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

Sherman Alexie

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Course Hero. (2016, December 12). The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved July 16, 2018, from https://www.coursehero.com/lit/The-Absolutely-True-Diary-of-a-Part-Time-Indian/

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Course Hero. "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian Study Guide." December 12, 2016. Accessed July 16, 2018. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/The-Absolutely-True-Diary-of-a-Part-Time-Indian/.

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Course Hero, "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian Study Guide," December 12, 2016, accessed July 16, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/The-Absolutely-True-Diary-of-a-Part-Time-Indian/.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian | Chapter 17 : Dance, Dance, Dance | Summary

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Summary

Junior's commute makes him feel "half Indian in one place and half white in another." He enjoys spending time with Penelope, and he appreciates the effort his parents put into helping him go to school. But he's still poor. A cartoon describes the ways Junior explains away or dismisses his poverty to others.

When Junior has a chance to take Penelope to the Winter Formal in December, he's nervous he doesn't have enough spending money. But the dance is a big deal, and he wants to attend. He has to wear his dad's 1970s polyester disco suit, which he illustrates in a cartoon. Fortunately for Junior, Penelope loves the suit, earning him the approval of the other students. The two dance every dance together. Then they're invited to eat at a diner with Roger and other upperclassmen and Junior panics. He won't be able to pay for anything.

They head to the diner, where Junior orders plenty of food to enjoy a last meal before "execution." In the bathroom he talks to Roger about trying out for the basketball team. Roger's encouraging, but Junior thinks he'll only be good enough for junior varsity. Seeing no way out, Junior says he forgot his wallet at home, and Roger gives him money to cover the meal.

When they arrive back at the school, Junior—who plans to walk or hitchhike home—says he's waiting for a ride from his dad. Penelope asks if he's poor. Junior reluctantly says yes. Penelope kisses him on the cheek, and Junior realizes she's concerned about him as a friend. Penelope insists he ride home with Roger instead of hitchhiking. Junior says Roger would drive him home from school many nights in the future. He's glad he told his friends the truth.

Analysis

Junior points to common lies about Native Americans, the same lies that led the Montana whites to secede—lies such as his kind are independently wealthy from the government, rich from casinos. These are also the kinds of lies that "rot and stink up the joint." Junior also thinks a lot about how his poverty will be perceived. He can't engage in the activities middle-class high school kids take for granted. Which means, of course, he can't truly be a part of the Reardan community. He's still half Native American.

But he's overestimated the Reardan students' attachment to their wealth. Reardan kids seem more sensitive to issues of class than they do to issues of race. Once Junior has a dilemma Roger can understand, even if he can't empathize, he's sympathetic.

Junior begins to realize white kids aren't as selfish and stuck-up as the reservation's made them out to be. They're human and flawed, capable of compassion as well as cruelty. They're just like everyone else. Junior's learning to open up to people, even at the risk of getting hurt; he's afraid Penelope will leave him once she realizes he's not exotic, just poor. He's concerned about the image he projects, and he is seduced by the mirage of the perfect small-town white couple—an idyll perpetuated in the media, too. But once he's accepted, he decides to stretch a little bit further—maybe even try out for the basketball team.

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