A Message of Hope in Love Medicine
Love Medicine, by Louis Eldridge attempts to confront the popular stereotypes of American Indians. The novel generally follows the history of a family of Chippewa Indians who live on and off a reservation.
In a thoroughly humanist approach, Ms. Eldrige narrates each chapter in a different voice, and through extremely varied characters effectively shows the diversity of the Indians. This is an important aspect of the novel, as it demonstrates that there is no single stereotypical "Indian". The book begins with two scenes from a modern perspective, showing a turbulent family with fairly disturbing problems. Then the author flashes back to the lives of the Chippewa's family two generations earlier, and moves more or less chronologically to the present day. One of the major conflicts in the story is the reconciliation of the Native Americans to their cultural past, while still embracing the future.
The words "Indian", American Indian, or Native American, all bring to mind stereotypes of a race of people with specific stigma attached to themselves in modern American culture. The word "Indian" can conjure up a multiplicity of images, from the barbaric, blood-thirsty savages straight out of a western movie, to the more romantic image of a noble, intelligent, and tribal people, living in harmony with nature. These extremes in the modern stereotyping of the American Indian and all of their various moderations are wrong for a very important reason: They are rooted in the past.
The war between popular European culture and Indian culture was over practically before it had even begun. After the frontier closed around the turn of the century all that was left of untouched Indian culture was quickly destroyed by the BIA. The average American, at the time had an incomplete, misinformed, or romanticized view of the Indian. Maybe this image came in several varieties but all images of the Indian had one common point: "Indians" were another historical fact coupled with the romanticized images portrayed by the media. Our outlook on Native Americans as a society is one which attaches every individual American Indian with a cultural past which has absolutely nothing to do with the present day. Expecting an American Indian to retain cultural beliefs and societal practices reflective of his heritage is like expecting an urbanized American-Swede to carry out a traditional 1500's Swedish lifestyle in the 1990's.
It is this issue which Love Medicine adresses so skillfully. The Chippewa family in the story is very large. From the very beginning we see scenes of infidelity, drunken rampages, strained marriages, hate, and poverty. These scenes offer a look into the lifestyle of the modern Native American which is strikingly different from the comfortable images that we all harbor; images of a noble people living off the land, in harmony with nature. So much for the romantic view of the "noble savage". This leaves...