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 24 : Valentine Heart | Summary



For Valentine's Day Junior gives Penelope a homemade valentine. A few days afterward Eugene is shot and killed by a good friend in Spokane. The two had been arguing, drunk, possibly fighting over the last drink in a bottle of wine. Junior shares a five-paneled cartoon about different ways for two Native Americans to get the last sip of wine from the bottom of a bottle. Eugene's friend hangs himself in jail.

Each member of the Spirit family grieves differently. Dad drinks. Mom goes to church. Junior reads and draws cartoons. Several of his cartoons mock Jesus and religion, since he believes they've failed him. He looks up the word grief and searches for more cartoons and stories. Gordy shows him a book by Euripides with a quotation from Medea, "What greater grief than the loss of one's native land?" Junior relates to the quote's sense of loss and homelessness. He becomes depressed and considers dropping out of school. He feels his leaving has cursed the family.

After several missed days Junior returns to school. His social studies teacher, Mrs. Jeremy, mocks Junior for his many absences. His classmates, who know about Junior's family struggles, are stunned. Junior draws a five-paneled cartoon illustrating the reasons he missed school, including funerals, lack of money and transportation, and taking care of his parents. Mrs. Jeremy's comments cause Gordy to throw his book to the floor in protest. Every other student does the same. They all walk out of the classroom, leaving Junior behind. To regain joy in his life Junior lists his favorite people, musicians, foods, books, and basketball players. He describes the process of writing and rewriting as his "grieving ceremony."


Junior's stories often have a twist. The grief of Bobby over Eugene's death, even though Bobby was the one who shot him, recalls the nature of Junior and Rowdy's friendship, best friends and worst enemies at once. Humor can have yet another use in hard times, Junior realizes. He can turn to mocking and sarcasm. He attacks Western Christianity, and in his five-paneled cartoon, he mocks the drunken interactions of Native American friends.

He relates, too, to Medea's murdering of her children—destroying what remained of her family, severing the family ties. Junior's family is growing apart. He's beginning to feel culpable. He left his native land, left the tribe, and now they're suffering loss.

Just when he's ready to give up, his tribe at Reardan and his new protector come through for him. The rules of engagement are different, though. Rather than avenging him with violence (or throwing a textbook toward the front of the classroom, as Junior did once), Junior's Reardan classmates walk out in a coordinated attack. Of course, they're so coordinated they leave him behind, which appeals to Junior's keen sense of absurdity.

Laughter and tears are intertwined. So are joy and grief. By writing down the people, foods, and books that give him joy, Junior grieves the people he's lost. He knows everything is connected.

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