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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What is the chapter “Rowdy Sings the Blues” of the book The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian about? What lessons does Junior learn in this chapter?
“Rowdy Sings the Blues” is the chapter that details the fight Junior and Rowdy have when Junior informs him of his decision to switch schools. Rowdy doesn’t take the news well.
Keep reading to find out more about the chapter “Rowdy Sings the Blues.”
Rowdy Sings the Blues
In the chapter “Rowdy Sings the Blues” Junior decides to follow the advice of his teacher and attend a different high school. But not everyone thinks this news is positive. Here’s how Junior talks to his parents and his best friend, Rowdy about the decision.
When his parents get home, Junior asks them, “Who has the most hope?” His parents look uneasily at each other, unsure of how to answer, but when Junior asks again, they say, at the same time, “white people.”
Junior knew they’d say that. Now he knows for sure where he and his hope need to go: to Reardan, the rich, redneck, racist farm town where the white kids go to school.
For a kid on the rez, saying, “I want to go to Reardan” is like saying, “I want to fly to the moon.” No one leaves the reservation, certainly not to go to another school, and certainly not a white school. But Junior’s parents put up little resistance. Even though Junior’s dad once got pulled over in Reardan three times in one week for DWI (Driving While Indian), Junior’s parents know Reardan is one of the best schools in the state. They suggest he wait until the following school year, but Junior insists that if he doesn’t start the following day, he never will. Junior’s parents agree. It’s as if they’ve been waiting for Junior to ask to go to Reardan. Like Mr. P, they see their son’s potential and don’t want him to end up drunk and impoverished like the rest of the Indians on the rez.
In “Rowdy Sings the Blues,” Junior has to tell Rowdy about his decision. The next day, Junior walks to his old school to tell Rowdy that he’s switching schools. Rowdy is alone on the playground because all the other kids are afraid of him.
Junior wants to tell Rowdy that he loves him, but he knows that boys aren’t supposed to say those kinds of things to each other and also that Rowdy would hate it, so he gets straight to the point and tells him that he’s transferring to Reardan.
At first, Rowdy thinks Junior is joking, and he doesn’t think it’s funny. When Rowdy realizes Junior is serious, he mocks him and says he’ll never go because he’s too much of a “wuss.” Although Junior knows Rowdy well and, therefore, should know better, Junior makes two critical mistakes at this moment in the chapter “Rowdy Sings the Blues.”
Mistake #1: When Rowdy turns away, upset that Junior is leaving, Junior touches Rowdy’s shoulder. Rowdy shoves him and calls him a “retarded fag.” This makes Junior cry. Then, to Junior’s surprise, Rowdy starts to cry, too. The fact that he’s crying makes Rowdy so mad that he starts screaming at Junior, accusing Junior of always thinking he’s better than Rowdy.
Mistake #2: Junior tries to explain that he doesn’t think he’s better than anyone and touches Rowdy again. In response, Rowdy punches him. At that moment, Junior knows that his best friend is now his worst enemy.
“Rowdy Sings the Blues” is a difficult chapter because it deals with the loss of a friendship during a difficult time. Even though their friendship hits a rough patch, Rowdy and Junior later make up.
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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