Poverty doesn’t give you strength or teach you lessons about perseverance. No, poverty only teaches you how to be poor.
Junior offers this observation on poverty in the second chapter of the novel, “Why Chicken Means So Much to Me.” Junior is reflecting about the difficulties that face his family and other impoverished Indians on the reservation, and, in the process, criticizes common romanticized notions about poor people pulling themselves up by the bootstraps, overcoming adversity, and pursuing the American dream. The ability to overcome adversity by escaping it is, in fact, one of the key indicators of a privileged life. Junior suggests that only privileged people—namely, people who have never been poor—can hold such romanticized ideas about what it means to go hungry or not to be able to help one’s friends. For the truly poor, there is no escape from poverty, and the only way to overcome adversity, is to get better at tolerating it. The quotation sets the matter-of-fact, no-nonsense tone Junior will use to treat much of the political material that crops up in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Junior speaks with the authority of person who has both thought deeply about oppression and adversity and experienced them first-hand.