Study Guide

Nector Kashpaw in Love Medicine

By Louise Erdrich

Nector Kashpaw

Nector Kashpaw is the son of Rushes Bear and Kashpaw and the husband of Marie Lazarre. Also, he managed to cause a fair bit of trouble during his time on earth (and even beyond).

Nector Was A Studly Dudley

Everyone seems to agree that Nector was quite the looker when he was younger—and Nector would be the first to tell you that. In the first chapter that features Nector's first-person narration, which is set back in his youth, he remarks,

Just to set the record clear, I am a good-looking boy, tall and slim, without a belly hanging in the way. I can have the pick of girls, is what I'm saying. (3.1.2)

Consider the record clear, Nector: you're arrogant.

In fact, Nector's "look" seemed to be in pretty high demand among artists and Hollywood-types. A talent scout picked Nector out for "the biggest Indian part" in a movie, which… basically just involved him dying. Nector soon realized that "[d]eath was the extent of Indian acting in the movie theater" (7.1.5) and peaced out, thinking that "it was quite enough to be killed the once you have to die in this life" (7.1.5). Good call.

Soon after Nector started and ended his film career, an "old rich woman" (7.1.6) wanted to paint him naked. He refused to take all of his clothes off even after she offered oodles of money, but she did manage to convince him to pose in a diaper for two hundred dollars. That painting, which was titled Plunge of the Brave, was later famous, he says, and hung in the Bismarck state capitol. Much to his surprise (and, we're sure, chagrin), he discovered that the painting represented him jumping off a cliff to his death, forcing him into the same kind of representation he tried to avoid with the movie.

He's Also A Kashpaw

Speaking of the movie, Nector was super surprised that a Hollywood producer would want to kill him off right away, given how important the Kashpaw family was. Little did he know that they probably didn't have the faintest idea who the Kashpaws were.

Anyway, in Nector's eyes this is a huge deal, and he makes a lot of references to how important his family was and how that impacted his life:

I never wanted much, and I needed even less, but what happened was that I got everything handed to me on a plate. It came from being a Kashpaw, I used to think. Our family was respected as the last hereditary leaders of this tribe. (7.1.1)

Family influence certainly wasn't everything, however, since Nector continued to receive a lot of attention and respect even after the Kashpaws "died out" (7.1.1).

Brains—He's Got 'Em

Nector was seen as the brainiac of the family, so he went to school while his brother Eli stayed home. As a result, as far as the family's hunting activities went, Eli was largely in charge of the actual catching, and Nector was in charge of selling the catches.

Nector's wife, Marie, was very aware that her husband was a smarty, and so she kept him under close watch/control so she could help him (in her view) reach his full potential. As she put it,

I had plans, and there was no use him trying to get out of them. I'd known from the beginning I had married a man with brains. (5.1.27)

Apparently, she felt the tight leash was necessary because of his fondness for alcohol:

… the brains wouldn't matter unless I kept him from the bottle. He would pour them down the drain, where his liquor went, unless I stopped the holes, wore him out, dragged him back each time he drank, and tied him to the bed with strong ropes. (5.1.27)

That sounds, um, effective… and unpleasant. No wonder Nector felt tied down—he was literally tied down.

A Dutiful Husband (?) and Father

Nector didn't always submit to Marie's "help" willingly, of course: "Sometimes I escaped. I had to have relief. I went drinking and caught holy hell from Marie" (7.1.31). However, it seems he led a mostly responsible life for a couple of decades (ish), giving in to his family's needs and working hard:

After a few years the babies started walking around, but that only meant they needed shoes for their feet. I gave in. I put my nose against the wheel. I kept it there for many years and barely looked up to realize the world was going by, full of wonders and creatures, while I was getting old baling hay for white farmers. (7.1.31)

So, yeah, unfortunately, instead of finding those long years of hard work and family life rewarding, it seems like he woke up one day and felt that life had just kind of passed him by. That was in 1955, and on the heels of that realization, he started up an affair with Lulu again. However, that ended a couple of years later (basically, when Lulu decided to marry someone else).

Sadly, toward the end of his life, he suffered from severe memory loss from dementia/Alzheimer's, which was an extra slap in the face, given how brainy he had been as a young man. However, he remembered enough of his former life to continue to lust after Lulu, so his family tried to put a love spell on him to keep him loyal to Marie.

Then, to add final insult to already considerable injury, he died in a freak choking accident when Lipsha, his adopted son, was trying to feed him a turkey heart as part of the "love medicine" to keep him away from Lulu.

This is a premium product

Tired of ads?

Join today and never see them again.

Please Wait...