Study Guide

June Kashpaw in Love Medicine

By Louise Erdrich

June Kashpaw

June is the first character we meet in the book, and even though she dies pretty much immediately, her presence looms large over the whole story. It seems she's actually pretty central to the lives of several characters.

Not "Much As A Mother"

June had one son, King, with hubby Gordie, and she had another child with Gerry Kashpaw named Lipsha (which was pretty much an open secret; it seems only Lipsha was in the dark about the identity of his 'rents).

June's niece, Albertine, comments that motherhood wasn't exactly June's bag: " … June had no patience with children. She wasn't much as a mother; everyone in the family said so, even Eli who was crazy about his little girl" (1.2.7).

However, she was a great aunt to Albertine: "Whatever she lacked as a mother, June was a good aunt to have—the kind that spoiled you" (1.2.8). So, it seems like she had a kind of maternal instinct, even if she wasn't always able to act it out with her own children.

Mama Drama

Well, perhaps the key to June's wonky parenting is the fact that she didn't really have parents herself; her mother died when she was young, at which point her father decided he couldn't take care of her. It seems that June's mother had led her out into the wilderness before dying, which is where June was finally found living off tree sap—so you probably won't be shocked to hear she has major abandonment issues.

At first, Marie Kashpaw offered to raise June and seemed to grow attached to her pretty quickly. She made a big effort to help June heal from her ordeal and adjust into life with the Kashpaws, and her affection grew in the process:

… as I scrubbed the pitiful scraps of her and wiped ointment over the sores, I saw nothing, no feature that belonged to either one, Lazarre or Morrissey, and I was glad. It was as if she really was the child of what the old people called manidoog, invisible ones who live in the woods. I could tell, even as I washed, that the Devil had no business with June. There was no mark on her. When the sores healed, she would be perfect. As I clipped her hair away from her face, I even saw that she might be pretty-looking. Really not like Lucille, I thought, or anyone else I was related to. It was no wonder, but this made me like the girl still better. (5.1.22)

Unfortunately, June didn't really develop a similar attachment to Marie; it seems she wasn't quite ready to trust or care about a woman after her little wilderness adventure with her mother.

In fact, she didn't actually seem to care much about anything, which is why she was apparently willing to let herself be hanged as part of a game among the other Kashpaw children when she was young. Marie had stopped the game, and June actually got really mad at her as a result. In Marie's retelling, here's what went down:

"Child," I said, "you don't know how to play. It's a game, but if they hang you they would hang you for real."
She put her head down. I could almost have sworn she knew what was real and what was not real, and that I'd still ruined it.
"You damn old b****," I head, unbelievably, those words muttered under her breath.
"What?"
"You damn old b****," she said, aloud, again.
(5.1.43-47)

Despite some solid effort, Marie was never really able to figure June out, lamenting,

At first, because I liked her so, I thought I knew what she was thinking, but as it turned out I did not know what went through her mind at all. (5.1.26)

And hey, we can't blame her—who would have guessed that a child would play at being hanging and hope to actually get hanged? Not many (hopefully).

Marie seemed to try pretty hard to tear down June' walls, but with no real success—and when June says she wanted to go live with Eli (who dotes on June), Marie agrees.

She Doesn't Look A Thing Like Jesus… Wait, Yes She Does

As we discuss in the "Booker's Seven Basic Plots" analysis section, June is totally associated with Jesus throughout the book. We get that hint pretty early on when June dies over Easter weekend, after starting the trek home over a whole ton of snow, which she is described as walking over "like water" (1.1.24). That sounds pretty Jesus-like to us.

Unfortunately, she falters somewhere on that journey and dies before she can get home, but she remains a pretty important character for the rest of the book. She's especially important to the later sections named "Resurrection" and "Crown of Thorns," which really zero in on Gordie's life after her death.

Just to really drive home the whole Jesus-June connection (as if the titles weren't enough to do that), in "Crown of Thorns," Gordie is convinced that he sees June walking around… and so June is, in a sense, resurrected in his mind.

The last section, too, suggests a kind of resurrection for June—with her car as her proxy, apparently. The section is called "Crossing the Water," which already brings us back to that early image of her as Jesus snowshoeing away from Williston, and this time the "crossing" comes about—that is, Lipsha brings the car that June's insurance money bought back home across the river to the reservation with him.

When he refers to bringing "her" home, he seems to mean more than the car—it definitely seems to be somehow about bringing June back home, metaphorically/spiritually. And this time, with her son's help, it happens. And for what it's worth, we have never been so surprised to see a happy ending in our lives.