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 4 : Because Geometry Is Not a Country Somewhere Near France | Summary



It's Junior's first day of high school, and he's excited about his first geometry class. He loves the right angles of buildings even more than he loves the curves on women. He admits he masturbates and that he's good at it. Junior likes walls and angles so much that he used to sleep in the closet until his sister Mary teased him. She moved into their parents' basement after leaving high school and is still there, jobless. Her nickname is "Mary Runs Away" due to her drifting nature. Junior admires her; she's "beautiful and strong and funny." His cartoon of Mary shows shoplifted clothing, acne scars, and a lightning bolt tattoo.

Though Junior wants to start school, he's nervous he won't perform well on the basketball team and that Rowdy will abandon him for older kids. On the first day Junior's teacher, Mr. P, brings in geometry textbooks. Like most of the white teachers on the reservation, he's strange; he sometimes forgets to come to school, or he teaches in pajamas and slippers. Unlike the other teachers, he has no liberal or Christian agenda he pushes on the students. Mr. P just seems lonely.

Junior's so thrilled to get his geometry book that he tries to kiss it, confessing shyly and proudly that he's a "book kisser." Then he sees the name on the inside front cover. It's Agnes Adams, Junior's mother's maiden name. The book is at least 30 years older than its students; that's how poor and apathetic the school is. "My hopes and dreams floated up in a mushroom cloud," Junior says, and a cartoon shows him throwing the book in Mr. P's face.


Junior enjoys challenging the reader to deal with his honesty and consider their own prejudices. Masturbation is a part of being human, he believes, and there's no reason not to discuss it. Both Junior and Alexie frequently embrace difficult and uncomfortable topics: things like violence and death are woven into the fabric of Junior's life. He sees no need to self-censor or be coy. He's committed to honesty.

His feelings about Mary are honest as well. In a way she's a vision of what will happen to him if he gives up: what he doesn't want to become. But he still has hope for her. The mention of Mary's sandals stolen from "an unconscious white pot dealer and poet" is another lighthearted jab at white cultural appropriation. Junior is more like his sister than he cares to admit; he's bright enough that life on autopilot is a challenge, and he wants to run away. He'll realize these things about himself gradually.

High school is a transition; Junior's aware his enthusiasm for learning will set him apart from everyone on the reservation. He's in a school where even the teachers give up. Mr. P's attempt to start a reservation Shakespeare company (even though it fails) indicates the teacher is, or was at one time, an enthusiastic nerd, too. Many of the white teachers come to "save" the Native American students, embodying the "white savior" image—which is perhaps why the reservation attracts religious extremists. Alexie touches on a history of Christian whites exploiting Native Americans and erasing their culture, as well as liberal appropriation of Native American traditions.

Junior's not so concerned about exploitation. He's simply trying to get by in a place millions of miles from important and happy. (Again, he uses math and exaggeration to make his point.)

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