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Junior loves geometry, and he is excited for his first high school geometry class. Junior also likes masturbating, and he spends hours in the family bathroom with porn magazines. Everybody masturbates, Junior says, and everybody likes it. But he likes geometry even more than masturbating and imagining women. When he was young, Junior says, he liked right angles so much he used to sleep in the closet, but he stopped when Mary, his sister, said he was just trying to crawl back into the womb. According to Junior, Mary spends 23 hours a day doing nothing in the family basement, but Junior says he loves and respects Mary in spite of it. Junior is also excited, and nervous, to try out for high school basketball team. On the first day of school, the geometry teacher, Mr. P, a short, white teacher who sometimes forgets to come to school, comes into class with a box of geometry textbooks.
Junior speculates that Mr. P is a Sicilian mobster in the Witness Protection Program, but really, Junior says, Mr. P is just a lonely old white man who used to be a lonely young white man. Really lonely white people, Junior says, like to hang around even lonelier Indians. During Junior’s first high school geometry class, Mr. P gives Junior his textbook. Junior sees that his Mom, Agnes Adams, signed the front page of the book more than thirty years earlier when she was a student at the same school. Junior is enraged that he’s being taught with more than 30-year-old course materials, and before he realizes what he’s doing, he throws the book as hard as he can into Mr. P’s face.
Junior is suspended from school for hitting Mr. P with the book. One day, during Junior’s suspension, Mr. P walks up the Spirit family’s driveway and asks Junior if he can sit with him on the porch. Junior is confused but says yes. After a long silence, Mr. P asks Junior if he knows why he hit him with the book and broke his nose. Junior says he doesn’t know. Then, Mr. P confesses to Junior that, when he was a younger teacher, he beat many Indian school children, and he apologizes to Junior. Mr. P says Junior is the second smartest student he’s ever had, after Junior’s sister, Mary, and Mr. P tells Junior something Junior doesn’t know: Mary wanted to be a romance novelist, but she gave up. Junior is the smartest kid in the school, Mr. P says, and he doesn’t want Junior to give up like Mary. He warns Junior that, even though Rowdy is his best friend, Rowdy has already given up. Junior’s only hope, Mr. P says, is to leave the reservation forever. Then, Mr. P cries. It’s the only time Junior has seen a sober adult cry.
Mr. P leaves, and Junior sits on the porch for a long time thinking about his life. Junior’s parents come home, and Junior asks them who has the most hope. Junior’s mom and dad say, “white people,” at the same time, and Junior tells them he wants to transfer schools. They assume Junior means another school on the reservation, but Junior says, no, he wants to go to Reardan—a rich, public school for white farm children 22 miles from the rez. He wants to start at Reardan the next day. Junior says that, even though his parents are drunks, they want a better life for him and Mary. Junior’s dad says it will be hard to get him to school there, and Junior’s mom warns that the other kids on the rez will hate Junior for leaving like this, but they support Junior and agree to help him.
The tone of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is often humorous and sometimes irreverent. Junior talks about taboo subjects—subjects that people, especially teenagers, are discouraged from talking about openly. These taboo topics include masturbation, homosexuality, homophobia, race, and racism. Junior often treats this serious subject matter lightly. He speaks of masturbation and geometry in the same breath. Through Mary, Junior encounters some of the ideas of the psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud. Freud argued that, in their adult lives, people revisit and attempt to recreate the sensations of their earliest infancy. Just as Rowdy accuses Makah Indians of being untrustworthy when he is, in fact, being untrustworthy, Mary accuses Junior of wanting to regress to his infancy when it is, in fact, Mary who is hiding from the responsibilities of adult life. Mary lives in the Spirit family’s basement and, according to Junior, almost never comes into the light of day. People’s accusations, Junior implies, often reveal more about the accusers than they do about the people accused.
Read more about Rowdy as a sometimes-undependable friend to Junior.
To a certain extent, Junior identifies with his geometry teacher, Mr. P. Like Mr. P, Junior is eccentric and lonely. But, unlike Mr. P, Junior is an Indian. This is the reader’s first introduction to the presence of white people who strongly identify with American Indians. These white sympathizers are troublesome figures on the reservation because it is not always clear whether they face the same challenges or difficulties as the American Indians with whom they identify. As is the case with Mr. P, white sympathizers may unwittingly contribute to the long-standing oppression of American Indian groups. Junior sees the thirty-year-old geometry textbook that Mr. P gives him as a symbol of the lack of opportunities, and the lack of hope, present for him and his tribe. When Junior throws his textbook at Mr. P, he acts without thinking. Mr. P later suggests that Junior also took him, not incorrectly, as a symbol of the many forces that have historically oppressed the Spokane people.
Read more about poverty and privilege as a theme.
After Junior hits Mr. P with his textbook, Mr. P challenges Junior’s expectations by apologizing to him. Mr. P admits that he has contributed to the racism that has hindered Indians on the reservation from leading happy or successful lives. But, despite his confession about being an abusive teacher in days gone by, Mr. P proves to be a good teacher for Junior. He encourages him to make what will be the most important decision of his young life—the decision to leave the Spokane Indian Reservation and go to school in Reardan. Surprise is an effective teaching tool. Mr. P surprises Junior by showing up at his out of the blue, apologizing, and, perhaps most importantly, by revealing things about Mary that Junior never knew. If living on the Spokane Reservation and attending Wellpinit was enough to keep Mary from pursuing her goal of becoming a writer, Mr. P warns, the same things can keep Junior from achieving his goals. Mr. P also warns Junior about his friendship with Rowdy, but Junior resists Mr. P’s warning. Junior is either unwilling to see Rowdy as a bad influence, or unwilling to give up on Rowdy despite Rowdy’s shortcomings.
Read about how the interaction with Mr. P is foreshadowed in the novel.
The divisions that separate Indians from white society are often external, like the border of the Spokane Reservation, but, just as often, these divisions are internal, psychological boundaries. When Junior’s mom and dad simultaneously agree that white people have the most hope, their response is a clear indication of how Indians on the reservation are constantly reminded of their racial identity, of the fact that they are not white, that Indians and white people have been separated. It doesn’t occur to Junior’s parents that Junior might want to transfer to a better, rather than a worse, high school because the only better schools are white schools. In this section, readers are also introduced to the rampant alcoholism on the Spokane Reservation. Junior’s parents, though they do their best to support Junior, are alcoholics. Even alcoholics have gradations. To Junior’s mind, Junior’s Dad is a better drunk than Rowdy’s because Junior’s Dad is never physically violent. Like Junior’s parents, even background, or secondary, characters like Mr. P tend to be morally ambiguous—to have a mixture of both good and bad traits. This makes them complex and, arguably, more realistic.
Read an important quote about how poverty interferes with hope.