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 15 : Hunger Pains | Summary



Back at school, Junior takes a bathroom break and hears someone vomiting violently in the girls' bathroom. He asks if the person in the bathroom is OK and is told to go away. Instead, Junior waits outside. Penelope comes out, chewing cinnamon gum to cover up the smell of vomit. Junior confronts her about her eating disorder. Penelope says she's bulimic, not anorexic, and she's only bulimic when she's throwing up. This excuse reminds Junior of his dad saying he's only an alcoholic when he's drunk. Junior figures everyone deals with pain in different ways. He tells Penelope not to give up; the same advice he often gives his dad.

Penelope confesses to Junior she's lonely and scared, despite her beauty and popularity. Junior notices she thinks highly of herself, and he's even more attracted to her. The two become friends and start dating casually. Junior meets Penelope's father, Earl, who threatens him with violence if he gets Penelope pregnant. Junior knows Earl's animosity is fueled by racism. He senses Penelope only likes him because he's new and different. But he doesn't mind; they're both using each other, in a way, to get what they want.

As the two get to know each other, Penelope tells Junior she wants to leave home and travel the world. Everyone in Reardan, she says, has "small dreams." Junior thinks Penelope's dreams of world travel are too dramatic and asks her what she'd really like to do. Penelope wants to be an architect, build something beautiful, and be remembered. Junior realizes they both feel restrained by their surroundings. He draws a cartoon of a bird suited for flying long distances—an "Arnelope," combining his name and hers. He draws another of Penelope in her dad's old hat.


Junior, whose home life is a struggle to keep food on the table, doesn't fully understand Penelope's relationship with food. But he understands the language of addiction—the minimizing, the justification. He lives with an addict. He realizes pain transcends race and class, and this is a turning point in how he views Reardan. The kids may be magnificent and beautiful, but they're hurting and flawed. "Don't give up" becomes Junior's motto, too. He vows before the biggest basketball game of his life to take his own advice and never give up—a reversal, considering giving up is all he's been taught on the reservation, according to Mr. P.

Dreaming big, and traveling to get away from a small place, is a recurrent theme in this novel of voyages. Penelope has a lifestyle Junior envies, but to her the protections of Reardan seem inadequate. Perhaps their diverse perspectives lead Junior to tell Penelope to pare down her dreams, make them realistic. Like him, she wants to build something creative that will last. Junior understands this—surrounded by death, he knows how finite life is. He knows the importance of being remembered.

But why is Penelope really dating him? Aware of the "otherness" of being a Native American in a white world, Junior knows part of the attraction is his newness (and rebellion against a traditional father). He doesn't want to be a token. At the same time, he doesn't want Penelope to be a token for him to have on his arm as proof of success.

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