Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 640
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Matt has no idea how to teach Attean to read. Matt recalls the primer from which his mother had taught him, and he tries to find familiar objects in the cabin to correspond to each letter as a way to introduce the alphabet. Remembering the undisguised hostility expressed by the Indian boy the day before, Matt begins to doubt that he will actually come today. To Matt's surprise, Attean does arrive, carrying a dead rabbit which he unceremoniously deposits on the table.
Matt thanks Attean for the offering and then instructs him to sit on a stool next to him. Matt begins the lesson, introducing the letter A. Although the boy stares straight ahead in silence, he is a quick learner and is able to pick out the letter where it appears on a page of Robinson Crusoe. When Matt explains that there are twenty-six letters in the alphabet, Attean finally breaks his silence and angrily demands how long it will take for him to learn to read. Matt tells him that it will take "some time...it might take a year." In frustration, Attean angrily storms out of the cabin.
When Attean returns the next day, Matt decides to skip the alphabet lessons and reads aloud from Robinson Crusoe instead. Skipping over the parts that might be perceived as dull and wordy, he begins with the story of the storm at sea and Crusoe's resulting shipwreck. Attean sits impassively, and Matt, chagrined, wonders whether the boy understands a single word of what he has been reading. When he stops, however, Attean asks, "White man get out of water?" Attean has indeed not only understood but has been actively engaged in the narrative.
The next day, Matt continues reading from Robinson Crusoe, describing how the man lands on a small, unnamed island and swims back out to the wrecked ship to salvage items that might be useful to him. Attean scoffs at this, asserting that if Crusoe had been an Indian, he would not have needed the things from the ship, but would have been able to make what was necessary instead. That night, Matt reflects on what Attean had said, and admits that, in fact, Robinson Crusoe "had lived like a king" on his deserted island.
Attean continues to come for his reading lessons, bringing game for Matt to fulfill his part in the treaty negotiated by his grandfather. One morning, Matt asks the Indian boy how he kills his prey because the rabbits and other small animals he provides never have any bullet holes in them. Attean shows Matt the Indian way of trapping, using natural materials to construct a snare which is quite effective in achieving its purpose. Once Matt gets the hang of the method, he tells Attean that he no longer needs to bring him food, but the boy continues to do so anyway.
Matt continues with the reading lessons. Once Attean accepts the fact that he will have to learn the letters of the alphabet, he masters them quickly and is soon able to spell simple words. The highlight of the sessions for both boys, however, is when Matt reads aloud from Robinson Crusoe. One day, Matt has just finished recounting the story of the meeting between Crusoe and the "poor savage," Friday. When Attean hears that Friday kneels before Crusoe in gratitude for rescuing him from his captives, he rises up in rage, shouting that Friday would never have done that and that it would have been better for him to die than to kneel down before the white man. Matt has never before questioned that "the wild man should be the white man's slave," but Attean's outburst troubles him. For the first time, he begins to reconsider the "truth" of his own beliefs as viewed from a different perspective.