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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Chapters 14-19 Summary and Analysis

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Chapter 14: Thanksgiving

Junior wonders why Indians celebrate Thanksgiving, given the history between the Pilgrims and the Indians. With the dark humor characteristic of their tribe, Junior’s dad tells him that they "should give thanks that [the Pilgrims] didn’t kill all of [them]." It is a good day, and the family "laugh[s] like crazy." Junior misses Rowdy, so he draws a cartoon of the two of them "like [they] used to be" and takes it to his friend’s house. Rowdy’s dad says that Rowdy is not home but takes the cartoon, and, after making a derisive comment about it, says he will give it to his son. As Junior is leaving, he sees Rowdy in the upstairs window, holding the cartoon. Rowdy looks sad, but when Junior waves at him, Rowdy flips him off. Momentarily hurt, Junior realizes that even though Rowdy had given him the finger, he had not torn up the cartoon, and he is encouraged, thinking that maybe Rowdy "still respect[s] [him] a little bit."

Chapter 15: Hunger Pains

During class, Junior asks to be excused to go to the bathroom. While he is there, he hears someone vomiting in the adjoining girls’ restroom. Junior knocks on the door and asks if whoever is in there is okay but is told to go away. Junior, however, waits, and after a while, Penelope comes out. Disconcerted, she asks Junior what he is looking at, and Junior responds that he is looking at an anorexic. Penelope retorts that she is not anorexic, she is bulimic, and that she is actually only bulimic when she is throwing up. Junior realizes that she sounds just like his father, who says he is only an alcoholic when he gets drunk. He tells Penelope, "Don’t give up," which is what he always says to his dad when his dad is drunk and depressed. Penelope starts to cry and talks about how no one understands that she is scared all the time, because she’s "pretty and smart and popular."

Junior and Penelope become a "hot item" at Reardan after that; they are not exactly a couple, but more like "friends with potential." Everyone is amazed that Penelope picked Junior to be her friend because he is "an absolute stranger . . . and . . . an Indian" and because the two of them are defying Penelope’s father, Earl, who is a racist. In reality, Junior is not sure what he means to Penelope and wonders if she is using him just to counteract her pristine image. Even if this is true, Junior admits that he is using Penelope too, in a way. Because she has chosen him, the other girls think he is "cute" and the boys decide he is a "major stud." Junior and Penelope’s relationship is not completely shallow, however; they do share with each other their hopes and dreams. Penelope tells Junior that she wants to study architecture and build "something beautiful." Like Junior, she wants to do something with her life so that she will be remembered.

Chapter 16: Rowdy Gives Me Advice About Love

Junior guesses that he "sort of love[s]" Penelope but admits that mostly, he feels a strong physical attraction for her and is unsure of what to do with his feelings. He emails Rowdy, telling him he is in love with a white girl, and surprisingly, Rowdy emails back, saying with characteristic directness that he is "sick of Indian guys who treat white women like bowling trophies." Junior then turns to Gordy, who does some research and finds an Internet article that talks about how two hundred Mexican girls have disappeared over the past few years and...

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no one says very much but that much attention has been paid to the abduction of a single white girl. The article suggests that "people care more about beautiful white girls than they do about everybody else on the planet," and when Junior asks Gordy what the article has to do with him, Gordy infers that Junior is "just a racist . . . like everybody else."

Chapter 17: Dance, Dance, Dance

In order to "belong" at Reardan, Junior hides his poverty. He invites Penelope to the Winter Formal, even though he has only five dollars, not nearly enough to pay for photos or anything else. Because he cannot afford new clothes, he has to wear his dad’s old polyester suit; Junior is sure that everyone will make fun of him, but as it turns out, Penelope loves the suit, calling it "retroactive." Following her lead, the other kids rave about the outfit as well, and Junior and Penelope dance every dance together, having so much fun that they forget to have their pictures taken, to Junior’s great relief. When the dance is over, Junior walks Penelope out to the parking lot where her dad is waiting; when everyone is gone, he will hitchhike home.

To Junior’s consternation, Roger and a few other "popular guys" invite him and Penelope to go to Spokane to have pancakes after the dance, and Penelope’s father gives his approval. Throwing caution to the wind, Junior orders a huge breakfast for himself and Penelope, even though he knows he cannot pay for it. Halfway through the meal, Junior, sick with dread, excuses himself to go to the bathroom. Roger happens to come into the bathroom too, and he strikes up a friendly conversation. He is so nice that Junior tells him he forgot his wallet, and Roger immediately lends him forty dollars.

Back at school, Penelope, who has learned about the money from Roger, asks Junior if he is poor. Unable to lie anymore, Junior admits that he is, and Penelope kisses him on the cheek. Junior, who had been hoping for something a little more titillating than a sisterly kiss after their evening together, is at first angered. Then it dawns on him that Penelope is genuinely concerned about him and is being "a really good friend," and he is ashamed at his own shallowness. Penelope says it is Roger who guessed he is poor and that Roger, who is like a "big brother" to her, can be Junior’s friend too. Junior ends up admitting that he had planned to walk or hitchhike home, and Roger, being "of kind heart and generous pocket, and a little bit racist," drives him home that night and "plenty of other nights too."

Chapter 18: Don’t Trust Your Computer

Junior emails Rowdy a photograph of himself, and Rowdy reciprocates by sending back a picture of his bare butt. Gordy sees the photo, and Junior explains about how Rowdy and many of the other Indians hate him because he has left the rez. Gordy says that "life is a constant struggle between being an individual and being a member of the community" and that "weird people" like himself and Junior are especially threatening to the social order. 

Chapter 19: My Sister Sends Me a Letter

Junior receives a letter from his sister, who, despite her efforts, has been unable to find a job but has begun to write her life story instead. She sends along a picture of her new house, which she calls "the most gorgeous place in the world." The house is an old, battered trailer, which Junior thinks looks "like a TV dinner tray."

Chapters 14–19 Analysis

As major themes in the narrative develop, Junior comes to an understanding of two universal truths about the human condition. The first of these is that everyone experiences pain and that addictions are just ways people try to alleviate it. Earlier, Mr. P had observed that Rowdy fights because he sees no hope for a future and wants others "to feel as bad as he does" about life. Alcoholism is prevalent on the reservation because generations of oppression have taught the Indians that the only feasible course of action for them is to give up. Virtually all of the reservation adults in Junior’s life are alcoholics; Rowdy’s father is an abusive drunk, while Junior’s father’s friend Eugene, one of "the saddest guys" he knows, is a "happy drunk." Junior’s father himself regularly squanders the family’s meager funds at the bar, and Junior’s mother is a former alcoholic.

It is a tribute to Junior’s ability to see beyond stereotypes that he perceives immediately the correlation between Penelope’s anorexia and his father’s alcoholism. Even beautiful, intelligent white girls suffer, and in her effort to escape the pain of never being taken seriously, Penelope engages in a cycle of addictive behavior and denial that is every bit as deadly as the alcoholism of Junior’s father. Junior himself uses art, as expressed in his cartoons, as an antidote to pain and is fortunate to have found an addiction that is life-affirming rather than destructive.

Junior also learns about the complex nature of racism. The reservation Indians are victims of racism in its most blatant form, but racism can also manifest itself more subtly. Both Rowdy and Gordy point out in their own unique manners that Junior’s attraction to "pretty, pretty white girls" has racist overtones; everyone harbors some elements of racism, and Junior is no exception. Because racism is a universal malady, the fact that a person has racist tendencies does not preclude him or her from being a decent human being. Roger, who had been a ringleader in the campaign of harassment when Junior first arrived at Reardan, turns out to be a caring, compassionate friend who encourages him to try out for basketball and frequently drives him the long twenty-two miles home from school. Through Roger, who is of "kind heart . . . and a little bit racist," Junior recognizes that there are multiple aspects to every person’s character and that if you can accept that fact and "let people into your life a little bit [regardless], they can be pretty damn amazing."

Junior’s communication with his sister is filled with pathos. Her dignity and optimism are undiminished, but her efforts to find a job have been futile, and the "gorgeous" house she is living in is in reality just a shabby old trailer. The reader gets the sense that despite her indomitable spirit, she will not be able to prevail over the odds stacked against her.


Chapters 8-13 Summary and Analysis


Chapters 20-24 Summary and Analysis