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

Sherman Alexie

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Course Hero, "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian Study Guide," December 12, 2016, accessed November 14, 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 5 : Hope Against Hope | Summary

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Summary

After hitting Mr. P with the textbook, Junior has been suspended. His parents and grandmother are disappointed, which crushes Junior. Mr. P comes to visit him a week later and asks why Junior hit him with the book. Junior says he didn't mean to hit him, but Mr. P thinks otherwise. Even though breaking an old man's nose is "almost unforgivable," Mr. P says he can forgive Junior because he himself hit Native American kids in his early days of teaching.

Mr. P mentions Junior's sister Mary, the smartest student he'd ever had, wanted to write romance novels. Junior's surprised because he didn't know Mary wrote or even read novels. He and Mr. P both wonder why Mary didn't hang on to her dream. Maybe it was because she was depressed. Junior thinks the rest of his family is depressed, too. His dad is usually either drinking or watching basketball. Though Junior wants to believe Mary has time to change her life, he fears people can't really change their lives. Mr. P tells Junior he deserves better, and Junior begins to cry.

They discuss Junior's bullying at school. He says Rowdy protects him, but Mr. P believes Rowdy will only get more aggressive due to the cycle of abuse in his family. Then Mr. P tells Junior to leave the reservation. Mr. P is just as angry at the Native Americans in Wellpinit as he is at the white people. He says the kids are only being taught "how to give up." Junior threw the book, Mr. P says, because he doesn't want to give up. Instead, he's been a fighter since he was born. To survive, Junior needs to go where other people have hope.

Analysis

Junior's drawing of himself on the island of "the world's smallest reservation" indicates his loneliness and solitude even within the community. His lonely teacher, who appears to have checked out, may actually understand his loneliness in a way his parents can't.

Mr. P does realize, to some extent, the harm he's done. His educational mandate to "kill the Indian" makes the reader reflect on what it means to be Native American. Are they savage? Spirited? Rich in culture? Doomed to be poor? What would it mean to Junior to "give up being Indian"? Can he take some parts of being Native American and leave the rest? Is Mr. P right that Native Americans bear some responsibility for their own hopelessness? Does anyone get to change their life, or is Junior right when he says, "You don't get to change your life, period"?

The revelation about Mary makes Junior think that she, like his parents, has crushed dreams. He compares his devotion to pictures to his sister's interest in words. His drawing and idea of romance novels ("Savage Summer") invoke the Native American "savage warrior" stereotype and white fetishizing of Native American men, along with the protection of the virginal white woman. Junior will later think about these stereotypes in his relationship with Penelope at Reardan.

Tears, particularly male tears, recur. Junior's punished by other kids for expressing emotion, and he feels it's not masculine or courageous to cry. Yet he'll see men cry throughout the novel, and he'll reconsider the association of tears with weakness and drunkenness.

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