The Absolutely True Diary Of A Part Time Indian Summary

Sherman Alexie

The Absolutely True Diary Of A Part Time Indian

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The Absolutely True Diary Of A Part Time Indian Summary

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The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, sometimes referred to as simply, The Absolutely True Diary (and in some cases, even more simply referred to as: “Diary”), is a fictional novel, despite what the title might say, based on the true events of the life of the author Sherman Alexie. An epistolary novel, the story is told in the form of a diary that follows a year of the protagonist’s life, and each entry surrounds an important moment or holiday for him.

The protagonist is a 14-year-old kid who is interested in cartoons; he is named Arnold Spirit Jr. This interest in cartoons is evident with the images and illustrations that are sprinkled throughout the novel, some of which are character based illustrations, while others appear more as punchlines or asides to jokes. Arnold Jr., or just Junior as he is usually called, grew up on the Spokane Indian reservation near Wellpinit, Wash. Living on the reservation is one of many problems in Junior’s life – he also suffers from hydrocephalus, a neurological condition to which there are a litany of symptoms that would be detrimental to the life of a teenage boy, like stuttering, seizures and lisping. Junior (like the author) was bullied because of this condition, as it caused his head to look larger than normal – however he talks about how the school bully, Rowdy, was actually Junior’s only friend. Rowdy feels bad for him, and often protects him, and finds him a to be a safe choice to talk to about his insecurities and obsession with comic books.

Junior is an intellectual, who enjoys throwing himself into his schoolwork, however at the start of the book, Mr. P, one of his teachers hands out the new textbooks for the year. Junior notices his mother’s name in the textbook, making him realize that the reservation school has not changed their books in over three decades. In a fit of frustration, he throws the textbook away, however it accidentally hits Mr. P in the face, and breaks his nose. Mr. P understands Junior’s frustration, and when visiting him at his home later, suggests that Junior transfer to the school off the reservation in Reardan.

With their son’s best interest at heart, the family send him to this more expensive, far school, and despite what is expected, Junior’s life there is not that bad. Being in a predominantly white school, and being one of only two Indian students, Junior is not accustomed to the rules of the culture. When Roger, a popular boy insults Junior, Junior punches him, as he would to someone at his own school. Expecting revenge from Roger, Junior is surprised to find out that instead he is growing more popular, which also causes him to spend more time with Penelope, a popular white girl at the school. It seems that the only downside to him moving, aside from inconveniencing his parents, was that Rowdy, his old friend from the reservation, is very upset with his departure.

Growing more popular, Junior tries out for and makes the Reardan High School varsity basketball team, and is set to play against Wellpinit, his old school, where Rowdy is their star player. During their first game together, Rowdy elbows Junior in the face, and it is evident that the entire team considers Junior moving to Reardan to be a betrayal. In their second matchup, Reardan High wins, and Junior actually gets revenge on Rowdy during the game. However, after the game, his triumph is short-lived when he sees the Wellpinit team’s despondent faces, and Junior is reminded of his home on the reservation, and how angered he was about the conditions, and that everyone he knew still had to deal with them – he then runs to the locker room and begins to cry.

Throughout the rest of the novel, several stories are told of Junior’s family members suffering numerous tragic deaths after heavy alcohol abuse, giving the readers an idea not just of poverty, but also of a dejected lives of people on the reservation. Despite these misfortunes, they are effective in giving Junior hope for a better future, and a confirmation that he is doing the right thing, since by living on the reservation, he will only sink into its darkness, instead of trying to do anything to help it. However, he never wants to forget his roots, so he and Rowdy remain friends, and resolve their quarrels with a one-on-one game of basketball.

There are countless themes to this novel, many of which show themselves as symbols of the dreadful life on the reservation. Like the alcohol abuse, violence, bullying, even Oscar, Junior’s family dog, who suffers from heatstroke, and has to be put down because the family can’t afford to take him to the vet. Other themes are more optimistic, like basketball, which pits people against one another, but in the end symbolizes progress, especially since Junior improves drastically as a player, and so do his relationships.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is an interesting read, not only because of its odd structure, and large number of cartoons for a young adult’s novel, but because the author himself suffered many of these indignations, and was able to express them very poetically and dramatically through a child’s experiences, without appearing too morose, and with sprinkling a little bit of hope as well, which incidentally is also a major theme: believing that things are hopeless in the place that you are, but eventually escaping and following your dreams, and that is something that we can all get on board with.