illustration of main character, Junior, holding a basketball and looking over his shoulder

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

by Sherman Alexie

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 Describe the basketball game between Reardan and Wellpinit. What makes Junior want to play in the game?

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There is much in way of intensity relating to the basketball game.  The kids at Wellpinit have resentment towards the White kids of Reardan.  The latter represents so much in way of wealth, promise, and opportunity and the former represents so much that is the opposite.  There is natural tension within the environment when both schools compete and collide on the basketball court.  Adding to this is how Junior is playing for "the enemy."  When he enters the gym, Junior is confronted with a startling display of solidarity, forged by the hatred for him.  From the chant of "Ar-nold sucks! Ar-nold sucks!" to the throwing of the quarter at him to the fans who turn their back on him, Junior recognizes what is at stake.  

For Junior, it becomes clear that his participation in this game is almost a referendum on his growth and decision to leave the Rez in the first place.  Junior notes this when he sees the hostile reaction directed towards him:  "If these dang Indians had been this organized when (he) went to school here, maybe (he) would have had more reasons to stay."  Junior is motivated to play in the game because he understands that the game becomes a microcosm of his decision to leave. If he does not play, then it helps to invalidate the reason he needed to leave.  If he fails to play, then it shows a lack of fortitude and courage, the same elements that inspired him to leave.  Junior knows that he has to play, almost giving the crowd what it seeks in the collision between both schools.  Reardan's coach has also given Junior "an out" in not playing.  Junior understands that if he wishes to earn his coach's and his team's respect, he has to play.  Despite the challenging conditions, Junior recognizes that this moment is an important one, motivating his desire to play in the game between both schools.

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