The Theme of Love in The Antelope Wife

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Theme of Love in The Antelope Wife

Many literary writers develop the theme of love between human beings to demonstrate its importance in human life and the adverse effects that its absence or its going sour can cause people. In The Antelope Wife, Louise Erdrich explores the theme of love in connection with family and the role of women in society, but cleverly introduces the aspect of love transcending beyond human relationships. Erdrich presents possessive love as something that never ends up in happiness as in the case of Klaus's relationship with his antelope wife, Rozin's troubled marriage to Richard, and the Shawano twins' relationship with Augustus Roy. However, there is another aspect of love that Erdrich cover's in the book which is love with the superhuman, love for a place and culture, and the love amongst community members which is exhibited through acceptance of mixed-ethnicity as well as women's courage to be themselves in a patriarchal society. The goal of this critical analysis is to show how Erdrich develops the theme of love to make it a concept that goes beyond man and woman to the whole society, place, and even supernatural beings.

A Journey from the Physical to the Spiritual

The Antelope Wife is a story that moves from the physical world to the spiritual one where animals can communicate like humans. The story begins when Scranton Roy mistakenly attacks a neutral village on a mission to repress a Native American uprising in Minnesota. Out of guilt for having attacked the wrong group, Roy captures an Indian dog that had an infant strapped to its back. Roy takes up the baby and rears her as his own naming her Matilda. That is how the Roy family starts an intricate relationship with the Whiteheart Beads and Shawano families, both of whom belong to the Ojibwa clan. Matilda's mother continues grieving for her lost baby and marries Shawano with whom they have twins. The grieving mother's granddaughters Mary and Zosie Shawano are the twin mothers of Rozin who is married to Richard Whiteheart Beads. Rozin also gives birth to twins but falls out of love with her husband and becomes intimate with Frank Shawano. The love triangle is similar to the one that Rozin's twin mothers Mary and Zosie formed with Scranton Roys' grandson Augustus Roy. Finally, Frank's brother Klaus Shawano becomes infatuated with a creature of legend known as the antelope woman.

The Harmful Effects of Obsessive Love

The most significant aspect of love that Erdrich handles in the novel is the harmful effects of obsessive love, and the obsession appears to emanate from forces that are outside this world. The author uses the idea of twins falling in love with the same man as it is with the case of Augustus Roy's attraction to Mary and Zosie to present that the charm of love can overwhelm a person to the extent of causing him discomfort instead of happiness. The story of Mary and Zosie's marriage to Augustus reveals that the husband of the twins has trouble loving two people in the same way because sometimes he is not able to tell them apart but enjoys sleeping with them. The narrator says that "Augustus had fallen in love with the enigma of his wife's duplication," to show that the idea of loving two women in the same way as one would a single woman is confusing (209). By fusing Zosie and Mary Chiwano, Erdrich manages to bring out parallel notions of love. One is that love should not be considered real when it exists exclusively between a man and a woman. The second aspect is that love can be complex. For instance, the narrator's mention that, "The confusion of sameness between the twins made him tremble like an animal caught in a field of tension" shows that it is difficult for Augustus to bear the love of two women at the same time in the same way (209). Ana Primorac in an evaluation of the novel explains that Augustus Roy's sexual appetite and desire to take control of his relationship with the twins leads him to his end as he disappears after biting off a piece of Zosie's earlobe to be able to differentiate the twins (36). Furthermore, Erdrich's incorporation of mysticism in her creation of the second-generation female twins of the Shawano family as cannibalistic creatures set to devour a male with a high sexual appetite works well in communicating that obsessive love can have dangerous results. Apart from that, the experience of love is connected to the supernatural world since the reasonable guess a reader can make as to Augustus's disappearance is he might have transformed into a non-human invisible creature.

Complicated Love Affairs and the Role of Women

The complicated love affairs depicted by Erdrich in her novel include that between Rozin, her husband Richard, and lover Frank. Richard is represented as a man whose greed and desire to take control over the woman he loves destroys other people. What Erdrich does in balancing the presentation of obsession is to demonstrate that love has its good side as Rozin's account of her life with Richard informs the reader when he kills himself. Rozin recalls how Richard took care of her after Deanna's death, but his desperate love only pushed Rozin away from him. Rozin is also presented as viewing Richard's obsession as choking, and his behavior means as well as manipulative. Frank, on the other hand, provides Rozin with the comfort she needs to move on, especially after losing her daughter Deanna. The presence of Frank to give Rozin that comfort develops the idea that discomfort can push an individual to seek love elsewhere even when the person he or she is with bears true love.

Love in the Supernatural World and Dreams

Erdrich does not just leave the concept of love to remain between humans but takes it beyond to the supernatural world through dreams. According to Primorac, the interpretation of dreams and visions about the past or the future in the Native American culture brings out the connection between Rozin and Richard. Rozin, though in love with Frank, still experiences Richard's obsession with her until she dreams of Frank's beaded watchband loosening and falling apart in his hand. Rozin interprets the loosening and falling apart of the beads as an indication of her continued affection and connection to her dead loved ones (Richard and Deanna). The dream helps Rozin to get out of the tangle of love-longing and hatred for Richard and move into the freedom of loving Frank and enjoying life with him.

The Connection Between Obsessive Love and Women's Role in Society

Although Erdrich over-represents the idea of love and obsession in the novel, there is an underlying connection of that obsession to the community, the role of women, and life after death. The relationship between obsessive love and the role of women is explicitly demonstrated by Rozin's action of continued remittance of food offerings to the spirit of Richard and Deanna. Those activities show how important the love of a mother is and also identify love that exists between souls even when the bodies are far apart. At the same time, the love that Klaus Shawano feels for his antelope wife also draws out that connection between the role of women in the society and obsessive love. The antelope wife, also known as Sweetheart Calico, is probably the descendant of Matilda Roy whose inability to cope in a world stranger to her makes her appear insane. Surprisingly, Sweetheart Calico's love for Klaus makes him go crazy. By making Klaus go crazy, Erdrich points out that the comfort of women makes the world a comfortable place to be. If a woman is uncomfortable with her life, she finds it difficult to spread love appropriately to the rest of her family who may in return be destroyed by the depression for missing out on that love. Mary Magoulick explains that Sweetheart Calico's love devastates Klaus because he does not understand her and neither does he listen to what his sub-conscious understands (1). Moreover, Klaus's obsession with the antelope wife drives him to restrict her like a prisoner and turn her into a poison that only harms him as well as other members of the community. At this point, it is worth concluding that Erdrich considers women as pillars of love in the society, but they should be given the needed liberty to make that love flourish to all people in the community.


Complex love relationships are featuring obsession that leads to destruction take center stage in Erdrich's novel. An in-depth look into the issues surrounding love reveals that the author develops that theme in connection with other ideas like the role of women in the society as well as love beyond relationships between humans. It is, however, observable from the novel that the author overemphasizes on obsession with the three primary relationships featuring destructive obsessive love. Nonetheless, the excessive reference to obsessive love and Erdrich's characterization form the grounds on which the message of love, its possibilities beyond human relations, and its consequences properly develops.

Works Cited

Erdrich, Louise. The Antelope Wife. Harpercollins, 2012.

          Magoulick, Mary. Women Weaving the World Louise Erdrich’S The Antelope Wife as Myth. 2001,               Accessed 15 May                           2018.

          Primorac, Ana. Love, Family, and Women's Roles in Louise Erdrich's Novels Four Souls and The                   Antelope Wife. 2018, Accessed              15 May 2018.

November 24, 2023




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