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Positive and Negative Characters of the Novel

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  • Pages: 13
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  • Category: Culture

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Nanapush is one of the most positive male figures in the novel. Married to Margaret Kashpaw, they took Lulu in after she ran away from boarding school, an act which shows his compassion. An elderly man and the oldest patriarch, Nanapush holds and values knowledge of Native American culture that other characters have lost. Likely as an extension of this, Nanapush hates the government, an ideology he shares with Lulu when he asks her to bury him in a tree when he dies so he can keep watch for his enemies, the government. Nanapush is a patient man, willing to put up with the anger between Rushes Bear and Lulu, and a very moral man, described by Lulu as ‘the pattern for all other men’. He is a wise man who gives Lulu sound advice, and is described as ‘tough’ and ‘sensible’.

Rushes Bear:

Rushes Bear is one of the strongest, most responsible women in Love Medicine. She is the original ‘Mindimooyenh’ of the family and truly acts as it’s foundation. Her strength and ferocity define her as a force to be reckoned with, and someone whose approval is widely sought after. Rushes Bear exemplifies the last fully stable generation of the family, until King Jr, because she holds the traits of tough, stable, fair, and self-reliant.

Rushes Bear earned her name when she allegedly charged at an actual bear. “Nector’s mother got her name from the time she went at a bear, no weapon in her hand. As I have heard it told, the bear turned from her straight charge. The same with me. I learned not to meet Rushes Bear head-on”. In this action it’s possible to see the bravery and stubbornness that get passed down the generations of the family.

Rushes Bear is presented first as a tough woman, especially as a mother-in-law for Marie. However, Rushes Bear’s true character is shown after Marie’s dangerous birth when she finally gives her respect and approval. This proves that Rushes Bear has solid values and will offer respect when she feels it’s earned. Lulu also earned her respect by making a delicious dish. Although this did not show strength like Marie, it shows that she’s self-sufficient, skilled, and can be a good provider for her family, which is equally as respectable to the matriarch.

Fleur Pillager:

Fleur Pillager is a fierce and slightly mystic woman. She is Lulu’s mother and assisted Rushes Bear with Marie’s last birth. She was a kind mother to Lulu, who used the memory of her to console herself and to keep her from ‘inner harm’, this strength she inadvertently gave her daughter shows the love she treated her with. Fleur is a Pillager woman, which means she has the traits of a sudden body, fierce outright wishes and a surprising heart. Fleur is very respected in her medical capabilities, being called for Marie’s birth which was so intense that Marie almost died. She is also an ethical woman, refusing the payment that Nector offered after Marie’s hard birth since she knew it wasn’t honorable.

Marie Kashpaw:

Marie Kashpaw began life as a Lazzarre, her family were considered the lowest class on the reservation. This early shame created within Marie a deep determination to better her status. Throughout the novel she’s shown to be headstrong, brave, and stubborn. Within her own family Marie has taken the role of Mindimooyenh, who is “the one who holds things together”. She acts as a tough but fair matriarch.

As a child Marie had been deeply involved in Catholicism, and was determined on becoming a nun, then eventually a Saint. The aspirations were so deep in Marie that she became fervent when she prayed and even believed she could see and hear Satan. The desire ran so deep in Marie that she decided to go up the hill t become a nun, at which point she was placed under the tutelage of Sister Leopolda. While under Sister Leopolda Marie faced emotional abuse, by being accused of fraternizing with the devil, and traumatizing physical abuse like being scalded by boiling water and being stabbed in the hand with a poker. After Sister Leopolda stabbed Marie through the hand with the poker she lied to the other nuns and said that it appeared on her hand, as a “stigmata”, which led them all to pray to her as a Saint. It was only then, when Marie achieved her Saintly goal that she left the nuns, which shows her tenacity and determination. Marie likely cared so much about becoming a Saint because it would give her the status and respect she craved. As a Saint she would be honored regardless of the burden of her heritage.

In another bid for status Marie marries Nector, who comes from the very respectable Kashpaw line.

Marie fully stepped into her role as the matriarch after enduring an intensely difficult childbirth. This experience was important because to be Mindimooyenh one must have hard earned knowledge from challenging life experiences, such as going through such a dangerous birth. This experience was also when Rushes Bear finally announces her respect for Marie, saying to Nector, “No more. I have only a daughter… you never heard any wail out of her, any complaint. You would never know this birth was hard enough for her to die”. This line can be interpreted as Rushes Bear handing the reins of being the matriarch to Marie, which allowed Marie to fully take on the position without worrying about the judgement of Rushes Bear.

Lulu (Nanapush) Lamartine:

Lulu is a deliberate, insistent woman and an able mother. She’s viewed around the reservation as a flirt because she had children from many different fathers, and went through three marriages. Despite the stigma against her Lulu remained proud and defiant, unafraid to admit the men that she has been with. This quality, that she was able to endure the social isolation from untrusting wives and keep her pride, shows a strength to her spirit.

Lulu is also a deliberate and careful woman, although those qualities aren’t often explicitly shown in the novel. Her household is described to be in perfect order, and here sons well behaved despite Lulu having to raise so many boys mostly alone. This shows the care Lulu has for her life and her loved ones, and reveals that she isn’t as shallow as simply a wild, flirty woman.

Lulu is one of the most resolute characters in Love Medicine. As a young woman Lulu was in love with Nector Kashpaw, who turned her down for Marie. Throughout her entire life Lulu kept pursuing and even maintaining relationship with Nector, despite their marriages. While this may not be strictly moral it does show a deep resolution for getting what she wants. Lulu’s determination is also shown when Nector burned her house down and instead of giving in to his demands and moving, Lulu decided to stay on the land. This is another example of Lulu refusing to give in and following through with her decision despite the hardships that come.

Nector Kashpaw:

Nector Kashpaw is the son of Rushes Bear and Kashpaw, the husband of Marie and brother of Eli. He is prideful, full of potential and a Kashpaw, meaning he is from a very important family on the reservation. The Kashpaws are highly respected, and that’s part of the reason that Nector has always seen things like jobs and women come easily to him throughout his life.

One of Nector’s clearest character traits is his prideful arrogance. When Nector is first introduces he explains how handsome and intelligent he is, giving a stark contrast to his mother Rushes Bear. Nector’s good looks and arrogance lead him to several opportunities, including being the model for a painting and a role in a movie. However, both jobs result in his imagined death, which demands an examination of how Native Americans are portrayed in the media. Nector’s arrogance also leads him to problems like his affair with Lulu, and ultimately his death which is a result of said affair.

Nector is also described as being ‘full of potential’, a trait that his wife Marie is eager to draw out of him. As a child Nector was sent to boarding school, which helped to hone his intelligence and give him impressive qualifications. Nector’s propensity for drinking and gambling led him from a life of success, which is why he needs Marie to hold the reins. When his self-control problems are in check Nector is able to become a tribe leader, and is even revered as a hero for stopping government legislation that would harm the reservation.

Finally, Nector is an incredibly selfish man. Throughout his life Nector often just took what he want, without thinking about the affects his actions may have on others. He drank and squandered money instead of being a reliable husband and father, he eventually cheated on his loyal wife, and even order his mistress to abandon her long held land. All of these actions were choices Nector made, despite the fact that they harmed the people he was closest to.

Eli Kashpaw:

Eli Kashpaw is the brother of Nector and the father adopted father of June. As a child he was hidden away to avoid the mandatory boarding schools for Native American children, and was taught how to survive in the traditional ways by hunting and living off the land. Because of this he’s more in tune with his culture and heritage than other characters. Eli is perhaps the most stable of the family, although he also presents as particularly shy.

Eli is one of the most stable characters in Love Medicine, avoiding scandals, affairs, drama and even the drinking problem that plagues Nector. This is seen when King and Lynette start fighting over King giving the hat to Eli: “Eli sat calmly underneath the hat. He seemed oblivious to King’s sacrifice and just sat, his old cap perched on his knee, turning the can around and around in his hand without drinking” (33). Here Eli shows his stability by refusing to get involved with the petty drama and disengaging when the situation became contentious.

Eli is also particularly shy, never marrying and never having biological children, he also spends limited time interacting with the rest of the family and lives alone in the woods. It is perhaps this mirrored introversion that bonded Eli and June together, leading eventually to Eli essentially adopting June. Eli plays a big part in June’s life and was saddened by her death.

June Morrisey:

June is the catalyst for the start of Love Medicine. She is in an unstable marriage with her cousin Gordie with whom she has King Kashpaw. June later has an affair with Gerry and produces Lipsha, who she surrenders to Nector and Marie Kashpaw. June suffers from a lot of internal conflict, she is unable to maintain a healthy relationship, she raises a turbulent son, and she never holds a job for long before offending someone or showing up drunk.

June’s inner turmoil worsens as she’s unable to find any stability in home, jobs, or relationships. She eventually walks out into a snowstorm, despite the fact that she was so familiar with the weather she should have known it was coming no matter how drunk. June’s struggles show how the loss of personal identity and a strong foundation can affect someone, as a commentary on the way Native American families were torn apart by boarding schools. Perhaps if June had a stronger connection to her community and family she wouldn’t have felt the need to leave them all behind, or kill herself to finally find ‘home’.

Gerry Nanapush:

Gerry Nanapush was married to Dot Adare, and had an affair with June that produced Lipsha. As a young man Gerry got in trouble with the law for assaulting a cowboy over racial slurs and got sent to prison. However, he has a knack for escaping jails and a no skills at all at staying free, so he’s spent much of his adult life in and out of prisons. Gerry believes that he was given an unfair punishment and has already paid off his debt which is why he keeps running, a struggle that symbolizes how the American judicial system treats Native Americans unfairly.

Within the novel Gerry represents Nanabozho, as he too is a humorous trickster. His ‘Nanabozho’ character type is shown in scenes where he’s miraculously escaping from prison or running from the cops unscathed. More than that, Nanabozho is a protector of Native American cultures, which Gerry shows through his refusal to submit to the racism he thinks he’s endured.

Gordie Kashpaw:

Gordie Kashpaw is married to his cousin June and with her has King. Gordie is a very passionate man, which can be seen through many instances throughout his life. When Gordie fell in love with June they decided to run away and elope together despite their family’s intense disapproval, a decision which demonstrates that once Gordie knows what he wants he is unable to back away from it.

Gordie’s passion shows in a much more sinister way when it’s revealed that he used to beat June, an action so extreme that it must come from a place of extreme emotion. Finally, Gordie’s passion leads ultimately to his untimely death when he goes into an intense depression after June’s suicide and loses himself wholly to alcoholism. Although Gordie’s intensity often affected him in acutely negative ways, it is his most defining characteristic which led most of his life decisions and even bled into his son King.

Henry Lamartine Jr.

Henry Lamartine Jr. is the son of Lulu and Henry Lamartine. His half brother is Lyman Lamartine, all the brothers under Lulu are very close to each other. As young men Lyman and Henry buy a red convertible and travel across the country together, experiencing freedom and idyllic adulthood. This is interrupted when Henry remembers he enlisted and is sent to Vietnam. When he returns he has PTSD and acts like a shell of his old self, angry and sad. Henry lets his trauma affect him in negative ways, having sex with Albertine when she was only fifteen and having violent hallucinations.

Henry returns to the reservation and goes out driving again with Lyman. He has what appears to be a psychotic break where he begins dancing wildly then jumps in to the rushing river. Henry completely accepts and acknowledges that he’s going to die, stating ‘my boots are filling’ before drowning. This shows how drastically Henry has changed, from an excited and positive young man to an empty and depressed adult.

Lyman Lamartine:

Lyman Lamartine is Lulu’s son and Henry Lamartine Jr.’s half brother. Lyman is the son of Nector Kashpaw, meaning he inherited his knack for earning money. Lyman feels that he has a bright future since he doesn’t worry about getting a job or running out of money. This skill at earning money benefits Lyman throughout his life and is what allows him to buy a red convertible with his brother Henry Jr. The two brothers take the car all across America, experiencing adventures and freedom for the first time. He is very close to Henry, whose PTSD, depression, and suicide has a deep effect on Lyman.

King Kashpaw:

King is married to Lynette and father to King Kashpaw Jr. Throughout the novel King proves himself to be emotionally unstable and violent. When King is first introduced he is beating his wife and then breaks down sobbing over the death of his mother. Even as a child King was violent and angry, bullying Lipsha constantly throughout their youth and setting the tone for his adulthood. King’s anger leads to an unhealthy relationship with his wife, where she belittles him and lacks respect, and he physically abuses her.

Beyond angry and violent, King is also a coward. Near the end of Love Medicine Lipsha learns that King ratted out Gerry Nanapush for planning an escape. King then sits paralyzed in fear from the thought that Gerry may come back to seek revenge. When Gerry does confront him King sits silently, unable to stand up to him and defend himself.

Albertine Johnson:

Albertine Johnson is the daughter of Zelda Kashpaw and Swede Johnson, and feels emotionally close to her late aunt June. Albertine has a difficult relationship with her mother who engaged in ‘slow and continuous’ abuse with her. MORE SENTENCES HERE IDK I WOULD TALK ABOUT MORE STUFF

Lipsha Morrissey:

Lipsha Morrissey begins his life lost and directionless, largely because he doesn’t know who is real parents are so he has a limited sense of self. During his childhood Lipsha is bullied by King for not being a ‘real boy’, a stab towards the reality that he doesn’t know his parents, and he is the illegitimate son of June, a fact that King may blame June and Gordie’s problems on.

As a young man, near the end of Love Medicine, Lipsha is beginning to come into his own. He reveals he has powers to help heal people, and uses them to give comfort to seniors and to attempt to fix Marie and Nector’s marriage, an effort which shows his true kindness despite his ultimate failure. Lipsha is soon told by Lulu that his true parents are June and Gerry. This revelation starts him on a quest to better understand himself and his parentage, a desire that leads him to Gerry. When Gerry enters King’s house Lipsha stands up for him against King, an act that reveals the inner strength he inherited from Gerry.

Lipsha, similar to his father, also acts as Nanabozho in Love Medicine. Following the legend of Nanabozho Lipsha loses June, just as Nanabozho loses his mother. Lipsha is taken in by his ‘grandmother’ Marie, and eventually sent on his quest to find Gerry by his true grandmother Lulu, all of which reflects how Nanabozho’s grandmother guides him on his quest. Lipsha eventually defeats a great gambler, King, with his wits by marking the cards. Most importantly, Lipsha holds true the Nanabozho spirit of being mischievous without causing real harm to others.

Lipsha is an important character because he truly represents the convergence of all the blood lines of this family. In this way Lipsha is a reflection of June, who is the only other person connected to everyone in the family tree. Once Lipsha has come to peace with himself it’s clear that he possesses all the good traits passed down through the family; his mystical healing and ‘sense’, his bravery, kindness, and stability are all reflections of older generations without the pride, alcoholism, or anger. At the end of the novel Lipsha is able to show the Native American tradition of hope for brighter future, as he continues to the reservation free of his old burdens and ready to help his family and community heal.

​King Howard Kashpaw Jr:

King Howard Jr. is the son of King and Lynette, raised in a household of chaos King matures quickly well beyond his years. In the novel King is only five, making him the youngest member of the family and the bright hope for the Kashpaws, especially considering his impressive intelligence and maturity. When first starting school King Jr. chose to go by his middle name ‘Howard’, thus rejecting King Sr. and all the toxicity and anger that defined him. Howard represents a new, brighter generation that is leaving behind unhealthy traits and habits and is able to embrace a hopeful future.

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