Junior begins school at Reardan the next day. His dad tells him to remember that the white kids aren’t any better than him—which, according to Junior, both of them know isn’t true—and that Junior is being a warrior—which is “the best thing he could have said.”
Junior’s belief that the white kids are inherently better than him is part of his low self-esteem and internalized racism. However, he takes a lot of pride in his father’s compliment, which alludes specifically to their Indian heritage. Being Indian—not acting white—is what’s making it possible for Junior to go after his dreams.
Recognizing that “the only other Indian in town” is the high school’s racist mascot, Junior feels out of place as the other students begin to arrive. He feels that Reardan is the opposite of the rez, his family, and himself, and illustrates the difference with a cartoon diagram of a half-white, half-Indian boy—split down the middle with opposing labels such as “Ergonomic backpack/Glad garbage book bag,” “Positive role models/A family history of diabetes and cancer,” and “Hope/Bone-crushing reality.”
Junior is very conscious of not belonging in Reardan. His cartoon again shows a conflict between hope and reality, and identifies the disadvantages Indians have as a result of generations of oppression in real material terms, from diabetes to book bags. The drawing also shows Junior’s habit of thinking in binary terms. This will be challenged throughout the novel as he himself becomes a link between the apparently opposite worlds of Reardan and the rez.
Finally, Junior works up the courage to go inside and pick up his schedule from the front office. He arrives late to his homeroom class, where a beautiful blond girl named Penelope asks his name and laughs at him when he tells her it’s Junior, even though it’s a very common nickname on the reservation. In contrast to her reaction, Junior is surprised and delighted to discover that “Yep, there are places left in the world where people are named Penelope!”
How Junior and Penelope react to each others’ names shows their different attitudes of openness and tolerance—Junior is excited to hear a name different from one he’s used to, while Penelope is dismissive. Hearing his name—his identity—ridiculed makes Junior feel even more strongly that he doesn’t belong in Reardan.
When the teacher calls Junior by his full name, Arnold Spirit, Penelope asks accusingly why he told her his name was Junior, the Indian nickname that Junior thinks of as his “real name.” He explains, “My name is Junior … And my name is Arnold. It’s Junior and Arnold. I’m both.”
This is the first time Junior’s full name is mentioned in the book, and it begins his sense of being split into two people: Arnold in Reardan and Junior on the rez. One of the novel’s main conflicts is now his struggle to reconcile these two seemingly opposite versions of himself.
Penelope also says Junior has a funny accent, which makes him afraid to talk for his whole first week in Reardan. Although the “Official and Unwritten Spokane Indian Rules of Fisticuffs” that he grew up with demand fighting back whenever someone insults you or a family member, he keeps quiet when the other students call him names like “Tonto” and “Squaw Boy” because he is afraid that unlike the Indian boys who would simply beat him up, the white boys will literally kill him.
The casual racism of Junior’s white classmates exacerbates his sense of alienation, and the racism in their verbal bullying makes him even more afraid of them than he was of the bullies who physically hurt him in the past. Meanwhile, the strict code of retribution that Junior grew up with helps explain Rowdy’s and the other Indians’ strong desire for revenge against Junior after he leaves.
However, when Roger, a big, athletic upperclassman, tells him a horribly racist joke, Junior decides he has to do something: “I wasn’t just defending myself. I was defending Indians, black people, and buffalo.” He punches Roger in the face.
This is a big turning point for Junior, who has always either run away, taken hits, or allowed Rowdy to protect him. Being on his own, representing his tribe, and hearing other people insulted forces him to stand up not just for himself, but for other people—like Rowdy has always done for him.
To Junior’s surprise, Roger doesn’t fight back. Instead, Roger and his friends are shocked, and act as if Roger is the one who has been wronged. Junior thinks, “maybe it was the most important moment of my life. Maybe I was telling the world that I was no longer a human target.”
With this declaration to the world that he won’t be bullied, Junior takes another big step toward maturity and coming of age.
When Junior demands to finish the fight after school, Roger calls him crazy and walks away—leaving Junior feeling much stronger, but also even more alienated and confused, since he doesn’t understand the “rules” that Roger was playing by.
Junior demonstrates his difference from the Reardan kids by responding in a way they don’t expect—which makes him stand out positively, but also shows how he “doesn’t belong.” His ways of exacting revenge don’t work in this environment, and he doesn’t know how or if Roger will take revenge on him.