Chapter 8: How to Fight Monsters
Junior’s father drives him the twenty-two miles to school on his first day at Reardan. He reminds his son that “those white people aren’t better than [him],” a fact which neither of them quite believe, but the expression of his love gives Junior the courage to follow through on his resolve. The white kids stare at him as they arrive, and Junior wonders what he is doing there at Reardan, where the only other Indian is ironically the school mascot. When Junior’s homeroom teacher calls him by his given name, Arnold Spirit, Junior feels “like two different people inside of one body”: one, Arnold, who navigates in the white world, and the other, Junior, who lives on the reservation. An attractive blonde girl named Penelope asks Arnold where he is from and comments on his “singsong reservation accent” when he responds.
During the following days, Junior is ignored at school by all of the “pretty, pretty white girls” and most of the boys as well, but one group of “jocks” torments him by calling him names and denigrating his heritage. When one of these jocks, a “giant” named Roger, subjects him to an especially degrading joke about Indians, Junior feels that he must stand up for himself and punches Roger in the face. Following the rules of fighting that prevail on the rez, he then challenges his much larger opponent to finish the fight, but Roger, shocked, tells Junior he is crazy and walks away.
Chapter 9: Grandmother Gives Me Some Advice
Confused, Junior turns that evening to his grandmother for advice, and, after thinking deeply upon his account of the incident, she tells him that perhaps he has won Roger’s respect. The next day, Junior is forced to walk to school because his parents do not have money for gas. Fortunately, his father’s friend Eugene is heading to Spokane on his motorcycle and offers him a ride. Eugene is like an uncle to Junior, but he is drunk all the time.
When Eugene drops Junior off at Reardan, all the white kids just stare; Eugene has “braids down to his butt,” and Junior speculates that the two of them on the motorcycle exude an aura of danger. As Junior approaches the school building, Roger appears, and Junior braces himself for a fight. Roger, however, is “actually nice,” inquiring curiously about Eugene and his bike, thus paying them and Junior some respect. Junior, stunned, thinks that maybe his grandmother was right and, feeling confident later that day, tries to strike up a friendly conversation with “Penelope the Beautiful,” only to be snubbed.
Chapter 10: Tears of a Clown
Junior remembers an incident that occurred when he was twelve and had fallen in love with an Indian girl who was “out of [his] league.” In talking about his situation with Rowdy, he had begun to cry because of the trauma of unrequited love, but Rowdy, loyal friend that he was, did not tell anyone about his weakness.
Chapter 11: Halloween
On Halloween, Junior goes to school dressed as “a homeless dude,” and coincidentally, Penelope masquerades as a homeless woman. Penelope compliments Junior on his costume and tells him that, in protest against the treatment of homeless people in the country, she will be asking for spare change instead of candy when she goes trick-or-treating that night and will donate what she collects to the homeless. Wanting her to admire him, Junior says that he plans to do the same for homeless Native Americans and suggests that they pool their money and send it in together.
That night, Junior goes trick-or-treating on the rez. Some people are happy to give a small...
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donation, but others, angry at his “betrayal” in leaving the rez to go to a white school, call him names and slam the door in his face. As he is walking home, Junior is jumped by three guys in Frankenstein masks who take his money but “mostly just [want] to remind [him] that [he] is a traitor.” Junior remembers how Rowdy used to protect him when they went trick-or-treating together and wonders if, this year, Rowdy is “one of the guys who just beat [him] up.” When Junior, empty-handed, approaches Penelope at school the next day and tells her what happened, she is sympathetic and generously offers to put his name on the money she collected when she sends it in.
Junior had thought he and Penelope would be closer after their shared Halloween experience, but things between them remain pretty much the same. Junior thinks about what advice Rowdy would give him if he could talk to him about the situation and knows that Rowdy would have said that he can win Penelope’s love if he just changes how he looks, talks, and walks—in essence, everything about himself.
Chapter 12: Slouching Toward Thanksgiving
The weeks before Thanksgiving are the loneliest weeks Junior has ever experienced. When he awakens on the reservation each morning, he is an Indian, but he becomes “something less than Indian . . . somewhere on the road to Reardan.” The white kids are not mean to him, but they do not really associate with him either. Junior does everything alone at Reardan, but because he has chosen to go there, he is no longer accepted by many on the reservation, leaving him with no place to belong.
Even as he exists in isolation at school, Junior gradually discovers that he is smarter than most of the white kids there. He is momentarily encouraged when Gordy, the “class genius,” supports him in geology class after he angers the teacher by contradicting him during a lesson. Junior thanks Gordy, who matter-of-factly informs him that he “didn’t do it for [Junior] . . . [he] did it for science.”
Crushed, Junior returns home to find that his sister has run off and gotten married. After seven years of living in the basement and doing “absolutely nothing at all,” Mary has gone to Montana with a Flathead Indian she met at the casino. Although his parents and grandmother are devastated at this turn of events, Junior is happy for his sister because she has found the imagination and courage to live out her dreams. Inspired by Mary’s example, Junior confronts “Gordy the Genius White Boy” at school and tells him that he wants to be friends. Junior reasons that since both of them are misfits in the social climate of Reardan, they have a lot in common, and the two in fact do become friends, although not close ones like Junior and Rowdy used to be. With his phenomenal love for the acquisition of knowledge and his quirky sense of humor, Gordy teaches Arnold how to take the information he finds in books and in other places seriously, but not so seriously that he ceases to experience joy in learning.
Chapter 13: My Sister Sends Me an E-mail
Junior receives an email from his sister, Mary. She tells him that she is ecstatic, about life, about her husband, and about Montana.
Chapters 8–13 Analysis
An individual’s name is intimately connected to his identity, and it is no accident that Junior must go by a different name at Reardan. “Junior” signifies the main character’s Indian self, while “Arnold Spirit” is the name he must answer to in the white world. In effect, Junior has to give up his identity as an accepted member of the reservation in order to enter into a place that offers him a chance for a better future, and he describes the resulting state of disconnect as being “two different people inside of one body” or “a magician slicing [him]self in half.” Junior’s position in the world is tenuous because, after incurring the animosity of his tribesmen who see his attempt to cross over as a betrayal, he has no guarantee that he will find a place to belong with his white contemporaries. Junior finds himself with one foot in each of two disparate worlds, but he has a home in neither.
Junior’s desolation and loneliness during those first weeks at Reardan are most evident in his longing for his lost friendship with Rowdy. Rowdy, despite his menacing demeanor, had been Junior’s protector and confidante, and together, the two had been able to let down their guard and be completely themselves, without fear of censure. All that was lost when Junior, who had been the “only good thing in Rowdy’s life,” did the one thing that Rowdy could not abide. Rowdy, having given up on himself, does not have it in him to do what Junior is daring to undertake, and so in leaving the rez, Junior is also leaving Rowdy behind. Unable to handle the pain of abandonment, Rowdy responds with unmitigated rage, and Junior’s best friend becomes his “worst enemy.”
It is during the first few weeks of Junior’s sojourn at Reardan that he is most vulnerable and in need of companionship, and it is during this time that he feels the loss of his former best friend most keenly. Under ordinary circumstances, Rowdy would have defended Junior from the taunts of the Reardan jocks, advised him about his problems in getting Penelope to like him, and exacted revenge on his behalf when “Roger the Giant” crossed the line in bullying him. In Rowdy’s absence, Junior realizes “how much of [his] self-worth [and] sense of safety” was based on his knowledge that Rowdy had his back, but as it is, when Junior is beaten up on Halloween night, he wonders if Rowdy is one of the attackers.
Strength gained from human relationships, especially those involving family, is key to all of Junior’s endeavors. Flawed though they are, Junior’s parents give him the courage to venture into the white world. It is true that though they try to help Junior out by driving him on the long, twenty-two mile trip to and from school everyday, more often than not, he is left to fend for himself because there is no money for gas after his father squanders what little they have at the bar or the casino. Still, Junior’s parents are in full support of his decision to go to Reardan, and the knowledge of their unabashed pride in him and their unquestionable, albeit often unreliable, love are enough to carry him through.
Junior’s grandmother is “the smartest person on the planet” in his estimation and is always available to listen and to give sage advice, while Junior and his sister have a relationship that is especially intriguing. When Mary marries a Flathead Indian and runs off to Montana, Junior figures that, by going to Reardan, he has shamed her into doing something with her own life. Conversely, when he realizes the courage his sister had to have had to go so far away to “live out her dream,” he is inspired to act like a warrior himself, and he takes the initiative to make friends with the Reardan “class genius,” Gordy.