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 2 : Why Chicken Means So Much to Me | Summary



Junior knows cartoons don't bring the food or money his family needs. Hunger, he says, isn't the worst thing about being poor—although the occasional bucket of chicken tastes even better after long periods of hunger. The worst thing about poverty is something else. Junior tells the reader how his adopted dog and dependable best friend, Oscar, became ill. Mom reluctantly told him the family had no money to take Oscar to the vet. Despairing, Junior realized "a reservation Indian boy" can't get a job to pay Oscar's vet bills. Dad came home and took Oscar outside for a mercy killing as Junior screamed in protest.

Though Junior wants to hate his parents for their poverty, he knows how much he needs them, and he realizes they were born into a cycle of hopelessness. His intelligent, well-read mother would have gone to college given the chance. His father, who sings and plays guitar, piano, and saxophone, would have been a musician. Junior's drawing shows his parents dressed for their dream jobs: what they'd look like "if somebody had paid attention to their dreams." Instead, they're poor reservation Native Americans. Junior sometimes questions whether he deserves to be poor, and he knows poverty has no redeeming qualities.

Understanding his family's limitations, Junior carried Oscar outside and ran away from his dad's shot. A bullet, he reflects, is always affordable.


Junior's self-assessment, for the first time, refers directly to the readers. He knows they'll be skeptical, and they won't necessarily feel sorry for him—"Mr. Woe-is-Me." But he's honest about his feelings of helplessness from a young age: he couldn't control Oscar's fate. He realizes this helplessness is passed down from generation to generation, invoking "the first Indians" as he explains why his parents are as helpless as he is.

The drawing of his parents following their dreams exudes hope and also the trappings of white American culture and brands: his father's Kmart shirt and his mother's Vidal Sassoon haircut.

Junior's feeling that he might deserve poverty, that he's "destined" for it, questions the idea whether poverty is a moral failing or a foregone conclusion. Could the reservation residents improve their lives if they tried? How much of Junior's family poverty is a result of forces beyond their control, and how much is it a result of their choices? In a later chapter Junior's teacher Mr. P will bring up this question, and Junior will consider it throughout the book. The last line about the affordability of bullets is cautiously cynical, and it foreshadows the novel's major theme of violence.

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