Summary of “Because Geometry is Not a Country Somewhere Near France”:
Junior describes his sister Mary. He calls her “Mary Runs Away” not because she ran away, but because she has lived in her parents’ basement since high school. She likes to ruin things for Junior, including telling her brother how his childhood habit of curling up in corners is symbolic of him trying to return to his mother’s womb. Despite Mary's eccentricities, though, Junior looks up to her.
On Junior’s first day of high school, he is excited to take a geometry class. The class is taught by Mr. P., an older white man with a large nose and a strange face who has a habit of sleeping through class or showing up wearing his pajamas. Most students like Mr. P., though, because Mr. P. doesn’t expect much from them.
After Mr. P. has handed out geometry textbooks to the students, Junior sees that his mother’s name is written inside the front cover of his. He becomes agitated with the sudden realization that the school has not updated its textbooks in over thirty years. Junior throws the book in frustration and accidentally hits Mr. P. in the nose.
Summary of “Hope Against Hope”:
The school suspends Junior for hitting Mr. P. Later, Mr. P comes to Junior’s house, but instead of getting angry, he begins to apologize to Junior. Mr. P. says that he and the other white teachers were once instructed to make their Indian students forget their culture and heritage, and he feels guilty about his past compliance with this rule. That is why he cannot punish Junior; he knows that the conditions he and the other teachers implemented have created a chain reaction that has led to his own nose being injured. Mr. P. tells Junior that he is the smartest kid in his school, which means that he has to leave the reservation. Regardless of how difficult it might be, Mr. P. says, leaving the reservation will be Junior's only chance to realize his hopes and aspirations.
Mr. P. also mentions that he taught Mary when she was in high school. She was a bright student who loved to write. Mr. P. says that Mary dreamed of writing romance novels, which Junior cannot believe. After high school, Mr. P. explains, he saw Mary’s enthusiasm and hope fade away. That is why he wants Junior to leave the reservation; he sees the same potential in Junior that he once saw in Mary and wants to help Junior avoid his reclusive sister's fate.
Summary of “Go Means Go”:
Junior’s parents are surprised when Junior asks to transfer to Reardan, a school off the reservation. According to Junior, attending Reardan High School will give him the best chance at a successful future. Even though Reardan is a twenty-two minute drive from the reservation and its student body is entirely white, it also has a computer lab and an excellent chemistry program. Junior's parents are stunned by his request, but once he prods them, they confess that they, too, believe that white people have a better chance at achieving happiness. Therefore, they agree to work hard in order to allow Junior to transfer to Reardan. Junior is nervous, though, because he knows all the Indians on the reservation will think he is a traitor to the tribe.
Summary of “Rowdy Sings the Blues”:
Junior meets Rowdy at the swing set and tells him about his plan to transfer schools. Rowdy does not believe Junior because he does not think Junior has the confidence to transfer to an all-white school on his own. Junior affirms that he is going to Reardan and asks Rowdy to go with him. Junior thinks that Reardan’s superior basketball team will entice Rowdy. After all, Rowdy is the reservation’s star basketball player. However, Rowdy will not go to Reardan and instead begins to cry. Junior tries to comfort him, but Rowdy hits Junior in the nose and leaves.
From the time reservations were established in the 19th century, the educational conditions were bleak. First of all, the reservation schools were historically run and taught by white Americans, including the teachers at Wellpinit Junior High whom Junior calls “our liberal, white, vegetarian do-gooders and conservative, white missionary saviors” (30). Like Mr. P. says, it was common for teachers on the reservation to have little interest in their students' educational future; they instead were trying to fulfill an ulterior political motive.
Teachers forced their Indian students at these state- and religious-run reservation schools to learn English. Students were not allowed to speak their regional or tribal languages; teachers beat students who reverted to their native tongue. Boys’ hair had to be cut short to resemble popular hairstyles amongst white men, and school officials replaced Indian children’s given names with typical “white names.” This forced assimilation is what Mr. P. refers to as “[killing] the Indian to save the child” (35). He admits that the white American faculty has been trying to to eradicate Indian culture and promote the Western ways of life.
Another reason for the unsatisfactory education on the reservation is the lack of proper funding. Alexie demonstrates this in the novel; on the first day of geometry class, Junior realizes that he will be learning from the same textbook that his mother studied thirty years earlier. It is conditions like these that lead to the grim, hopeless future that Junior so often alludes to while describing the adults around him.
These seemingly insurmountable institutional barriers have caused the Indians on Junior's reservation to lose hope. Many young people, like Mary, have no confidence in their ability to succeed because they do not have a support system or any positive reinforcement. This is why Junior is so shocked when Mr. P. comes to his defense and pushes him to strive for a better life - it is the first time Junior has ever had somebody believe in him.
Both Junior and his parents express the opinion that hope is a luxury for white people. This is because the white people around them have access to good education and other resources that allow them to look toward the future and see happiness. In Junior’s eyes, however, hope is “like some mythical creature” (54). Alexie illustrates this simile with one of Junior's cartoons - it is a drawing of a winged horse flying through smiling clouds with “white” written underneath. This mindset is why Junior becomes so adamant about going to Reardan. He knows he will not be able to leave the reservation if he continues on this hopeless path, so he uproots himself and takes the risk of attending an all-white school over twenty miles away.