“The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” by Sherman Alexie

Updated October 31, 2021

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“The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” by Sherman Alexie essay

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Imagine being insecure about your own identity and how you fit in with the rest of society. In the book “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian”, published in 2007, Sherman Alexie introduces us to Arnold (a.k.a. Junior) who has to find his true self between two worlds: his community on the Spokane Indian Reservation and an all-white public school named Rearden.

Like the author, Junior is born with “water on the brain”, a medical condition that gives him an abnormally sized head. Because of his big head, his skinny frame, and enormous feet he is bullied by his fellow Indians on the Spokane Reservation. Junior goes through an emotional journey: in order to receive a better education he leaves the reservation to go to an all-white Rearden public school. In Alexie’s book, isolation is the catalyst that causes Junior to undergo a lot of physical and emotional changes which are necessary for him to mature as a young adult.

Sherman Alexie weaves the thematic anchor of alienation throughout his book. It is the alienation that triggers changes of Junior’s status quo. If one overcomes this adversity, he or she may have a better chance of success in life as they have already experienced the pain necessary for growth. Alexie conveys that Junior was born into a minority group on a poor reservation, but even within that minority, Junior is an outcast. The author writes,: “Life is a constant struggle between being an individual and being a member of the community”“ (Alexie, 132), indicating.

This quote portrays how Junior strugglesis struggling to understand is own identity and find his place within his own community on the reservation. Alexie vividly portrays that Indians are born with the mentality of knowing that they will not achieve much. There is no rational explanation to that except that is how life has always been. “The world, even the smallest parts of it, is filled with things you don’t know” (199). Junior’s status quo on the Spokane Reservation is a life with no way out; and if Junior stays, he will end up like everyone else in his community (cite paraphrase).

A pivotal moment in the story is when Junior embarks on a journey to seek knowledge, choosing to break away from his community in. He is intrigued by school work and sets out to find a school that will provide him a good education. However, this further alienates him from the rest of his classmates. The turning point comes when Junior discovers that kids are being taught using old books. “But my lips and I stopped short when I saw this written on the inside front cover: THIS BOOK BELONGS TO AGNES ADAMS” (31). He defiantly throws an outdated textbook at the teacher creating the environment for change. “Of course I was suspended from school after I smashed Mr. P in the face even though it was a complete accident” (33).

This trigger forces Junior to go on a psychological journey separating him from his community, even from his best friend Rowdy. “‘Why are you leaving?’ ‘I have to go. I’m going to die if I don’t leave.’ I touched his shoulder again and Rowdy flinched. Yes, I touched him again. What kind of idiot was I? I was the kind of idiot that got punched hard in the face by his best friend. Bang! Rowdy punched me. Bang! I hit the ground. Bang! My nose bled like a firework” (62). Deep down Rowdy knows Junior is doing the right thing and fears that he will follow the status quo on the reservation. Ultimately, the white teacher recognizes Junior’s potential for growth and recommends him to go to an all white school off the Spokane Reservation.

Junior crosses the threshold and separates from his family and community. However, new chapter in his life comes with its own set of challenges and struggles. Junior feels like a complete outsider at Rearden public school. He has a fight with a kid named Roger hoping to gain his respect (cite). He got robbed on the reservation while collecting money for homeless people during Halloween (cite). On top of Junior’s personal struggles, he is confronted by the tragedies that happen on the Spokane Reservation. His dad goes on a three-day drinking spree over the Christmas holidays. Junior’s wise grandmother is hit by a drunk driver and is killed. Finally, his dad’s best friend gets shot in a brawl over the last sip of alcohol. As tragic as they are, these tragic incidents don’t stop Junior on his quest for better life. Indeed, they only propel him further on his journey. Junior confronts adversaries head on which helps him overcome challenges and ultimately succeed as he knows there is no turning back. He manages to get straight A’s in school, make the basketball team, and even wins the affection of Penelope, a girl from Rearden public school.

Examining his path in life, Junior reaches an important epiphany where he realizes that the reason of low expectations and underachievement in the spokane reservation lies in prevailing alcoholism. It is the cause of the downfall of his people and the barrier for acceptance in mainstream America. The author states “The Spokane Tribe holds their annual powwow celebration over the Labor Day weekend. This was the 127th annual one, and there would be singing, war dancing, gambling, storytelling, laughter, fry bread, hamburgers, hot dogs, arts and crafts, and plenty of alcoholic brawling. I wanted no part of it. Oh, the dancing and singing are great. Beautiful, in fact, but I’m afraid of all the Indians who aren’t dancers and singers. Those rhythmless, talentless, tuneless Indians are most likely going to get drunk and beat the shit out of any available losers. And I’m always the most available loser” (26).

In order to grow and mature, one must go through re-examining his or her life choices and their impact on one’s destiny. Junior also experiences another epiphany when he realizes that although he may have done things that are not truly preferred by most people on the Reservation, at the end of the day he remains an Indian. Although he rejects the status quo on the reservation, he never rejects who he is, his roots, and his traditions. “The reservation is beautiful.I mean it. Take a look. There are pine trees everywhere. Thousands of ponderosa pine trees. Millions. I guess you can take pine trees for granted. They’re just pine trees. But they’re tall and thin and green and brown and big” (219). These epiphanies are extremely important for Junior’s moral, behavioral, and physiological development.

In this coming-of-age book by Sherman Alexie, Junior undergoes a series of changes to find his true identity and alter the course of his life. These changes are very emblematic of the bildungsroman genre in that he goes from breaking the status quo to crossing the threshold and experiences a revelation that alters his final destiny. Junior’s physical deformities cause him to be alienated on the Spokane Reservation which becomes the catalyst for changes in his personal development.

The pivotal moment in the story comes when Junior realizes that the education standards on the reservation have not changed since his mother attended school. He crosses the threshold and goes to a school off the reservation and faces a number of new challenges and tragedies. Nevertheless he gets past his challenges, succeeds in school, and in the process realizes that while he may have changed his destiny, in his mind and his soul he remains who he truly is: a proud Indian from the Spokane Reservation. Indeed, when one goes through tribulations similar to what Junior experienced and does not give up on one’s dream, the whole world and one’s place and purpose in it get much clearer.

“The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” by Sherman Alexie essay

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“The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” by Sherman Alexie. (2021, Oct 31). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/the-absolutely-true-diary-of-a-part-time-indian-by-sherman-alexie/


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