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Fragmentation and Assimilation in Louise Erdrich's Love Medicine and LaRose



Erdrich's Love Medicine has been both celebrated as innovative and discredited as a novel due to its multi-perspective form. However, as a short story cycle, Love Medicine and LaRose fit the genre requirement of self-standing or independent pieces compiled to tell a larger story. Both of Erdrich's novels use first and third person point of view, but that point of view shifts depending on the central character of each piece. The purpose of this? To better capture the Native American story-telling technique of the Ojibwe Tribe, which serve as the inspiration for Erdrich, a member of the tribe herself, and her characters. Through this writing style Erdrich veers away from the traditional novel and offers a more inclusive narrative that not only challenges tradition through form, but also in content. The fragmented narrative coupled with the heavily Ojibwe influenced plots deliver a fictional revisionist history, creating a space for not only Ojibwe culture, but Native American culture to be represented.
Fragmentation and Assimilation in Louise Erdrich’s Love Medicine
and LaRose
As ethnic writers break into mainstream literature, so must the problems that once
inhibited their inclusion. The limited demographic of the canon is due largely in part to the
privileges afforded to those with power and their ability to wield it over others. As a result,
classic American literature is overwrought with white, upper-class male authors and their
accounts on America. Meanwhile, ethnic writers must strive to create works that break through
the barriers put in place by their White counterparts. For Native American authors the barriers
include government-implemented genocide, forced assimilation, and ongoing colonization that
have resulted in cultural and traditional losses. Furthermore, the traditional storytelling method
for most Native American tribes is the oral tradition, which until recently has not been valued in
the literary community. With the inability to adequately convey Native American existence both
historically and literarily to the dominant culture, Native American authors must work under
revisionist rhetoric.
Revisionists seek to challenge the orthodox views held by professional scholars or
introduce new evidence to reveal alternative opinions or ideas. Revisionist rhetoricians like
James Berlin try to “incorporate awareness of social differences such as gender, race, [and]
class,” with the goal of inciting positive social change (Berlin 116). However, challenging a
system that is rooted in century-old texts and measures a new literary addition by the standards
of those largely non-inclusive, old texts requires some ingenuity. Ethnic authors have worked to
reduce the confines by which literature is judged by incorporating a variety of non-traditional
elements into their writing, including colloquial and foreign words, images, songs, and poetry.
Meanwhile, some 20th-century writers have sought out a narrative form that better suits their
revisionist agenda while also allowing for a place in which written and oral storytelling can
coexist. The desired cohesion resulted in the application of experimental multiperspectival
narration. Initially, the form was used to convey “the world as fragmentary, disruptive, and
chaotic;” however, such a limited use on multiperspectival narration only reiterates the
non-inclusive nature that ethnic authors already work against (Schultz 81). Louise Erdrich,
Native American author and active member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe, offers a
fictional revisionist history of Native American and Euro-American interactions in the form of a
multi-narration, short story cycle. By employing this narrative form, Erdrich is able to challenge
conventional methods of storytelling that are at odds with and, therefore, non-inclusive to the
tribal traditions. Erdrich employs the fragmented form in both her first novel, Love Medicine
and her latest work, LaRose
, to emphasize the emotionally fragmented characters as
representations of a tribe working to piece together what remains of their culture after being
forced to assimilate.
Erdrich’s Love Medicine
has been both celebrated as innovative and discredited as a
novel due to its form. Love Medicine
has been critiqued as a “frustrated narrative,” lacking a
consistent main character and a developing plotline to follow. Erdrich’s writing style in Love
challenged conventional writing methods of the 20th century, garnering a backlash
from those who saw her style as confusing and even frustrating. Critics like fellow Native
American author and Native American Renaissance leader Leslie Marmon Silko found her
attempt to blend the historical, political, and cultural cumbersome while others “dismissed her
style as intentionally confounding, privileging an academic and experimental style rather than a
substantive, politically engaged and meaningful one” (Kurup 8). However, as a short story
cycle, Love Medicine
fits the genre requirement of self-standing or independent pieces compiled
to tell a larger story. Both of Erdrich’s novels use first and third person point of view, but that
point of view shifts depending on the central character of each piece. Erdrich’s stories are linked
to each other in such a way that allows the book to maintain “a balance between the individuality
of each of the stories and the necessities of the larger unit” (Ingram 15). The language and
research for identifying short story cycles and composite novels was not widely acknowledged or
known at the release of Love Medicine
(1984), leading early critics, like Newsweek
Gene Lyons, to discredit Erdrich’s work, declaring that, “no matter what the dust jacket says, it’s
not a novel… her inexperience as a storyteller shows throughout,” (qtd. in Schultz). However,
the research that followed on multi-narration and fragmented form clarifies that it is 20th century
works like Love Medicine
that made the composite novel a mature genre that is still employed
today (Dunne and Morris 1). Erdrich’s latest work LaRose
also employs the short story cycle and
multi-narration form, but is devoid of the backlash the earlier works received in veering away
from the traditional novel.
Under the short story cycle, regional representations of culture thrive and, as a result, so
do ethnic writers. This willingness to name and adopt a more inclusive genre also permits for
texts like Erdrich’s to serve as fictional revisionist history. Through this form of revision, a space
in literature can be made for the oral storytelling tradition so prominent in Ojibwe culture. Oral
tradition served to do more than entertain the tribe. The stories encompassed a history about the
land, the people, and the relationship between the two that Euro-Americans have never been able
to fully comprehend. Preserving the oral tradition greatly hindered the assimilation process
because it “kept people conscious of their tribal identity, the spiritual traditions, and their
connections to the land and her creatures,” (qtd. in Schultz). With the dominant culture unable to
understand the language and themes of Ojibwe storytelling, it is no wonder the tradition was
deemed unworthy of literary recognition until the late 20th century. While the tradition has been
adapted from the oral to the written, authors like Erdrich have worked to incorporate the
attributes of the Ojibwe traditions in the new form. The moral teachings and self-reflective
elements of Ojibwe myths and stories must be derived by the reader in the same way they would
have been by the listener of an oral telling. In this cooperative style Love Medicine’s
share their stories,
in the form of oral histories, local myths, and family fictions, often [creating] a
contestable version of events. In order to offer a “realistic” version of Ojibwe existence…
Erdrich creates a tension similar to that surrounding crisis of history and identity, a true
struggle for survival that Ojibwe experienced particularly in the late nineteenth century
through the twentieth and continue to feel today. (Kurup 11)
The reader has to piece together the many stories to come to a conclusion about the overall
experiences of the tribe. Erdrich offers several narrators to give a broader account of Ojibwe life
and dispel the U.S, government’s tendency to lump together all native people.
Although Love Medicine
and LaRose
take place in fictional settings with fictional
characters, the experiences of the characters are derived from largely subversive historical truths
in dire need of a revisionist pen. Due to the lack of written reports to corroborate Native
American experiences, much of the Ojibwe culture, tradition, and struggle have been lost and
refashioned to be widely applicable to all Native Americans by the dominating culture. As a
result of the eradication of their “Indian-ness,” the generations that followed were also
encouraged to assimilate, further fragmenting the cultural connections to the native traditions.
However, due to the efforts of tribal elders, reparations, and even the continuing efforts of the
American government to force Native Americans out of their lands, there has been a noted effort
on behalf of the new generations or second generation Native Americans to reclaim the native
traditions in what has been referred to as counter-assimilation, segmented-assimilation, or the
decolonize movement (Zhou 984). Segmented-assimilation is more readily found in the more
modern setting of LaRose
, but inklings of the assimilation resistance can be seen in Love
. Lending itself to the fractured identity working towards rehabilitation, the fragmented,
multi-narration form of Erdrich’s novels, LaRose
and Love Medicine
, and the emotionally
fragmented characters serve to represent a tribe working to piece together what remains of their
culture after forced assimilation.
Early assimilation functioned under the guise of religion and education, but the boarding
schools the young, surviving Ojibwe attended were modeled after a military regime intended to
eradicate Indian behavior, customs, and appearances. These widely implemented boarding
schools were another attempt to colonize the native people after genocidal efforts were
abandoned (Gill). Although Erdrich employs some imagination to the Ojibwe assimilation school
process, she samples from testimonies and documented historical evidence to support her
dramatized depiction of the “internalized religious, educational, economic, and political means,
the colonizers employed[…] to facilitate the acculturation of generations of Ojibwe” (Kurup 13).
Much like other colonization efforts, it was widely and correctly perceived that separating
families, especially the offspring from the parents, made both groups easier to manipulate. By
capitalizing on the fear that the separation caused the parents, the colonizers ensured that the
Ojibwe would not rise up against the colonizers. Meanwhile the boarding schools stripped the
Ojibwe children of their native identity, promoted Euro-American traits, customs, and eventually
mates. Many of Erdrich’s characters are half-blooded Ojibwe “who testify to those who suffered
humiliation, confusion, and psychological, emotional, spiritual fragmentation trying to balance
on a cultural hinge” that made it so that they struggled to identify with either group (Kurup 13).
Love Medicine’s
Marie Kashpaw is an Ojibwe and Euro-American that struggles to find her
place in either culture. Marie’s mixed features and family history impede her from being
welcomed by the Ojibwe who instead further exclude her by lumping her in with her poorly
regarded, predominately White family, calling her a “dirty Lazarre.” Fueled by her desire to
belong and the significance the Whites placed on religion, Marie hopes the Catholic convent will
welcome her because she does not “have that much Indian blood” and the nuns “were not any
lighter than [her]” (Love Medicine
40). The mixed-girl’s desire to feel a sense of significance and
belonging is so great that she is willing to endure the emotional and physical trauma of spiritual
colonization. In an act of spiritual purging intended to remove the “Indian” from Marie, religious
extremist Sister Leopolda scalds, beats, burns, and eventually stabs fourteen-year-old Marie
(Love Medicine
48). Although Erdrich is depicting the extremes of religious schooling in “Saint
Marie,” the schools functioned under severe military conditions because they were an
“assimilation practice adopted by the U.S. government with the goal of deracination” (Kurup
14). Marie embodies the identity crisis that many Ojibwe felt and the resulting, lasting effects of
forced assimilation on the tribe as a whole.
Even after returning to the tribe, the rigidity implemented in the boarding school children
followed them into adulthood and manifested itself in a variety of ways. According to researcher
Allison Owings, Ojibwe mothers, who had been taught by the Catholic missionaries that braided
hair was the mark of the savage, undid the intricate braids that their mothers affixed to their
daughters’ hair because “one of the things [they taught] Native American children was to be
ashamed of who they were (Owings 121). Erdrich’s own grandfather attended such a boarding
school and inspired the boarding school experience described in her latest novel
Employing what Erdrich is hesitant to call magical realism, the original LaRose describes her
having to “divide off [the Indian] parts of herself and let them go” in an effort to be the good,
assimilated student. Erdrich adds another layer to the fragmentation idea by also partitioning up
the original LaRose’s story into several sections in the larger narrative. The readers work to
understand the original LaRose short story and how it coincides with the primary storyline
involving Dusty’s death while only receiving pieces of the first story in brief, untitled snippets
that must be mentally collated. According to Dunn and Morris’s theories on short story cycles,
readers have the story interrupted and must “make connections [that are] frustrated by a
collection of unrelated stories constantly [beginning] over again, starting anew with each story”
(Dunn and Morris 5). By employing this fragmented form, Erdrich causes the reader to
experience some of the frustration and confusion her characters and the real people they are
modeled on felt in trying to piece together their history, culture, and identity after having been
colonized. Without the support or care of a family and at Wolfred’s urging, the first LaRose goes
willingly to boarding school as a means of survival. His motivations seem to stem from the
general understanding that assimilation was the only way for natives to survive as well as his
own need to have LaRose be an acceptable wife in American society. Ojibwe member and author
Brenda Child provides support to the challenges a White male might have had in wanting to
marry an Ojibwe woman in her book My Father’s Knocking Sticks
. The book contains a letter
from Child’s father to his sister. In it he discloses the challenges of wanting to marry a woman of
a different race, Child’s mother, and how “his situation is very unusual” in the eyes of the White
members of his family (My Father’s Knocking Sticks
70). For LaRose and Wolfred the boarding
school offers a hope for their being together, but further fragments LaRose’s connection to the
little Ojibwe culture her mother was able to instill in her.
Early efforts to resist the boarding schools and the rift they caused the families can be
seen in Love Medicine
with Rushes Bear’s struggle to part with her sons. “She had let the
government put Nector in school, but hidden Eli, the one she couldn’t part with...that way she
gained a son on either side of the line,” (Love Medicine
17). The author’s tone and word choice
reveals that not sending a boy, much like the draft, was not an option. In addition to alluding to
the lines of division and a fractured identity, Erdrich’s word choice in describing the division of
the two Kashpaw boys echoes the front lines of war, another subject with which the Ojibwe are
far too familiar. Erdrich’s reference to having a Kashpaw boy on either side suggests that their
loyalties would conflict due to their different upbringing, a prevailing theme in Erdrich’s novels
when discussing Ojibwe servicemen.
Native Americans have a long-standing relationship with the military, and the Ojibwe are
no exception. Like the warriors that came before them, the Ojibwe who serve the U.S. armed
forces are regarded in high esteem. At the Boise Forte Band of Ojibwe museum, servicemen
photographs line the entrance to convey the fact that “Boise Forte is very proud of the fact that
we are one of the bands that per capita have had more people enter the armed forces than
anywhere else in the United States” (Owings 126). Ingrained patriotism was a byproduct of the
military-inspired boarding schools. According to Erdrich, “much of patriotic culture is also based
on the fact that boarding schools were run by the U.S. government, and so included pledges of
allegiance, flags, lots of patriotic propaganda, and patriotic pageantry in the curriculum” (Kurup
14). Additionally, the military offered monetary incentives in a rapidly changing society where
the traditional economic system, which centered on trade and individual skillsets, was
disappearing while entering the service was being glorified. However, because of the military
tactics the government implemented in its assimilation efforts, patriotism was at odds with the
Ojibwe way of life and further added to the fragmented identity prominent in the “younger
generations of Ojibwe [who] feel an authentic connection to both cultures” (Kurup 15). LaRose’s
characters Hollis and his estranged father Romeo convey the conflicting ideas of two generations
on the subject of Ojibwe joining the military. Nonetheless, even Hollis’s explanation reveals his
internal conflict with his decision as he reasons, “My country has been good to me,” then goes
on to say, “ I know, sure they wiped us out almost, But still, the freedoms, right?” (LaRose
Hollis’s insecurities regarding patriotism are not unfounded. The American government made
several attempts to encroach on Ojibwe land while most of the Ojibwe men were at war in the
1950s and 60s. Erdrich’s own tribe, North Dakota’s Turtle Mountain clan, was slated for
termination until the 1970s (Holding Our World Together
140). In response to his son’s
unsteady reasoning, Romeo reveals the older generation's ongoing struggle with the effects of
assimilation by bursting out, “That’s called intergenerational trauma… they savaged our culture,
family structure, and most of all we need our land
back.” Romeo’s character conveys an opinion
held by many Native Americans in regards to serving a country that fails to act on the purported
desire to make amends for past wrongs. Differing opinions on enlistment and Native American
involvement in the “White man’s war” efforts added to the generational gap, which contributed
to the fragmented Ojibwe identity Erdrich depicts.
Despite there being a proud lineage of Ojibwe who have served in the military, including
Erdrich’s own ancestors, the author felt compelled to portray the hardships the Ojibwe faced
once the reality of war settled. She claims Henry Lamartine’s military experience and trauma in
Love Medicine
is not unique.
Henry willingly enlists in the army, propelled by a blend of
patriotic duty and the need for financial stability, but soon acknowledges that he is fighting for a
country that decimated his people in the same way he was helping the U.S. do to the Vietnamese.
Before becoming a prisoner of war, Henry is faced with the realization that he resembled the
enemy more than his fellow American soldiers. While Henry interrogated a dying woman, she
pointed out their similarities, “You, me same. Same. She pointed to her eyes and his. The Asian
folded eyes of some Chippewas” (Love Medicine
138). The conflicting ideologies of American
patriotism and the tactics the U.S. government used to assimilate the Ojibwe are at odds within
Henry and continue to haunt him years after the war. Henry's return from war reiterates the U.S.
government’s exploitative tendencies even towards its veterans. Henry is riddled with shrapnel
and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of his service in Vietnam, but
upon returning home there are “no Indian doctors on the reservation” and his family fears that
taking him to a hospital will result in his being committed (Love Medicine
148). While Henry
tries to work out his disjointed thoughts, Erdrich employs a jarring narrative to convey Henry’s
challenges. Although the chapters on Henry, “A Bridge” and “The Red Convertible,” follow one
another without the interruption of another short story, the narration within the two chapters is
repeatedly interrupted by Henry’s mental instability. In “A Bridge” Henry struggles with his hold
on reality and the reader has to work to follow the scene as Henry is pulled into the war
flashback, talks himself out of it partially aloud in Albertine’s presence, then tries to salvage the
night by talking himself down internally and feigning drunken normalcy with Albertine. “The
Red Convertible” is also plagued by Henry’s inability to make sense of the war and his role in it.
Henry’s brother, Lyman, holds the narrative together as he pulls his brother out of his mental
voids time and time again. As a result the fractured narrative is again present in this chapter, but
without the insight into Henry’s mind, the reader is left as puzzled as Lyman is about Henry’s
final moments. Erdrich’s choice to place these two pieces together portrays how even when
applying traditional, linear storytelling to a narrative, the internal struggle of the Ojibwe
character’s inability to belong remains present. The jarring and hard to follow narratives about
Henry further convey the Ojibwe struggle to adequately fit into a nation that requires them to
identify as a U.S. citizen for the purposes of war, but fails to recognize them once they return to
the reservation.
Despite reparations and tribal recognitions, a divisive line continues to separate the U.S.
government and Native Americans. The devastation caused by the government’s “termination”
solution to the Indian problem through aggressive land transfers and further forced assimilation
in the 50s would inspire not only Erdrich’s writing but also the ongoing counter-assimilation
movement that she alludes to in her books. The Ojibwe have persevered as a recognized tribe
despite the many attempts by the U.S. government to assimilate them. By working to hold on to
and reincorporate Ojibwe traditions, new and existing generations have managed to reassert their
tribal identity. The counter-assimilation movement is not radically different from the “Red
Power” or American Indian Movement’s of the past, only now it is made up of a new generation
that has been brought up to understand and embrace, rather than reject, their “Indian-ness.” The
current movement is made possible by the efforts of the previous movement’s exposure and
dismantling of assimilation-geared schools, allowing the Ojibwe to educate their children,
which stimulated a growing interest in Ojibwe youth to learn about a lost cultural heritage
and provided an opportunity for tribal communities to restore and reinforce Ojibwe
values. Erdrich explained that “now tribal cultures are finding a way to resurrect their
own histories and philosophies in teaching their children.” (Kurup 15)
The significance of the traditional teachings or lack thereof is present in both of Erdrich’s novels;
however, the character’s in LaRose render modern day depictions of 21st century Native
Americans working to remove the second class status once assigned to them.
The counter-assimilation movement of today is still in its early stages; however, it has
gained some ground with the Trump administration and its decisions regarding reservation lands
in North Dakota. With the gained consciousness of the harmful effects of assimilation, the
counter-assimilation or decolonize movement works towards identifying and speaking out
against common Native American stereotypes and cultural appropriation while championing
tribal recognition and more-inclusive methods of gaining tribe members. LaRose’s
Josette and Snow positively demonstrate the hopes of the counter-assimilation movement. Rather
than being quiet when a store owner follows them around expecting them to steal something,
Josette declares “you don’t need to follow us around either. We have money and we’re not going
to steal” (LaRose
39). Although the scene captures an uncomfortable racial tension, it is also
empowering. Josette is aware of the store owner's stereotypes and knows that only by pointing
them out to her can a positive change begin to take place. Erdrich does just that with the
remainder of the scene in which a harmonic balance between the cultures is depicted by having
the woman empathize and then help with the Iron girls’ desire to buy their mother a worthy gift.
Later in the novel, Erdrich depicts the Iron girls visiting their grandmother, the fourth LaRose, to
work on their beading. Again, the girls demonstrate how they manage to find the balance
between their Ojibwe heritage and their American life; however, as with any merging of cultures,
Erdrich emphasizes that it is not a clean seam. Josette vents her frustration at not beading as
adeptly as her sister, saying, “How come I suck at this? What kind of Indian am I?” (LaRose
356). Her frustration quickly passes as her sister helps with the beadwork, but the frustration at
not excelling in such a traditional area of Ojibwe culture demonstrates the struggle that the new
generation feels to successfully represent both American and native cultures. Despite Josette’s
frustration and the implication of segmented-assimilation being challenging, Erdrich’s tone is
light in this scene. A sisterly teasing ensues between Josette and Snow as their grandmother
looks and listens on in the background depicting a generational image of the past and present.
Additionally, the evocation of humor amongst the cultural dilemma Josette’s frustration
represents makes light of the imperfect blend of the cultures. In an effort to reiterate that
segmented-assimilation will not render equal results for each individual, but rather allows for
equal space in which both of the cultures and practices can harmonically exist.
Much of what the segmented-assimilation movement is working against are the
ideas put in place by the dominant culture that Erdrich’s writing is working to revise.
Anthropologists were acting and writing under the assumption that “these cultures [were] in the
last stages of dying out, and therefore evidence of their ways of living should be protected and
preserved for future study” (Stock 184). As a result, the Ojibwe of today are still working to
retrieve items that were often taken from them through adverse methods. Rosemary Berens of
the Bois Forte band of Ojibwe explains that even with reparations loopholes exist wherein items
that are declared utilitarian by the U.S. government cannot be repatriated (Owings 112). Berens
elaborates, “But for us, Native Americans, everything we use is sacred because of the process we
use to go out and get these things… the whole process is very sacred. Museums don’t recognize
that.” While most non-native people are familiar with the U.S. government's deceitful tactics to
acquire Native American land, Erdrich understands that the subject of reparations may be
unfamiliar to readers. To convey the Ojibwe’s struggle regarding the loss of their spiritual relics,
Erdrich applies the severe sense of loss when she reports the theft, withholding, and later loss of
the original LaRose’s bones. LaRose’s family works to retrieve their ancestor’s bones for the
better part of century while they go on display in museums and exhibitions until finally the
president of the historical society reveals they have been lost (LaRose
206). Erdrich’s decision to
choose human remains to represent the arduous reparations efforts of the Ojibwe and other native
peoples is deliberate. Knowing her audience, the author sheds light on the tribal thefts by
choosing a reparation item that would resonate with her non-native readers. The frustration of
Erdrich’s characters as each generation tries to solve the mystery of LaRose’s bones is again
emulated in the reader’s piecing together of the original LaRose’s fragmented story. Erdrich’s
is a fictional revision that is also calling attention to the ongoing struggle of native
people piecing their culture back together, and for that, the text itself is a part of the
segmented-assimilation movement.
The segmented-assimilation movement of the real world has its roots planted in the past,
in the efforts of people not unlike the fictional ones Erdrich depicts in her novels. In Love
Erdrich juxtaposes those who assimilate by rejecting their Ojibwe identity and those
that successfully exist in the blended community while still holding on to the Ojibwe culture. As
one of the younger characters in Love Medicine
, Lipsha demonstrates his struggle to adequately
fit into both cultures while lacking a sufficient understanding of either. His unknown parentage
and lack of exposure to life off of the reservation creates in him a strong attachment to the
Ojibwe life. Lipsha is gifted with a spiritual healing ability that Erdrich’s characters refer to as
“the touch,” but the knowledge of how to properly implement such a rare gift has been lost. With
religious conversion being one of the strongest tools and motivations for assimilation, indigenous
religion or spirituality were weeded out, leaving only fragments for those like Lipsha to
implement (My Grandfather’s Knocking Sticks
54). In a darkly humorous “commentary on how
disrupted the transmittal of cultural knowledge has become,” Lipsha indirectly causes his
adoptive grandfather’s death and loses “the touch” (Schultz 9). The revelation of his birth parents
and the loss of ‘the touch” forces Lipsha to reevaluate his identity. Eventually, in a conversation
with his biological father Gerry, Lipsha realizes “there was good in what [June] did for [him].
The son that she acknowledged [King] suffered more…” (Love Medicine
273). Lipsha goes on to
convey that without growing up in Marie’s household he would not have acquired the
understanding of the Ojibwe culture by referencing his Grandmother Marie and the knowledge
she afforded him about the surrounding land. Lipsha serves to represent a developing
understanding for retaining the value of Native American traditions. Similarly, Landreaux and
Emmaline in LaRose
turn to indigenous spirituality when seeking to make amends for
Landreaux’s having murdered Dusty. Christian religion is present in the text as well, but the
Ojibwe spirituality offers the couple more comfort and takes on a greater significance in the
central character LaRose, who has a spiritual “touch” of his own. While assimilation promised
that the abandonment of tribal customs, appearances, and identity would make life in America
easier, Erdrich’s characters demonstrate that those who embrace the Ojibwe way in the modern
world are better equipped to navigate it. Although Lipsha ultimately loses “the touch,” he retains
an understanding of the Ojibwe culture that he carries with him as he moves through the modern
world, never entirely assimilating or being destroyed by it in the way Henry was.
In the 21st century setting of LaRose
, there is a clear effort on behalf of the
characters to reintroduce the Ojibwe culture into the community. Erdrich’s characters are aware
of their mixed heritage but seem to have found a balance that the older generation struggles to
find. In an effort to do right after the patriarch of the Iron family, Landreux, accidentally kills the
Ravich boy, Dusty, the Irons give up their son LaRose to the Ravichs as Ojibwe traditions
dictate. Rather than allow the tragedy to rip apart the two families, Erdrich’s characters turn to
the old way of making amends that offers the families an opportunity to survive. In seeking
guidance Landreux and his wife evoke an Ojibwe method of spiritual meditation (LaRose 11).
Initially, both families struggle to accept the exchange, but eventually find it a harmonious
solution to what originally seemed an incredibly divisive plot. The initial division between the
characters and their stories is made all the more apparent by the form of the book. As mentioned,
multiple characters also narrate LaRose
. Like with Love Medicine
, the fragmented form is
emulated in the characters’ struggles to find their place in a blended culture; however, whereas
Love Medicine
clearly titles the change of a narrator or primary character with a name, LaRose
does not. Instead Erdrich marks the sudden changing of a narrator or scene with the image of a
small rose. Although the reader becomes familiar with the rose and eventually disregards it, its
recurring is a reminder of the fragmentation and its ties to the original LaRose. The rose and the
original LaRose’s story appear without warning and require the reader to readjust to put together
the past as it works to connect to the Ravich and Iron timeline. However, as the families become
more unified and the characters more at ease with their blended culture, the interruption of the
rose becomes less and less necessary as the story works towards resolution. In the final chapter
“The Gathering” the rose image only appears twice to further emphasize the sense that the
community and the members gathered at the celebration are more unified. Erdrich even has the
original LaRose (in spirit form) predict the return of her lost remains to the family (LaRose
The stories like the cultures are coming together into a more complete piece due to the efforts of
those willing to embrace the modern world without denying their Ojibwe heritage.
Love Medicine
and LaRose
may take place in fictional settings with fictional characters,
but the themes and historical allusions are included as part of a revisionist history. Erdrich
employs a narrative form that allows for multiple experiences to converge under one title;
however, the fragmented form reminds readers that much like the form, the Ojibwe people are
working towards cohesiveness. While LaRose’s
characters suggest that the Ojibwe are
succeeding in their cohesion efforts, both novels are clear in that the error and damage of the past
must still be contended with through the efforts of the current generation.
Works Cited
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In Understanding Louise Erdrich, Seema Kurup offers a comprehensive analysis of this critically acclaimed Native American novelist whose work stands as a testament to the struggle of the Ojibwe people to survive colonization and contemporary reservation life. Kurup traces in Erdrich’s oeuvre the theme of colonization, both historical and cultural, and its lasting effects, starting with the various novels of the Love Medicine epic, the National Book Award-winning The Round House, The Birchbark House series of children’s literature, the memoirs The Blue Jays Dance and Books and Island in Ojibwe Country, and selected poetry. Kurup elucidates Erdrich’s historical context, thematic concerns, and literary strategies through close readings, offering an introductory approach to Erdrich and revealing several entry points for further investigation. Kurup asserts that Erdrich’s writing has emerged not out of a postcolonial identity but from the ongoing condition of colonization faced by Native Americans in the United States, which is manifested in the very real and contemporary struggle for sovereignty and basic civil rights. Exploring the ways in which Erdrich moves effortlessly from trickster humor to searing pathos and from the personal to the political, Kurup takes up the complex issues of cultural identity, assimilation, and community in Erdrich’s writing. Kurup shows that Erdrich offers readers poignant and complex portraits of Native American lives in vibrant, three-dimensional, and poetic prose while simultaneously bearing witness to the abiding strength and grace of the Ojibwe people and their presence and participation in the history of the United States.
The narrative innovations in Louise Erdrich's Love Medicine, particularly its unique treatment of time and character, are addressed in this study. The narrative investigation serves as a basis for the paper to suggest a new way to read the novel, as a "fictional ethnography". This type of reading shows how the narrative strategy in the novel comments on American Indian history of the twentieth century. In this way the novel shows how narrative devices can be a part of a social and political debate in literature.
Thesis--University of Southern California, 1967. Includes bibliographical references (leaves 351-385). Microfilm. s
"The segmented assimilation theory offers a theoretical framework for understanding the process by which the new second generation--the children of contemporary immigrants--becomes incorporated into the system of stratification in the host society and the different outcomes of this process. This article examines the issues and controversies surrounding the development of the segmented assimilation theory and reviews the state of recent empirical research relevant to this theoretical approach. It also highlights main conclusions from recent research that bear on this theory and their implications for future studies." The geographical focus is on the United States.
Revisionary Histories of Rhetoric
  • James Berlin
Berlin, James. "Revisionary Histories of Rhetoric." Writing Histories of Rhetoric, edited by Victor J. Vitanza, Southern Illinois UP, Carbondale, 1994.
Holding Our World Together: Ojibwe Women and the Survival of Community . Penguin Books
  • Brenda J Child
Child, Brenda J. Holding Our World Together: Ojibwe Women and the Survival of Community. Penguin Books. 2012.
The composite Novel: The Short Story Cycle in Transition
  • Maggie Dunn
  • Anne Morris
Dunn, Maggie, and Anne Morris. "Naming and Defining a Developing Genre." The composite Novel: The Short Story Cycle in Transition. New York: Twayne, 1996.
Harper Perennial Modern Classics
  • Louise Love Erdrich
  • Medicine
Erdrich, Louise. Love Medicine. Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2013. ---. LaRose: a Novel. Harper Perennial. 2017.
What is Cultural Appropriation?
  • Pegi Eyers
Eyers, Pegi. What is Cultural Appropriation?" Unsettling America, Stone Circle Press, 26 Apr. 2017,