Love Medicine

Love Medicine Summary and Analysis of Chapter 11: Scales


This chapter takes place in 1980 and is narrated in the first person by Albertine. She starts the story sitting in a bar with her cousin Gerry Nanapush, one of Lulu's sons with Moses Pillager. He and his wife Dot Adare, a large white woman, are trying to decide on a name for the child Dot is pregnant with. Gerry has been in and out of prison for years. As the chapter begins, a local policeman, Officer Lovchik, sees him and tries to arrest him, but Gerry quickly escapes.

When Gerry and Albertine first become reacquainted, Albertine is twenty-two. They are talking in a bar when Dot comes in and mistakes their conversation for flirtation. She threatens Albertine, and the two women discover the next morning that they are working the same construction job at a truck weighing site. Over that day, though, they become friends, and Albertine soon gets to work with Dot in the shack where trucks are weighed.

As the two women become friends, Albertine learns more about Dot. Dot loves to knit, which she does all through the sweltering day in their weighing shack. She knits ferociously, creating "little garments that finished stood up by themselves like miniature suits of mail." It is revealed that Dot and Gerry conceived their child when Dot was visiting him in jail.

Gerry's first crime was a violent fight with a cowboy about "whether a Chippewa was also a nigger," and Gerry feels convinced that he has adequately paid for the justice of this fight. At this point, he is only going to jail over and over because he keeps breaking out. He is legendary among inmates for his frequent escapes: once he covered his body in lard and managed to slip through a six-foot-thick wall. 

One day when Dot and Albertine are at work, one of the drivers pulls in with an overweight load. Someone has changed the scale so that this truck does not register as overweight. Dot and Albertine are wondering who could have made this alteration when Gerry suddenly emerges. He has escaped from jail in time to be there for the birth of his child.

A few days later, Dot goes into labor. Gerry comes to collect Albertine because Dot wants her there for the birth. In the hospital, Gerry is anxious: its institutional space reminds him of a jail. Before Dot gives birth, Officers Lovchik and Harriss arrive to arrest Gerry. He jumps out of a third-floor window, lands on a car, and escapes on his motorbike.

Dot gives birth to a baby girl, whom she names Shawn and brings to work. When their job at the truck station is almost done, Dot and Albertine learn that Gerry has been sent to a high-security prison in Marion, Illinois, for killing a state trooper on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. He will be under strict surveillance, only able to communicate with his family on a phone and behind Plexiglass.

One day, Albertine and Dot try to weigh baby Shawn on one of the great truck ramps. She is too light to make an impression.



This chapter carefully mixes humor and serious political commentary as few of the other chapters have done before. Erdrich's portrayal of Gerry is sympathetic and realistic: he is a Native American man who, by virtue of living in a world with limited opportunities and a racially skewed justice system, has been in and out of jail his whole adult life. Yet Albertine's sardonic humor provides unique insight into Gerry's mental state. Thus, the chapter is simultaneously very dark and very light in tone.

"He knew he did not belong in prison," Erdrich writes, "although he admitted it had done him some good when he was younger, hasn't known how to be a criminal, and so had taken lessons from professionals." The humor later in the chapter includes lines such as "Gerry did not believe in fighting by any rules but reservation rules, which is to say the first thing Gerry did to the cowboy, after they squared off, was kick his balls"; "There is nothing more vengeful and determined in this world than a cowboy with sore balls"; "A local doctor testified on behalf of the cowboy's testicles," and more. While Erdrich deals with the hard truths of the justice system when it draws in Native Americans, her cynically humorous descriptions transform Gerry into much more than a stock criminal.

Yet Gerry is also more than a humorous down-on-his-luck man. He has clearly been damaged by his wrongful encounters with the justice system, and this becomes apparent when he is in the hospital with Dot. Gerry is nervous and sweaty in these surroundings, which remind him of a prison. Such reactions show the psychological damage that years of incarceration have inflicted upon him.

For all the humor in the chapter, Erdrich ends the narrative on a depressing note. Gerry has been sent to a high-security prison after killing a man. He and Dot will have to talk separated by a Plexiglass screen, unable to touch, and his daughter will probably grow up without knowing him. Erdrich makes it clear that, despite Gerry's humorous escapades, the justice system in which he is caught is a vicious, unforgiving machine.