Summary of “Slouching Toward Thanksgiving”:
Being a part of two worlds, the reservation and Reardan, has made Junior feel like he is not human anymore. Nobody notices him; he does not have any friends in either location. He still feels alienated at school, even though he knows more than most of the students at Reardan. In science class, he nervously corrects his teacher's definition of petrified wood. The teacher does not believe Junior, but a white student named Gordy supports Junior's explanation. Rather than praising Junior for his knowledge, however, the teacher gives preferential treatment to Gordy.
A few days later, Junior arrives home and finds out that Mary has gotten married to an Indian man from Montana and is now living there with him. Junior muses that Mary is living out her romantic novel fantasy by having a whirlwind romance with a man she has just met. Junior is upset at first; nobody ever leaves the reservation. He is ultimately happy that Mary has found happiness, though.
The next day, Junior is inspired by Mary’s bravery and asks Gordy to be his friend. The two become study partners. Gordy inspires Junior because of how seriously he takes his education. Gordy teaches Junior how to study better and retain more information. Junior says that Gordy is like an alien from Star Wars, but he thinks they make a good team.
Summary of “My Sister Sends Me an E-Mail”:
Mary sends Junior an email from her new home in Montana. She writes about riding a horse for the first time and is amazed about how different life is on the large reservation. She writes about her honeymoon and how their hotel suite had multiple rooms. She still has not found a job, but Mary is optimistic. She loves her new life and is happy that she made the change.
Summary of “Thanksgiving”:
Junior comments that Indians celebrating Thanksgiving is odd since white people began murdering the Indians a few years after the first Thanksgiving. He does not understand what Indians have to be thankful for. His father, in humor, tells Junior that Indians are thankful that the white settlers did not kill off the entire race.
Junior still misses his friendship with Rowdy, so he draws a cartoon of the two of them in superhero costumes. He goes to Rowdy's house, where Rowdy’s drunk father answers the door and makes homophobic comments about the picture. He agrees to give it to Rowdy, though. As Junior turns to leave, he sees Rowdy in his bedroom window. Rowdy makes an obscene gesture when Junior waves to him, but Junior can see that Rowdy has not destroyed the cartoon. He feels hopeful that Rowdy still has too much respect for Junior’s drawings to destroy one.
Junior has already encountered racism from the students at Reardan, but in these chapters, adults also target him. Mr. Dodge, his science teacher, does not believe Junior's claim that petrified wood is not actually wood and makes a derogatory comment about Junior growing up on the reservation. This shows that Mr. Dodge is ignoring Junior’s intelligence because he perceives Junior to be inferior. While it appears at first that Mr. Dodge discredits Junior to save face, he does not have a problem praising Gordy for giving the same answer. The only difference between these two students is race; Mr. Dodge does not believe that Junior, an Indian, has the right to correct him.
While Junior knows he is smart, he admits that Gordy is smarter. He does not resent this, though. Instead, Junior looked to Gordy for guidance and inspiration. Gordy, who does not have any friends, either, teaches Junior how to study and retain information. Junior relishes Gordy's advice because nobody ever taught him studying techniques at the reservation school. Junior has always done well in school because of his insatiable love for books. Beyond that, though, Gordy shows Junior that true learning requires more than just liking books; analytical thinking takes focus and determination.
Though Junior and Gordy are not as close as Junior and Rowdy, the two bond over their love of knowledge. Their shared enthusiasm for learning makes alienates them from their fellow students - both at Reardan and in Wellpinit. Junior even uses a Star Wars allusion to describe Gordy. In previous chapters, Junior thinks of himself as the solitary alien at Reardan, but in Gordy he finds someone who shares the same feelings and quirks. Furthermore, Gordy does not try to hide his differences - he celebrates them. Even though Junior and Gordy are both outsiders, Junior finally feels like an insider when he finds somebody who understands him.
Back on the reservation, Mary's beloved romance novels seem to have become symbols for her life. Earlier in the novel, Mr. P. tells Junior that as a teenager, Mary loved romance novels and wanted to write them one day, but that dream drifted away as she got older. Yet seeing Junior attempting to realize his dream may have inspired Mary to live hers. Like a plot in a romance novel, Mary is whisked away into a whirlwind affair with a gambler. She even rides horses on her honeymoon, mimicking a stereotypical scene from a romance novel.
With the horrendous history that shrouds Thanksgiving, it is no wonder that Junior questions why Indians celebrate the holiday in the first place. In his mind, Thanksgiving is a time when white people celebrate how they used, betrayed, and slaughtered Indians. Yet when his father jokes that Indians are thankful that white people did not kill them all, Alexie reveals the sense of irony that pervades this holiday for many Indians. Junior is the only one in his family who considers the crushing defeatism of celebrating Thanksgiving on the reservation. His father approaches the subject as a joke. In fact, many of Junior's family members and friends deal with the stark reality of their situation by escaping (Mary runs away, Junior's parents drink), resorting to violence (Rowdy hits Junior when he feels betrayed), or by making jokes.