How does Zits define himself at the beginning of the novel? How does this change by the end?
At the beginning, Zits feels alienated from much of an identity. Physical appearances are very important to Zits. He often judges others, and himself, based on their hair color, eye color, and body type. Zits’s name, which he embraces, indicates both his fixation on outward appearance and his lack of self-worth. He considers himself ugly because of his gangly shape and especially his acne. This alienation parallels the lack of a cultural identity that he feels. Being half-Native American and half-Irish burdens Zits, as he does not feel connected to either heritage. Finally, Zits feels unworthy because of his orphan outsider status. He has chosen to live as a delinquent, arguably because it is the only identity he feels entitled to. Ultimately, however, Zits's journey teaches him that every human being goes through doubt and shame, and he decides that one's identity can be defined by behavior, by the choices one makes. The final chapters show Zits attempting to redefine himself through a new attitude and behavior.
Discuss the difference between Zits’s emotional state at the bank and his emotional state at Red River.
In the bank, Zits feels a type of purity. He has a trance-like composure, convinced that he will achieve his purposes. Justice has given him a sense of community and purpose, and he devotes himself to the murder. However, when he transforms into Hank, Zits begins to grapple with the reality of what he has done. Whereas he was calm at the bank, he suffers a flux of emotions at Red River. Notice the difference in word choices between chapters 1-3 and chapters 4-6. Before the Ghost Dance, Zits feels powerful, his choice to kill justified. As Hank Storm, he views the bank scene as a heinous act. When he confronts violence both at Red River and later in his journey, he grows progressively more disgusted with himself. In short, Zits ultimately realizes the complexity of doubt, shame, and guilt, and chooses to eschew simple, 'pure' feelings. No person or emotion is purely evil, as no person or emotion is purely good. He eventually learns to embrace complications so that he can attempt to overcome his negativity.
Why does Zits hesitate when the Indian boy's father asks him to kill the white soldier in Chapter 9?
The moment when Zits hesitates reveals his evolving stance towards violence. His mystical journey begins after he commits an atrocity for which he feels little guilt. However, with each transformation, he confronts the ugly truth about violence first-hand. His realization as the Indian boy is particularly ironic because he is initially enamored of the community's purity, in terms of both race and family. However, its desecration of Custer's troops reveals the complicated nature of violence. Zits reflects on how all violence is horrific, and that perhaps since it can always be justified by the attacker, it can actually never be justified. He has still not totally internalized this lesson, and when confronted with the white soldier, sees an opportunity to avenge himself on the many white people who have abused him over the years - in particular, a foster father who molested him. However, his new doubts make it difficult for him to strike. He has not yet chosen to eschew violence, but he has progressed past the blind desire to commit it.
Discuss the nature of Zits's faith. Though he never explicitly discusses religion, what picture can one draw of his faith?
Like his father is in his life, Zits's God is both omnipresent and absent. Throughout the novel, Zits makes vague references to God, and refers to locations as heaven. The most ideal location he finds is in the early section of his time as the Indian boy, where he is reunited with his father. Zits sees the world as a string of abuses and betrayals, none of which are mediated by a god. The connection to his father is clear. In the same way that his father's initial betrayal ruined his perspective on life, so is the lack of a moral order something that only feeds Zits's pessimism. However, he does believe that the world order takes revenge; he often refers to his time travel as punishment for the bank atrocity. Therefore, his God also feels the desire for revenge, similar to that which Zits feels. Ultimately, however, Zits comes to believe in the redemptive power of forgiveness, which replaces revenge as his guiding sentiment. While Alexie does not tackle specific questions of Christianity, it is clear that questions of religious redemption and punishment permeate Zits's personal journey.
Discuss the emotional ramifications of loneliness in the novel.
Loneliness, an underlining theme in the novel, drives Zits to some of his more extreme choices. He explicitly names loneliness as his great curse early in the story. Justice is so influential to Zits partially because he temporarily mediates those lonely feelings. Ironically, Zits's desperate need for love leads him to commit the hateful bank atrocity, since he is in many ways trying to please Justice. Further, Zits's desire to belong to a group helps to understand his inner conflicts. His journey involves temporary communities that he later turns from because of their tendency towards violence, suggesting that he cannot find any group that will embrace him. Ultimately, though, Zits learns that no human is without the tendency for violence and cruelty, and so he must forgive if he is to grow. The novel ends where it does not because Mary is kind, but because Zits is willing to open himself to her. Only if he is open to companionship can he transcend his loneliness.
How is Abbad’s act of terrorism a betrayal of Jimmy’s trust?
Zits’s fourth transformation (into Jimmy) confronts questions of a post-09/11 America. Jimmy initially hesitated before agreeing to teach Abbad, because he worried about the man's heritage. However, doubts over his racism lead him to teach the man anyway. In many ways, this is a moral triumph for Jimmy, who transcended his base doubts. However, Abbad used the lessons Jimmy taught to commit an atrocity in downtown Chicago. What Abbad betrayed was not only Jimmy's lessons but also Jimmy's optimism. Jimmy opened himself to this man against his better judgment, trusting in the Abbad's innate goodness, and ended up an accomplice to terrorism. As Jimmy, Zits feels the myriad hatreds, resentments, doubts, and betrayals that permeate a paranoid world, forcing him to question his own complicity in his behavior, and the difficulty of forgiving not only others, but also oneself in such a world.
Zits spends much of the novel is search of father figures. Discuss Zits’s need for a father, and how it helps define his character.
Zits’s bad behavior is attributed in the novel to the need to fill many absences. The death of his mother, the abuse of adults, and most of all, the abandonment of his father, leave a void in his life. Zits’s desire for a father figure is understandable. He has never had a positive paternal influence in his life, yet is defined by others mostly by the heritage his father gave him (as an Indian). Likewise, whereas he remembers how his mother loved him, he can only assume his father did not. What is most distressing is how almost every substitution leads to greater betrayal and pain. He is molested twice by father figures, and suffered under men like Edgar, who withdrew their affection. That Zits responds aggressively to his many problems suggests a desire to overcompensate for a lack of male attention. When he finally encounters his own father, Zits realizes that while the pain of lacking a father might never go away, he might have the ability to control that pain, rather than letting it control him.
What is the significance of the “onions and beer" motif?
Onions and beer have no direct association with one another, outside of their combination in various culinary dishes. However, the smell of onions and beer has great significance to Zits, as it symbolizes pain and expected disappointment. We learn late in the novel that the first man to molest Zits smelled of onions and beer. However, during the preceding story, several characters are described as smelling this way. While Zits is likely not conscious of the connection, a discerning reader realizes how that sexual molestation trained Zits to immediately doubt people who might be in a position to help him. His ability to trust has been damaged. The motif is affecting both because it suggests the way that childhood trauma continues to resonate through one's life, as well as the way that despite his articulate nature, Zits is often unaware of the complexity of his psychological hang-ups.
Zits often names characters in the novel according to either their appearance or their actions. Discuss his method of naming characters.
Zits begins the novel by embracing his nickname and insisting that his real name is unimportant. Right away, he establishes the importance of names, as well as his pervasive lack of self-worth. Zits continually identifies people by their outward appearance or behavior, suggesting his disinterest in looking any deeper, his self-imposed emotional boundaries. He praises good characters with names like Small Saint, and criticizes bad characters by refusing them a name. For instance, he never gives his father's name. Others, like his mother, do not get named because he feels betrayed by them. Though there is no strict system to naming in the novel, Zits's choices often reveal a lot about both his personality and his inner growth. That the novel ends with his real name is no accident; it provides a satisfying pay-off to his journey by expressing his new self-worth.
Zits describes himself as a “time traveling mass murderer.” However, his personality grows with each transformation. How does his perception of “self” change with each transformation?
Zits wakes into each transformation, suggesting that each episode offers a new day, a new opportunity for growth.
As Hank Storm, Zits confronts the truth of the violence he committed. He must contrast the ugliness of people like Art and Horse to a hero like Jimmy, and realize he has acted more like the former. He cannot be disinterested about the atrocity he has committed; he cannot lie to himself like Hank lies to his own family.
As the Indian boy, Zits experiences the joy of being a pure Indian, but realizes that even the 'oppressed' are capable of great violence. Further, he confronts the possibility that all violence is unmerited, that any person can justify violence if he so chooses.
As Gus, Zits is in a position of power, and gets to experience his Irish side. However, he here realizes that any individual has the power to actively resist violence. He does not merely need to disdain it; he can choose to counter it.
As Jimmy, Zits has little control. Instead, he experiences how a life devoted to sadness and shame is a life controlled by those emotions. As Jimmy flies himself to suicide, Zits realizes how despair can become a crutch, pessimism a self-imposed death sentence.
As his father, Zits learns that all humans suffer pain, shame and guilt. Therefore, in order to transcend those feelings in oneself, one must forgive them in others. His father's memories earn his empathy, and he is able to relinquish some of his hatred.
Overall, Zits changes from an emotionally stilted person to one willing to change himself. By confronting the truth of his feelings and then acknowledging that he can endeavor to change them, he ultimately grows not into a perfect person, but into an admirable one.