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Published: 20-11-2019

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Flow of a river and people on the riverbed

Louise Erdrich’s novel Enjoy Medicine conveys the state of Native American life in today’s society. Her symbolism stands out to me above all else in the book. Whilst Erdrich utilizes a lot of symbols and motifs, the most poignant is her water and river imagery and the symbolism behind it. She makes use of water to symbolize several ideas in the novel, most prominently time and religion. The passage of time being likened to the movement of a river is not an unprecedented notion due to the endless flow of a river becoming effortlessly equated with time. Nonetheless, Erdrich points out the destructive force that such a power of nature has and likens the people in her story to stones on a riverbed. Via symbolism, she illustrates the impact time and religion have had on Native American society and how those two concepts, as eroding forces, are merely consequences of modern day American society’s effect on Native American culture.

The most prominent instance of Erdrich’s symbolism can be discovered in Nector Kashpaw’s realization and acknowledgement of the passage of time as she illustrates time and its effect on the characters of the novel. In a moment of peace, Nector has a revelation that adjustments his life. As the planet around him stills, Nector sees time rushing previous him as he observes, “Time was rushing around me like water… I was not so tough as stones. Extremely rapidly I would be smoothed away” (Erdrich 123). He observes that time is swiftly passing by and that he has not been living this life to the fullest. He also knows that time will get the ideal of him in the finish due to the fact he is not a sturdy stone capable to withstand the flow of time. In an try to recapture the time that has gone by, he rekindles his relationship with Lulu, his love in the course of his younger years. He ultimately dies as a result of choking in the exact same way that a drowning individual would perish. As he predicted, time sooner or later wears away at him till he welcomes death as shown in Lipsha’s observation: “It was other factors that choked him as effectively. It didn’t look like he wanted to struggle or fight” (Erdrich 246).

Erdrich utilizes this exact same symbolism in Marie’s character and her attachment to June’s beads. The beads were left by June when she left to live with Eli. She holds onto them in order to retain a piece of June, who in time left her. Nevertheless, when she is holding the beads, she observes, “I touch them, and every time I do I think of small stones. At the bottom of the lake, rolled aimless by the waves, I think of them polished. To a lot of folks it would be kindness. But I see no kindness in how the waves are grinding them smaller sized and smaller until they finally disappear” (Erdrich 93). The beads are rosary beads that people would hold in their hands. She observes that, like stones, the beads are worn away due to the continuous touching. Given that rosary beads are a symbol of religion and religious belief is symbolized by people’s use of them, Marie is conveying her concept that religion in her society just wears away at people, just as it did to her at an early age and continues to in her reflections upon Leopolda. On top of Nector’s observation that time wears away at people like water wears away at stones, Marie observes that the modern practices of religion do the same in their society.

Lipsha ties the water symbolism with each other in the last paragraph of the novel. As he goes across the bridge, Lipsha stops the auto and observes the river under: “I’d heard that this river was the last of an ancient ocean, miles deep, that once had covered the Dakotas and solved all our problems” (Erdrich 333). In referring to the river as an ocean remnant is a reference to the characters in the story becoming the remnants of their Native American ancestors. The river used to be an ocean, which is far more stationary and does not consistently run. With the evolution of the still ocean into a rushing river, Lipsha is conveying the thought that contemporary American society has worn away at their culture and the remnants are now dangerous to his men and women. This erosion has turned time and religion into eroding forces. With this deviation from the classic Native American culture, the easier and calmer occasions of their ancestors have disappeared along with the old beliefs of their folks. With his observation that the ocean “solved all our troubles,” Lipsha is conveying that these same troubles or forces did not plague their ancestors. However, Lipsha realizes that the ocean has withered down to a river that merely erodes. In the very same fashion, their way of life has been degraded to some thing that seems to be destroying individuals rather than causing them to thrive as they waver in between two cultures. For this purpose, he moves on and drives to Canada, leaving the reservation as so a lot of had attempted to do prior to. With this ending, Erdrich appears to be conveying the pessimistic belief that Native American culture can not survive in contemporary American society.


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