Seriously, I know my mother and father had their dreams when they were kids. They dreamed about being something other than poor, but they never got the chance to be anything because nobody paid attention to their dreams. (2.48)
As Arnold's drawing in figure 2.2 illustrates, his mom and dad had plenty of talents and dreams of their own. The problem is that they were never given the opportunity to make those dreams come true. Why didn't anyone notice the dreams of Arnold's parents? Why is it so important to be able to dream?
But we reservation Indians don't get to realize our dreams. We don't get those chances. Or choices. We're just poor. That's all we are. (2.52)
For Arnold, poverty is something that crushes your soul and crushes your dreams. How does poverty impact the ability of people to dream? How can hope get crushed?
He's a big, goofy dream, too, just like me. He likes to pretend he lives inside the comic books. I guess a fake life inside a cartoon is a lot better than his real life.
So I draw cartoons to make him happy, to give him other worlds to live inside.
I draw his dreams.
And he only talks about his dreams with me. And I only talk about my dreams with him. (3.118-3.121)
We know that Arnold and Rowdy are close because they share their dreams with each other. Their dreams are very different, though. Arnolds wants a different life outside of the reservation, while Rowdy is making do with living a "fake life" inside of his comic books. They both want to escape, but how are the ways in which Rowdy and Arnold want to escape actually very different?
My school and my tribe are so poor and sad that we have to study from the same dang books our parents studied from. That is absolutely saddest thing in the world.
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? (4.57-4.58)
Arnold finds his mother's name written in his geometry book, and his heart just breaks. Knowing that his school can't buy new books crushes Arnold's hopes and dreams. How would you feel if you were in Arnold's shoes? What would you do?
Arnold Spirit, Junior
"Why don't you quit talking in dreams and tell me what you really want to do with your life, I said. "Make it simple."
"I want to go to Stanford and study architecture."
"Wow, that's cool," I said. "But why architecture?"
"Because I want to build something beautiful. Because I want to be remembered."
And I couldn't make fun of her for that dream. It was my dream, too. And Indian boys weren't supposed to dream like that. And white girls from small towns weren't supposed to dream big, either. (15.100-15.104)
Though they come from very different worlds, Penelope and Arnold are both dreamers. They long to leave their homes and make a better life for themselves. Why does Penelope see Reardan in the same way that Arnold sees Wellpinit?
Mr. and Mrs. Spirit
"Your mother was thirteen and I was five when we first met. And guess how we first met?"
"She helped me get a drink from a water fountain."
"Well, that just seems sort of gross," I said.
"I was tiny," Dad said. "And she boosted me up so I could get a drink. And imagine, all these years later and we're married and have two kids."
"What does this have to do with basketball?"
"You have to dream big to get big."
"That's pretty dang optimistic of you, Dad."
"Well, you know, our mother helped me get a drink from the water fountain last night, if you know what I mean." (20.9-20.17)
Though Arnold's family has problems, his Dad is always encouraging. He is even a little optimistic here, pushing his son to dream big. Is optimism important in order for us to accomplish our dreams?
Back on the rez, I was a decent player, I guess. A rebounder and a guy who could run up and down the floor without tripping. But something magical happened to me when I went to Reardan.
Overnight, I became a good player.
I suppose it had something to do with confidence. I mean, I'd always been the lowest Indian on the reservation totem pole – I wasn't expected to be good so I wasn't. But in Reardan, my coach and the other players wanted me to be good. They needed me to be good. They expected me to be good.
And so I became good.
I wanted to live up to expectations.
I guess that's what it comes down to.
The power of expectations. (23.5-23.10)
On the rez Arnold was a zero, but at Reardan he becomes a hero. How? Why, all through the magical power of positive thinking, high expectations, and hope. The simple fact that his team and his coach believe in him make Arnold want to try all that much harder.
Arnold Spirit, Junior
"I can do it," I said to Coach, to my teammates, to the world.
"You can do it," Coach said.
"I can do it."
"You can do it."
"I can do it."
Do you understand how amazing it is to hear that from an adult? Do you know how amazing it is to hear that from anybody? It's one of the simplest sentences in the world, just four words, but they're the four hugest words in the world when they're put together.
You can do it.
I can do it.
Let's do it. (25.135-25.143)
The four most powerful words in the world, Arnold tells, are "You can do it." Through believing in himself – and having someone else believe in him – Arnold is able to accomplish great things.
Yep, if I believe in magic, in ghosts, then I think maybe I was rising on the shoulders of my dead grandmother and Eugene, my dad's best friend. Or maybe I was rising on my mother and father's hopes for me.
I don't know what happened.
But for once, and for the only time in my life, I jumped higher than Rowdy.
I rose above him as he tried to dunk it.
I TOOK THE BALL RIGHT OUT OF HIS HANDS. (25.185-25.189)
Arnold stands on the hopes and dreams of his family and actually beats tough-guy Rowdy in the rematch between Reardan and Wellpinit. Did you expect Arnold to win? How has Arnold changed since the beginning of the novel?
"I'm not nomadic," Rowdy said. "Hardly anybody on this rez is nomadic. Except for you. You're the nomadic one."
"No, I'm serious. I always knew you were going to leave. I always knew you were going to leave us behind and travel the world. I had this dream about you a few months ago. You were standing on the Great Wall of China. You looked happy. And I was happy for you." (30.176-30.178)
Rowdy finally forgives Arnold, and what's more, he's actually able to be happy for Arnold. This act allows Arnold to follow his own path.
I don't know if anybody else has ever climbed that tree. I look at it now, years later, and I can't believe we did it.
And I can't believe I survived my first year at Reardan. (30.118-30.119)
Arnold has done many things in his life that seemed impossible. He climbed the giant pine at Turtle Lake, he had the courage to leave the rez, and he survived his first year at Reardan. The pine tree, then, stands as a metaphor for achieving an impossible task or goal.