Summary of “The Black-Eye-of-the-Month Club”:
Arnold Spirit, Jr., or “Junior” as he is known on the Spokane Indian Reservation, is a fourteen-year-old boy member of the Coeur d’Alene tribe with an excess of cerebrospinal fluid in his skull that he refers to as “water on the brain.” Due to this problem, he has suffered from a number of health problems, like seizures and poor eyesight. He once had ten extra teeth in his mouth, but they had to be pulled out - and all on the same day because the dentist only does major surgery on the reservation once a year. Nevertheless, the dentist did not feel sorry for Junior that day because according to Junior, the dentist believes that Indians only feel half the amount of pain that white people feel. Now that he is a teenager, Junior's awkward appearance and speech impediment make him an outcast; everyone on the reservation bullies him. He turns to drawing cartoons as a way to cope.
Summary of “Why Chicken Means So Much to Me”:
Junior has grown up in poverty; he claims that everyone on the reservation lives in similar conditions. Junior says that most people think hunger is the worst part about being poor. He agrees that being hungry for hours is difficult. However, when on the rare occasion his parents come home with a bucket of fried chicken from Kentucky Fried Chicken, it makes Junior feel like his life is worth living. According to Junior, the worst thing about being poor is his inability to stop bad things from happening. When Junior’s dog Oscar becomes extremely ill as a result of heat stroke, Junior knows he cannot do anything to stop Oscar's suffering. He wants to take Oscar to the vet, but his family cannot afford it. Junior’s father, Arthur Spirit, Sr., takes Oscar out back and shoots him to put the dog out of his misery.
Junior wants to be upset with his parents for killing his dog, but he knows it is impossible for him to be angry with them. They did not want to kill Oscar, but killing Oscar was cheaper and more humane than the alternative. Junior explains that his father and his mother, Agnes Adams, were both raised on the reservation, and even though they once had aspirations, they have fallen into the same cycle of poverty as many of their peers. Junior claims that this is why his parents are now alcoholics. Junior’s mother is a smart woman who once wanted to go to college. She reads a lot and has a tremendous memory. Junior’s father is a talented singer who once dreamed of becoming a jazz musician. However, they did not have any support or help to leave the reservation and therefore, they have abandoned these childhood ambitions.
Summary of “Revenge Is My Middle Name”:
Oscar’s death is difficult on Junior. Junior wants to kill himself after losing his closest companion, but his best friend Rowdy talks him out of taking such drastic action. Junior and Rowdy are very close, even though Junior describes Rowdy to be “as strong and mean as a snake” (15). Rowdy always tries to get in fights. According to Junior, this is Rowdy's way of dealing with the alcoholism and abuse he suffers at home. One night, the two friends go to a powwow on the reservation.
Junior initially does not want to go because he knows that he will be bullied, but Rowdy talks him into going. While the boys are at the powwow, the thirty-year-old Andruss triplets get drunk and beat on Junior. Rowdy retaliates against the three brothers by shaving off their eyebrows and cutting off their hair after they have passed out. Junior likes how Rowdy always sticks up for him.
Junior’s life on the reservation has been difficult since his birth. He has suffered from brain damage, has had multiple major surgeries, and suffers from seizures - Junior has plenty of reasons to have a pessimistic outlook on life. Furthermore, he has to deal with rampant racism against Indians. From these facts, Junior’s life seems miserable. However, the voice in which he tells his story is sarcastic, humorous, and spirited - Junior's singular perspective is only enhanced by his clever cartoons. Therefore, the tone of the novel forms a stark contrast to the novel’s content.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is a semi-autobiographical novel. Author Sherman Alexie suffered from many of the same health problems and ill treatment as his fictional counterpart. However, Alexie refused to let his circumstances break his spirit, and, like Junior, viewed his life through a humorous lens. He has stated in interviews that many of the Indians he knows do the same thing because the only way to handle a bleak existence is to have a strong sense of humor. Just as Junior re-interprets the events of his life in lighthearted cartoons, Alexie delivers his troubled history with acerbic wit and humorous energy.
From the beginning of his life, Junior is aware that Indians experience racism in America. When Junior’s dentist does not give Junior the correct dosage of anesthesia because he believes Indians only feel half the pain that white people feel, he is acting out of the racist belief in the noble savage trope. This outdated myth holds that Indians are sage-like, stoic figures who are mentally strong and can suffer in silence. This notion taints the dentist’s perceptions about the humanity of his Indian patients, thus allowing him to justify his medically unsound practices.
Historically, racist beliefs like the dentist's have led to the alienation and segregation of Indian tribes. The American settlers systematically forced native peoples onto desolate reservations, leaving them to fend for themselves on barren land with little money or resources. This type of hardship has since become commonplace for Indians, and currently, many members of various American-based tribes are unable to escape poverty.In The Absolutely True Diary, Alexie often ties the loss of hope and aspirations to poverty, showing how socioeconomic class often remains consistent from one generation to the next. When Junior mentions that his mother never realized her dreams because nobody ever believed in her, he is describing a vicious cycle that keeps many of his fellow tribes people from escaping their circumstances.
What makes these circumstances worse, though, is the presence of alcohol. European settlers and traders introduced alcohol to the native peoples during the initial colonization of the Americas in the 16th and 17th centuries. Some scholars even believe that these settlers knowingly inebriated Indians in order to secure better bargaining positions with them. Many also believe that by providing the Indians with alcohol and supporting the addiction, settlers kept them unaware of their dire circumstances.
Today, the Native American population has some of the highest rates of alcoholism in the United States. This can lead to frequent instances of bullying and domestic abuse on reservations. Rowdy’s home life is an exemplar of how alcoholism can affect the tight-knit reservation community. His father is frequently intoxicated and resorts to physical abuse to quell his own pain. Rowdy’s father’s actions thereby influence Rowdy, causing Rowdy to become extremely violent at a moment’s notice. He only sees violence at home, so he enacts this same aggression whenever faced with his own personal problems.