Arnold Spirit (a.k.a. Junior) is our witty and vibrant narrator who takes us along on his journey as he transfers from his reservation high school in Wellpinit, WA to the affluent white high school 22 miles away in Reardan.
But who is Arnold Spirit? Who is Junior? Let's have a look:
The very first thing that Arnold tells the reader is that he was born with "water on the brain" (1.1). Arnold is a hydrocephalic, which means that he is at risk of brain damage and is susceptible to seizures. Arnold's physical impairment becomes the source of struggle in his life on the reservation, since he gets picked on and bullied for being somewhat different than the others. We begin to see though that Arnold is perceived much differently in Reardan. How do the students and students at the white school view Arnold's impairment? Does it change the way they see him?
As we learn throughout the novel, Arnold must express himself, and he does so through his words and his drawings. Arnold's enthusiasm and lust for knowledge comes through in every page, as he reaches out to readers and to those around him. Notice how Arnold's relationship to reading and drawing is different from his sister or Rowdy, both of whom at times use reading and writing as an escape from their reality.
Arnold has hope, and he hasn't given up, even though there are some pretty major forces conspiring against him. Remember when he throws the geometry book at Mr. P in Chapter 4? Or how he keeps going up against Roger during the basketball tryouts in Chapter 20? Arnold just won't quit, and it's one of the major keys to his survival.
One of the major conflicts that Arnold faces in this book is between his part-time Indian Wellpinit self (Junior) and his half-white Reardan self (Arnold). On the reservation he is bullied and picked on, while at Reardan he earns respect and decides to be somebody. How can he reconcile these two versions of himself?
Ah, the scapegoat. Or, as the Greeks would have it: the pharmakos. Every society has someone they pick on or blame things on. We see Arnold playing that role on the reservation quite a bit. We see this when the two basketball teams face off against each other (Chapters 20 and 25). We also see some scapegoating going on when Rowdy blames Arnold for Mary's death (27.193).
Why do you think that is? Recall Gordy and Arnold's conversation about weird people getting banished in Chapter 18.
Arnold decides that he is not simply Indian or white, but a person who belongs to many different tribes (29.31-34). The book also ends with a conversation with Rowdy in which they talk about being a nomad. But what does it all mean? What does it mean to be a person from many tribes?Timeline