Though Junior is incredibly conscious of the political forces that have shaped his life on the reservation and his identity as an American Indian, this awareness does not necessarily translate into politically correct speech. Junior doesn’t call himself a Native American, but an Indian. He is not afraid to use dark comedy, or morbid humor, as a way to cope with the pressures that shape his life. Though, on Thanksgiving, Junior and his father essentially laugh about what many historians refer to as the genocide of American Indian peoples by white, European settlers, one might argue that laughter is a more empowered response to pain and oppression than tears. Junior returns to analyze the similarity of laughter and tears for American Indians in the chapters to come. Rowdy’s father, who the reader encounters directly for the first time in the “Thanksgiving” chapter, is one of the most unsympathetic characters in the book. He is an alcoholic, a child-abuser, and homophobe. Rowdy’s father serves as an example of how those who have found themselves marginalized and the victims of systematic prejudice—who feel themselves to be hated—often respond by hating others.
From Junior’s perspective, Penelope has everything she could want. She is white, attractive, and intelligent. She knows nothing but hope and opportunity. Junior is shocked, then, to discover that Penelope’s opportunities come with their own difficulties and pressures. When Penelope argues that being a bulimic—a person who binge eats and then throws up—is somehow more temporary or less harmful than being an anorexic—a person who intentionally starves him or herself—she is rationalizing her self-destructive behavior. Junior’s response once again reveals the optimism and compassion at the core of his character. He offers support and encouragement. One possible explanation for Penelope’s interest in Junior is Junior’s kindness. Penelope’s extremely racist father, Earl, offers a second opinion. Junior sees that it is a mixture of who he is and what he is that has determined his opportunities in life. Junior is even able to gain enough perspective on his situation to recognize that a large part of his feeling for Penelope is infatuation with her appearance, even her whiteness.