Why does Junior draw? What is the symbolic significance of his self-portraits in the first chapter of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian?
Because of his brain damage, Junior is left with several physical and mental disabilities. And when you consider the social difficulties facing every kid in middle school and high school, you realize Junior has even more issues than average. He is more than just picked-on or bullied. He is tormented, physically beat up (regularly), and lives most days in fear of what is going to happen to him by his peers and others. In his words:
Sure I want to go outside. Every kid wants to go outside. But it's safer to stay home. So I mostly hang out alone in my bedroom and read books and draw cartoons. (4)
Junior's drawings are both an emotional escape and a coping mechanism for the loneliness, ostracism, and frustration he feels on a regular basis. As a creative outlet, his drawings reveal intense emotions, including pain, longing, hope, and humor. Just as many singers and songwriters use lyrics to define their pain and struggles, Junior uses his cartoons as a means to define his pain and struggles. It is also a method of self-expression. He puts a piece of humor into every drawing, somewhat darkly, which reveals that he is attempting to see a bigger picture and to laugh at things he hopes he will one day overcome.
The self-portraits on pages 5 and 6 show gross exaggerations of Junior's physical differences. It is the age-old idea that if you can laugh at yourself first, it won't hurt as bad when others laugh at you. In one picture he is juggling a chainsaw, a bunny, and a book of "poems about pine trees," as he yells "Love me! Love me! Love me!!!!"
Clearly, Junior seeks positive attention and love. But more than that, the hyperbole here displays that he feels so ignored, even as he perfectly juggles the aspects of his life that are dangerous, soft (emotional), and conforming to expectations of Native American life, that he still goes mostly unnoticed, and feels unloved.
Junior's drawings reveal that even though he is only 14 years old, he has the mindset of someone much older and much more experienced. His sense of humor and ability to capture emotion in such an intellectual way are a glaring contrast to the way everyone views him, which is as a mostly blind "retard," with a lisp, stutter, and big head.