When, in the opening pages of Lynne Reid Banks’s novel The Indian in the Cupboard, Omri, the young protagonist who has received the gift of a small plastic Indian from his friend Patrick, awakens to mysterious sounds coming from the old medicine cupboard given him by older brother Gillon in which Omri had placed the basically unwanted toy.
Omri, Banks’s narrator explains, has grown tired of receiving plastic figurines, having accumulated many them over his brief years. Plastic soldiers and other cheap figurines have provided the boys the usual center of attention when playing, but the small plastic Indian is an anomaly for Omri. He has no other Indians and no cowboys with which to establish the inevitable confrontation between good and bad or between his and Patrick’s figures. At the suggestion of his mother, Omri places the Indian figure in the cupboard and goes to bed.
No sooner does Omri go to bed then his brief slumber is interrupted by a sound, a noise that ceased as suddenly as it had begun. In the morning, the young boy is again awakened by a noise from the cupboard, a noise, as described, “almost like a tiny voice.” Banks’s omniscient narrator describes Omri’s as being “petrified.” Frightened, Omri considers the possibility that he imagined hearing noises from the cupboard but proceeds to open the cupboard door and discovers that the small figure is missing from the top shelf where he had left it the night before.
When Omri observes the Indian on the bottom shelf, seemingly sheltering in fear, he knew that the figure was as frightened of him as he was of the possibility that the toy had come to life. As described by the narrator, “Neither Omri nor the Indian moved for perhaps a minute and a half. They hardly breathed either. They just stared at each other.”
After the initial shock wore off, Omri’s next reaction was to the summon members of his family as witnesses to this surprising development. He decides against leaving the scene to corral relatives because he was afraid to leave the tiny Indian figure alone—and he is concerned that his family would think him crazy and subject him to ridicule:
Maybe he was afraid that if he took his eyes off the Indian for even a moment, he would vanish, or become plastic again, and then when the others came running they would all laugh and accuse Omri of making things up.
So Omri pauses to contemplate the best course of action. Banks provides another rationale, however, for Omri’s reluctance to summon his parents or siblings:
[I]t was certainly the most marvelous thing that had ever happened to Omri in his life and he wanted to keep it to himself, at least at first. His next thought was that he must somehow get the Indian in his hand. He didn’t want to frighten him any further, but he had to touch him. He simply had to. He reached his hand slowly into the cupboard.
Omri’s decision to attempt to grab the Indian results in a minor stab wound to his finger when the frightened Indian defends himself with his tiny knife. As the two come to understand one another, a relationship develops that propels the novel toward its eventual conclusion.
In conclusion, Omri’s response to the sounds from the cupboard begins with shock and fear. As he investigates the source of the noise, however, he discovers that the Indian, an Iroquois known as Little Bear, who is initially demanding and gruff, has much to teach him about the world.