Study Guide

Love Medicine Narrator Point of View

By Louise Erdrich

Narrator Point of View

Third Person Limited Omniscient and First Person Central Narrator (alternating) / Albertine Johnson, Marie Lazarre Kashpaw, Nector Kashpaw, Lulu Nanapush Lamartine, Lyman Lamartine, and Lipsha Morrissey

Take a deep breath before plunging into this icy river of narrative technique mayhem. The narrative structure pretty confusing and complex, switching between the first-and third-person narration throughout—and, when using the first person, bouncing among seven different narrators. Nineteen chapters use the first person, while the others are—you guessed it!—told in the third.

But there's a definite bonus to participating in the narrative game of hopscotch. Digging into the first-person perspectives of the different characters gives us a much deeper perspective on family dynamics and everyone's personal demons. For example, when describing her early life with the nuns, Marie Lazarre confides in the reader that she does have Native American blood, even though she denies this with everyone else:

I was going up there on the hill with the black robe women. They were not any lighter than me. I was going up there to pray as good as they could. Because I don't have that much Indian blood. (2.1.1)

As you can see, Marie is pretty keen to make sure everyone knows she's "as good" as anyone else… and in her mind, that means hiding her Native American blood.

Whereas the first-person chapters follow one character's perspective, the third-person (limited omniscient) narrators have a slightly wider perspective. Sure, they can delve into one or two characters' minds, but they can also zoom out to show us the wider world as well. In the section called "A Bridge," for example, we transition smoothly from "following" Albertine and her thoughts to doing the same with Henry Lamartine Junior.

The transition occurs as Albertine follows Henry Lamartine Junior from the bus station. First, the narration tracks Albertine's surveillance of the unknown soldier she's spotted:

He was walking quickly, duffel hoisted up his shoulder, along the opposite side of the street. Again she followed. Stepping from her doorway, she walked parallel with him, bundle slung from her hand and bouncing off her legs. (9.1.16)

Then, the narrator switches us over to Henry in the next paragraph, noting, "He knew the girl had been following and watching" (9.1.17). There's no doubting it: suddenly we're viewing the situation from Henry's perspective, and getting the same kind of insight to his motives and thoughts that we just got with Albertine.

Overall, the mix of different narrative techniques, while complex and a little head spinning, is super effective at giving us both the nitty-gritty details and wide-lens, birds-eye view of its characters.

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