Study Guide

Love Medicine Race

By Louise Erdrich

Race

No reservation girl had ever prayed so hard. There was no use in trying to ignore me any longer. 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. And they never thought they'd have a girl from this reservation as a saint they'd have to kneel to. But they'd have me. And I'd be carved in pure gold. With ruby lips. And my toenails would be little pink ocean shells, which they would have to stoop down off their high horse to kiss. (2.1.1)

Apparently, Marie Lazarre has a little bit of a complex about her "Indian blood," assuring the reader that she doesn't "have that much." In fact, she's so ashamed of that aspect of her background that she flat out denies that she has Native American blood, according to Lipsha Morrissey.

I could not believe it, later, when she showed me the picture. Plunge of the Brave, was the title of it. Later on, that picture would become famous. It would hang in the Bismarck state capitol. There I was, jumping off a cliff, naked of course, down into a rocky river. Certain death. Remember Custer's saying? The only good Indian is a dead Indian? Well, from my dealings with whites I would add to that quote: "The only interesting Indian is dead, or dying by falling backwards off a horse." (7.1.15)

Unfortunately, Nector became all too familiar with some of the weird stereotypes non-Native Americans had about Native Americans. For some reason, he discovered, they loved representing and/or seeing Native Americans as dead or dying. For example, he was invited to play the "lead" Native American role in a movie, but it turned out that role consisted only of dying. Then, a woman asked him to pose for a painting, and he grudgingly agreed—and the painter turned his pose into a painting of him jumping off a cliff. Nector was not pleased.

Sometimes I escaped. I had to have relief. I went drinking and caught holy hell from Marie. 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)

This quote, with its "blink and you miss it" reference to how Nector was crushing his soul working for white farmers, actually suggests that there were tensions between Native Americans and the "white" Americans who held the purse strings.

She started after him. Party because she didn't know what she was looking for, partly because he was a soldier like her father, and partly because he could have been an Indian, she followed. (9.1.12).

When Albertine ends up in Fargo after running away, she finds comfort in finding a familiar face—that is, one that is potentially Native American.

She was tall, strong, twice the size of most Vietnamese. It had been a long time since he'd seen any Indian women, even a breed. He had been a soldier, was now a veteran, had seen nine months of combat in the Annamese Cordillera before the NVA captured him somewhere near Pleiku. They kept him half a year. He was released after an honorable peace was not achieved, after the evacuation. (9.1.18)

Henry Junior, too, is intrigued by Albertine because she appears to be Native American. He's already comparing her to the Vietnamese people he'd seen during his war service, which is important to remember for later in the chapter…

She looked at him. They had used a bayonet. She was out of her mind. You, me, same. Same. She pointed to her eyes and his eyes. The Asian, folded eyes of some Chippewas. She was hemorrhaging. (9.1.63)

When Henry Junior takes Albertine to a hotel, he starts to have flashbacks to his wartime experience. During this incident, he remembers a woman over there who had compared her eyes to his, suggesting that they were similar while begging Henry to show mercy and help her out. We're guessing the strategy didn't work.

Although she will not admit she has a scrap of Indian blood in her, there's no doubt in my mind she's got some Chippewa. (13.1.46)

Lipsha here reflects on the fact that Marie absolutely refuses to admit that she has Native American blood.

I never let the United States census in my door, even though they say it's good for Indians. Well, quote me. I say that every time they counted us they knew the precise number to get rid of. (15.1.28)

Lulu offers some biting commentary here on the United States government's treatment of Native Americans. Her perspective on census representation kind of matches Nector's view of the artistic representations of Native Americans: she believes that the government only wants to "represent" these individuals in order to kill them.

If we're going to measure land, let's measure right. Every foot and inch you're standing on, even if it's on top of the highest skyscraper, belongs to the Indians. That's the real truth of the matter. (15.1.29)

Continuing with her thoughts on the U.S. government's attitude toward Native Americans, Lulu announces that, if we're going to start doing accounting, everything really belongs to her people. We're going to guess the U.S. government doesn't want to hear that, however.

"I'm gonna rise," he said. "One day I'm gonna rise. They can't keep down the Indians. Right on brother, huh?" (16.2.125)

Trying to express some pride in himself and his people, King announces to Lipsha that he's going to rise. As part of his breast beating, he cites his race, claiming, "They can't keep down the Indians." Apparently, he seems himself as part of a larger struggle between his people and an unnamed "they."

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