The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian | Study Guide

Sherman Alexie

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The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian | Chapter 12 : Slouching Toward Thanksgiving | Summary



At school Junior walks through the halls feeling invisible. When he leaves the reservation he feels less than Native American, and at school he feels less than human. The other kids don't talk to him. But things aren't all bad. Junior discovers he's smarter than most Reardan students. He even corrects a teacher in geology class. The teacher, Mr. Dodge, angrily mocks both Junior and the reservation school. Gordy, the class genius, tells Mr. Dodge that Junior's right. Mr. Dodge thanks Gordy for the correction but ignores Junior. After class Junior thanks Gordy, and Gordy says he only did it for science.

Junior takes the bus to the reservation border that night and waits for his dad, who doesn't show up. Dad sometimes doesn't have gas money, or stops to play the slot machines. So Junior either walks the 22 miles home or gets a ride from someone going to the reservation. He shares a cartoon of how he gets to school five days in a row (usually either walking or hitchhiking).

He arrives home to find his mother crying. She tells Junior that Mary left home and married a man she met at the casino. This is unusual, since Junior's family, like most Native American families, sticks close together. Junior's surprised and impressed Mary made a change. She and her husband, a Flathead Indian, have moved to Montana. Junior thinks his leaving may have encouraged Mary. Her risk-taking and courage indicate to Junior that Mary's trying to live out the plot of the romance novels she wants to write.

Inspired by his sister to face his fears, Junior confronts Gordy the next day. Gordy draws him into a discussion about computers, then asks Junior about tautologies, a word Junior doesn't understand. Junior doesn't want to be an "illiterate Indian idiot." So he gets to his point—he wants to be Gordy's friend. He realizes Gordy, who uses big words and unusual phrases, is a fellow outsider.

Junior and Gordy begin to study together. Gordy is more enthusiastic about books than Junior. He tells Junior to read books three times to grasp their true meaning and to take words seriously. When Junior shares the importance of cartoons in his life, Gordy understands. In fact, Gordy says books and cartoons should produce excitement and joy, a "metaphorical boner." Books are a mystery, Gordy says, and they reveal parts of the world people don't know yet. Junior's intrigued by the idea that even familiar places can have hidden information and mysteries. He decides that in Reardan he's a "joyous freak."


The chapter title is a reference to the line "slouching toward Bethlehem" in William Butler Yeats' poem "The Second Coming." The poem is about violent change and transition, similar to this period in Junior's life. Again, Junior sees himself as nonhuman. His sense of self is wrapped up in his sense of being Native American, which he loses at Reardan. He returns to his favorite sport—basketball—but he has no one to compete with. In order to be seen, he's going to have to take some risks.

When a teacher mocks his school and, by extension his reservation, Junior's not sure how to defend his honor. He can't punch a teacher. Even contradicting a teacher is unheard of at Reardan. Though Junior is gaining confidence and perspective, he doesn't win any points, and he still doesn't feel human. He waits for himself to petrify, like a tree—"for the rocks to replace my bones." Junior tends to find solace in the nature that surrounds him.

His multiple, difficult journeys to school are reminiscent of a hero's or a nomad's journey. When Rowdy compares Junior to a searching nomad at the book's end, he knows Junior isn't afraid to travel a long distance, on foot if necessary, to find what he seeks (knowledge and hope). Junior doesn't romanticize his long walks to school, however, just as he doesn't romanticize his poverty.

He has mixed feelings about Mary's departure. She's breaking with the "tribal" spirit of Junior's close family—but he recognizes he gave her the idea. She's traveled farther and made a more radical break. Will Mary find the same hope he's searching for? Are there perils to living out the plot of a romance novel in a cruelly realistic world? Junior, and the reader, hope Mary's warrior spirit will be rewarded with a happy ending.

He and Gordy almost immediately trade insults, making their friendship reminiscent of Junior's bond with Rowdy. Gordy understands a part of Junior that Rowdy doesn't—his need for books, his urge to see the world through a different prism. The gravity of what Mary has done propels Junior to see his own life as a novel he's writing, not one that's being written for him. He's moved to take charge.

When Gordy emphasizes the need to know a book's history, he appeals to Junior's own sense of the history of his people. His "riding a raft down a river" metaphor for a reader's first engagement with a book is another version of the journeying theme—each book is a journey, an adventure, a mystery, a possible "metaphorical boner" of joy. For the first time Junior's learning to take joy in life and to not be ashamed to do so.

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