This article is an excerpt from the Shortform summary of "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian" by Sherman Alexie. Shortform has the world's best summaries of books you should be reading.
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How does Junior use the Goliath and David story in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian? Does the story actually apply to him?
Junior’s school school, Reardan, has a basketball rivalry with his old school on the reservation. Junior compares the rivalry to the Goliath and David story. But by the end of the game, he realizes he has it backward. He’s not David, he’s Goliath, and it makes him sick.
Read more about how Junior uses the Goliath and David story as a way to think about his basketball rivalry, and how he discovers he’s wrong.
Goliath and David Story in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
To his surprise, Junior has become a good basketball player. In fact, he’s the best shooter on the team. He suspects it’s because people’s expectations of him have changed. On the rez, people see him as the bottom of the barrel. At Reardan, Junior’s coach and teammates expect Junior to be good, so he is.
The Reardan team has won 12 games in a row. They’re so good that the community compares them to the greats: Roger is the “new Joel Wetzel” and teammate James is the “new Keith Schulz.” But nobody compares Junior to a legend. It doesn’t even occur to them to compare a little Indian boy to a white player. To them, it’s like comparing apples and oranges. Junior hopes that, someday, they’ll compare Reardan student athletes to him.
Junior’s eager for Reardan’s rematch with Wellpinit, even though he feels like the “Indian scout who led the U.S. Cavalry against other Indians.” After Wellpinit beat them so badly in their first game, Junior wants revenge. His particular goal is to embarrass Rowdy, the best player on Wellpinit’s team. He thinks about the Goliath and David story and a metaphor, believing himself to be David, the underdog, and the better Wellpinit team to be Goliath.
Before the game, the Reardan coach is honest with his players: The Wellpinit team is better than they are. However, Reardan has more heart. In a surprise move, Coach announces that Junior will be starting and that he’ll be guarding Rowdy all night.
This terrifies Junior. He’s much smaller than Rowdy and doesn’t believe he can prevent him from dominating the game. But Coach keeps telling Junior he can do it, and Junior starts to believe it. He realizes that this simple sentence, “You can do it,” is one of the most powerful sentences in English, especially coming from an adult. This empowers his in his belief in his own Goliath and David Story
During warm up, Rowdy and Junior try to ignore each other, but they’re sending “hate signals” across the court. Junior thinks that you have to love somebody a lot in order to hate them that much.
The Opening Play
The players take their positions, and Rowdy laughs when he sees that Junior’s guarding him. The game has just started when Rowdy steals the ball. Junior knows Rowdy well, and he knows what Rowdy’s intending to do: Rowdy plans to dunk the ball, a dramatic opening move meant to embarrass Reardan in the first play. This furthers Junior’s belief in his personal David & Goliath story.
Junior chases Rowdy down the court and does some quick calculating: Rowdy will probably start his jump 5 feet away from the basket; Rowdy can jump 2 feet higher than Junior can. So Junior makes the split-second decision to jump first. He and Rowdy rise together toward the basket, but, as if by magic, Junior starts to rise higher than Rowdy. It’s the first time in his life that he’s outjumped Rowdy. Mid-air, Junior steals the ball from Rowdy’s hands and observes the look of complete shock on Rowdy’s face. No one in high school basketball makes plays like this.
Junior lands with the ball and runs to the opposite end of the court, with Rowdy screaming behind him. Junior halts abruptly at the three-point line and head-fakes. Surprisingly, Rowdy falls for it, jumping in front of Junior as Junior patiently waits for him to pass. They make eye contact while Rowdy’s in the air, and Rowdy knows he’s made a stupid mistake.
Junior has time to stick his tongue out at Rowdy before swishing a three-pointer. Junior’s teammates, coach, and parents are ecstatic. In that moment, everyone knows that the game is already won. Junior begins to wonder if his thoughts on the Goliath and David story are right.
After the game, Junior’s teammates lift him to their shoulders. Junior’s thrilled and searches the stands for his dad, who may be an “undependable drunk” but never misses a game. Junior finds him, but his dad isn’t cheering. Instead, he’s watching the Wellpinit team, who are dejectedly watching Reardan celebrate its victory. Reveling in Wellpinit’s defeat, Junior cheers, comparing himself to David, who knocks out Goliath with a stone. But then, still on the shoulders of his teammates, he realizes something: In the Goliath and David story, Reardan isn’t David, the underdog; Readan is Goliath, the giant, the team with all the advantages.
Junior’s teammates, drive their own cars, carry their own cell phones, have parents with good jobs, and will go to college. In contrast, more than one kid on the Wellpinit team probably didn’t eat breakfast. Two of them have fathers in prison. None of them will go to college, and Rowdy’s father will beat him for losing the game.
Junior escapes to the bathroom, vomits, and cries tears of shame. He wants to apologize to Rowdy for breaking his heart. This is not the David & Goliath story he imagined.
Later, after the season ends, Junior emails Rowdy to apologize for beating Wellpinit so badly. Rowdy responds, writing that Wellpinit will kick Reardan’s ass next season, and Junior will “cry like the little faggot” that he is. Junior’s delighted. He got a response from Rowdy! He emails Rowdy, “I might be a faggot, but I’m the faggot who beat you,” to which Rowdy replies “Ha-ha.” Junior’s thrilled that he’s communicating with Rowdy again.
Though it’s not the David & Goliath story Junior imagined, he learned a valuable lesson, one he will consider for the rest of his life.
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Here's what you'll find in our full The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian summary:
- How Junior gets split between two worlds when he goes to a mostly white school
- How Junior overcomes being an outsider to being part of welcoming social circles
- The tragedies of alcoholism and poverty that leave Junior with renewed strength