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Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich
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Before I had yet read Karen Manuelito’s examination of the intersection of interests between indigenous “womanisms,” highlighting particularly the commonalities between the experiences of African American and American Indian women, I noted the similarities between the emphases on female experience in Morrison’s Beloved and Erdrich’s Love Medicine. It’s not by accident that Morrison’s is one of the strongest voices in the chorus of praise on the back cover of the novel, noting that “(t)he beauty of Love Medicine saves us from being completely devastated by its power.” Indeed, that tension between stylistic passages of lyrical beauty and heart-rending and impossibly brutal content becomes the hallmark of each author’s narrative. In each work, the principal female characters have had to suffer oppression and misunderstanding both from the outside “white” world and within their own relationships with husbands, sons, and lovers. Erdrich and Morrison each ultimately put forward the possibility of an empowered female subjectivity through privileged access to the community of other women.

Manuelito utilizes a number of theorists to support her own contention that Alice Walker’s notion of “womanism” is particularly helpful in understanding the particular experiences of women of color. As Janet Montelaro notes of Walker, “by foregrounding maternal subjectivities in her novel, Walker creates a prose fiction that conforms to her definition of womanist: it represents not only African-American women’s dependence on and support for each other, but also their commitment to self-esteem and their resistance to obstacles that would deny them a meaningful role in the creation of culture” (178). This seems to underline several common threads in Morrison’s and Erdrich’s works—they center many of their narratives on the specific struggles of women as their characters chart a balance between the prerogatives of nurturing, protecting, and providing for children, and the need to establish a strong sense of self-worth and individual dignity. There are correspondingly many different facets of womanhood available to strong women of color (such as Mother, Othermother/Othersister, Grandmother, Mother as Spiritual Leader, and Warrior) that aren’t as readily accepted within Euro-Western traditional roles.

Many of these unique facets appear in the story of Marie Lazarre (later Kashpaw). When we first encounter her, she’s a fourteen-year old girl pitting herself against the worst excesses of a colonizing form of western Christianity, embodied in the abusive and monomaniacal nun Sister Leopolda. Although the white authority figure makes use of familiar stereotypes that she borrows from the “civilization-savagism paradigm” to which Manuelito alludes, continually racializing the Devil as Indian—a figure who resides in the wilderness outside the convent—Marie resists the damaging internalization of this rhetoric by linguistically turning the tables on her oppressor. She does this by controlling the telling of events through her own narration and by uncovering the true motive behind Sister Leopolda’s efforts to gain Marie’s soul—the raw exercise of domination. Her description of the convent’s exterior demystifies it and strips it of its holy and God-ordained aura: “Gleaming white. So white the sun glanced off in dazzling display to set forms whirling behind your eyelids. The face of God you could hardly look at. But that day it drizzled, so I could look all I wanted. I saw the homelier side” (44-5).
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
June 1, 2007 – Finished Reading
July 12, 2007 – Shelved

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message 1: by Justin (last edited Aug 25, 2016 11:33AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Justin Steve, if this is the kind of work you're doing, you should read Tales of Burning Love by Erdrich ASAP. One of the fascinating aspects of it is the way she complicates the function of community. The women literally need each other to survive, yet their brought together my their relationship to a man, and the temporary community they have to form is more utilitarian than anything else. The constantly de-centered presence of Jack serves as a reminder of the contingencies of many woman-centered communities, but the women's voices ultimately (I think, today at least) negate Jack's centrality. If he's an initial unifying force, he isn't a life-giving one.

There also the issue of Jack's object/subject status, in which we learn who he is mostly through the stories the women tell, which are largely dependent on how they feel and think about him, and Erdrich never pins down an final truth about him.

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