar instead of the sugar. When I first read this I thought it symbolized that the note didn’t belong under something so sweet.

  69. In my honors English class at Danville, we keep returning to the idea of water. We see it in many forms in this novel. I think it is interesting that it is a way of life, death, and escape. Albertine trys to escape through the water from Henry. We see \"The Plunge of the Brave.\" We see it as a barrier from the reservation to the white world around. It is exemplified in June\’s death when she is overtaken by the snowstorm, another form of water. We see \"fire-water\" or alcohol a problem present throughout the novel.

  70. It think the book is about symbols but inadvertent symbols. The convertible is a symbol of freedom but they bought it just to look better than everyone else. The bridge of knives is a symbol but when he did it was meant as just a trick not something with a deep meaning behind it. Since the book is a bunch of stories told by the people who lived them the symbolism was not meant to be there. I think that when we read it we are conditioned to find symbols in the stories based on other books we read. Sometimes it is juts a story and we pick symbols out that were never meant to be there.

  71. When I first read the part where Marie wanted Leopolda’s spoon, I was a little confused, but after rereading it a few times I started to think that maybe Marie thought that it was the same poker that Leopolda used on her when she was a teenager. I think that if she got that spoon then she would be taking the control that she wanted. That if she had the spoon the nuns would have to listen to her and do what she wanted. Also when Marie put the note back, I thought that she put it under the salt by accident and then I again reread it and realized that she did it so that she could confuse Nector. I thought that she wanted to make him wonder if she really read it or not. That she wanted to cause him pain by not knowing. That he was causing her pain by cheating on her and that she wanted to cause him that pain of him not knowing if she read the letter or not. That until he knew if she read it or not he would be in some sort of pain.

    In the book, Nector says that he was able to survive the white lady’s house just like Ahab was able to survive the Great White Whale. He compared him floating down the river and taking the easy way out was just like how Ahab floated on the sea. That everything was easy for him and he got offers to do things just for just being who he was. I think that he thinks that just because of who he was he could just take the easy way out of things and not have worry about anything in life. That he really didn’t know what it was like to really love someone or not have things handed to him. I think that he thought that he was having a good life and wanted to know what it was like to have a normal life and work to earn things. Though that is just my opinion.

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