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Mary writes Junior by hand this time. She complains that restaurants won’t hire her without experience, but that she can’t get experience without being hired. In the meantime, she’s started writing her life story. Mary and her husband have moved into a stainless steel trailer, and Mary calls it the most beautiful place in the world.
Junior’s dad tells Junior how he met Junior’s mom. Junior’s mom is eight years older than Junior’s dad, and, when they were children, she lifted Junior’s dad up to get a drink from a drinking fountain. Junior’s dad tells Junior the story as a way to say he should “dream big to get big.” Junior should try out for the Reardan basketball team. Junior goes to tryouts and Coach says that 16 of the 40 kids there won’t make the team. First, all the kids run 100 laps. Four kids give up. Then Coach has the kids play full-court one-on-one. Junior matches up against Roger, who is 6’6” and can dunk. Roger steals the ball from Junior and dunks. Then, when Junior is playing defense, Roger runs him over and dunks again on the other basket. Coach asks Junior if he wants to go again or if he needs a break. Junior wants to give up, but he knows if he does he’ll get cut. He goes again, and, after Roger fouls him, he makes a jump shot. Then, when Roger has the ball, Junior fouls him and keeps him from scoring. Junior makes the varsity team.
The next week, Reardan’s basketball team goes to Wellpinit. All the Wellpinit fans are chanting “Ar-nold sucks!” as Junior and his team enter the school. Junior notes that they’re referring to him by his Reardan name, rather than his rez name. Then, once Junior enters the gym, all the fans stand and turn their backs. Junior laughs. Rowdy is the only Indian who doesn’t turn his back on Junior. The game starts and Junior is put in during the first quarter. As he’s running onto the court, a fan hits Junior in the head with a quarter. Junior has to leave the game because he’s bleeding. He goes to the locker room alone, and Eugene, who readers learn has recently become an EMT, comes in to take a look at the cut. Junior asks Eugene to stitch his forehead right there even though it will leave a scar. Then, Junior gets put back in the game early in the second half. He goes up for a layup, and Rowdy elbows him in the head. The blow knocks Junior unconscious. Junior is taken to the hospital with a concussion, and Coach stops in to visit. Junior is not supposed to sleep, so Coach spends the night with Junior telling stories.
During the Christmas holidays, Junior’s family doesn’t have enough money for presents, and Junior’s dad goes on a bender. He leaves on Christmas Eve and comes back January 2nd with a terrible hangover. Then, back at the house, Junior’s dad apologizes to Junior about Christmas, and Junior says its OK. Junior’s dad tells Junior to reach in his boot, and Junior finds five dollars. Junior thinks how easy it would have been for his dad to spend those five dollars on a last bottle of whiskey. Junior calls it a beautiful, ugly thing.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is filled with different forms of text and images. There is the body of Junior’s story, Junior’s cartoons, Junior’s more realistic drawings, Mary’s emails, and now her letter. The book celebrates formal and human diversity. Despite Mary’s continued positivity, it remains an open question whether Mary is deceiving herself about how good she finds her new life. Even if Mary does find her trailer to be the most beautiful place in the world, Junior is a little more skeptical. At times, Mary’s false hope is drawn into contrast with the privilege Junior experiences in Reardan. Privilege might be thought of as hope plus possibility. Mary’s hopes are pipe dreams. Junior’s dad says that the moral of his story about meeting Junior’s mother is to dream big. What is interesting is that Junior’s dad didn’t reach the drinking fountain by dreaming big, he reached it with Junior’s mom’s help. There is an unstated moral to Junior’s dad’s story: reaching one’s dreams requires both individual ambition and the support of a community. Junior finds support at Reardan whereas, on the Montana reservation, Mary is cut off from external support.
Read more about how Mary’s unearned optimism foreshadows her demise.
Like many of the sports scenes in the novel, Junior’s tryouts can be read as a moral allegory—a story with a message about how to behave. The message of the tryouts is to be resilient. Coach seems to be an incredibly rare sort of a character, a good high school sports coach. What Junior correctly sees is that Coach is evaluating less the raw talent of his potential players than their work ethic. Junior’s one-on-one match against the 6’6” Roger can be seen as metaphor Junior’s more general struggle for belonging and success in the white world. The odds are stacked against Junior. Roger has all the talent and physical advantage—the privilege—but Junior is still able to find a place for himself mostly by not giving up. Junior’s persistence helps him to discover that he has real ability. Junior’s sports experiences tend to dramatize his internal struggle. The Wellpinit basketball court is a stage. Junior already feels that the entire reservation community has turned its back on him. In the Wellpinit Reardan game, they physically enact it. But this drama is a bit immature. The community responds only to its surface feelings, not the complexities underlying them.
Read more about sports and competition as a motif.
By chanting “Arnold sucks” and cheering against Junior, the Wellpinit crowd continues to betray the bullying and violence that trouble their community. To use the language of sports contests, they are unsportsmanlike. Junior sees it as symbolic that Rowdy is the only Indian not to turn his back on him. Perhaps their friendship is still alive deep down? Once again, Junior laughs when he feels he’d rather cry. But, from Junior’s perspective, the real tragedy of the first Wellpinit versus Reardan basketball game isn’t Wellpinit’s staggering defeat, but the fact that he never even gets his chance to participate. Junior isn’t allowed to play in the sports theater, even though, behind the scenes with Eugene, Junior shows great courage and determination. Coach’s behavior after Junior is hospitalized stands in stark contrast to Junior’s father’s behavior over the holidays. Coach gives encouragement and support and serves as a father figure for Junior. Junior’s dad, meanwhile, cannot handle the pressures of parenting. He is sometimes incapable of giving Junior support. Junior is forced, then, into the awkward position of being responsible for himself and his dad because Junior’s dad has been irresponsible and reckless.
Read more about the symbolism of Junior’s dad's last five dollars.