It may seem contradictory to include hope, dreams, and loss in the same category, but in fact, in Junior’s experience, they’re very closely connected. At the beginning of the novel, Junior understands dreams and hopes primarily as lost opportunities: his mother and father, for example, “dreamed about being something other than poor, but they never got the chance to be anything because nobody paid attention to their dreams.” The same thing is true for his sister, Mary, who had plans and potential when she was in high school, but gave up and began living in her parents’ basement—a kind of symbolic burial. To Junior, the loss of hope is part of what it means to live on the rez and be Indian.
In the book, following one’s dreams, finding a place where hope can thrive, means leaving the reservation. Both Junior and Mary—whose nickname, Mary Runs Away, foreshadows her decision to leave—attempt to do this, although Mary’s death just after she’d begun to have hope again becomes yet another illustration of lost dreams and opportunities. Even for Penelope, who is white and thus, from Junior’s point of view, has hope as part of her birthright, having dreams means wanting to leave the place she came from. But the element of loss in hope is much stronger for Junior, whose decision to leave is seen as a betrayal by his friend Rowdy and many other members of the reservation community. It’s a denial of his heritage, a negation of identity almost like a death. By the end of the novel, Rowdy and others have made peace with Junior’s decision to go off in search of hope like “an old-time nomad”—that is, like one of his Indian ancestors. Even so, when Junior lists the people he will “always love and miss,” he includes Rowdy, his reservation, and his tribe as well as his loved ones who have died—a telling indication that in some ways, following his hopes and dreams ultimately means the loss of his friends, his family, and his home.
Hope, Dreams, and Loss ThemeTracker
Hope, Dreams, and Loss Quotes in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
I think the world is a series of broken dams and floods, and my cartoons are tiny little lifeboats.
It sucks to be poor, and it sucks to feel that you somehow deserve to be poor. You start believing that you’re poor because you’re stupid and ugly. And then you start believing that you’re stupid and ugly because you’re Indian. And because you’re Indian you start believing you’re destined to be poor. It’s an ugly circle and there’s nothing you can do about it.
After high school, my sister just froze. Didn’t go to college, didn’t get a job. Didn’t do anything. Kind of sad, I guess.
But she is also beautiful and strong and funny. She is the prettiest and strongest and funniest person who ever spent twenty-three hours a day alone in a basement.
And let me tell you, that old, old, old, decrepit geometry book hit my heart with the force of a nuclear bomb. My hopes and dreams floated up in a mushroom cloud. What do you do when the world has declared nuclear war on you?
“You’ve been fighting since you were born,” he said. “You fought off that brain surgery. You fought off those seizures. You fought off all the drunks and drug addicts. You kept your hope. And now, you have to take your hope and go somewhere where other people have hope.”
“You always thought you were better than me,” he yelled.
“No, no, I don’t think I’m better than anybody. I think I’m worse than everybody else.”
“Why are you leaving?”
“I have to go. I’m going to die if I don’t leave.”
“Hey buddy,” I would have said. “How do I make a beautiful white girl fall in love with me?”
“Well, buddy,” he would have said. “The first thing you have to do is change the way you look, the way you talk, and the way you walk. And then she’ll think you’re her fricking Prince Charming.”
I mean, the thing is, plenty of Indians have died because they were drunk. And plenty of drunken Indians have killed other drunken Indians.
But my grandmother had never drunk alcohol in her life. Not one drop. That’s the rarest kind of Indian in the world.
Two thousand Indians laughed at the same time. … It was the most glorious noise I’d ever heard.
And I realized that, sure, Indians were drunk and sad and displaced and crazy and mean, but dang, we knew how to laugh.
When it comes to death, we know that laughter and tears are pretty much the same thing.
I realized that, sure, I was a Spokane Indian. I belonged to that tribe. But I also belonged to the tribe of American immigrants. And to the tribe of basketball players. And to the tribe of bookworms.
And to the tribe of cartoonists.
And to the tribe of chronic masturbators.
And the tribe of teenage boys.
And the tribe of small-town kids.
And the tribe of Pacific Northwesterners.
And the tribe of tortilla-chips-and-salsa lovers.
And the tribe of poverty.
And the tribe of funeral-goers.
And the tribe of beloved sons.
And the tribe of boys who really missed their best friends.
It was a huge realization.
And that’s when I knew that I was going to be okay.
“You’re an old-time nomad,” Rowdy said. “You’re going to keep moving all over the world in search of food and water and grazing land. That’s pretty cool.”
I would always love Rowdy. And I would always miss him, too. Just as I would always love and miss my grandmother, my big sister, and Eugene.
Just as I would always love and miss my reservation and my tribe.
I hoped and prayed that they would someday forgive me for leaving them.
I hoped and prayed that I would someday forgive myself for leaving them.