What are the artifacts in Arnold's life on the reservation and off the reservation in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian?

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ms-einstein eNotes educator| Certified Educator

What are the artifacts in Arnold's life on the reservation and off the reservation in the novel, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian? Thanks to the brilliance of author Sherman Alexie, there are many artifacts. One starts with the protagonist's name. On the reservation, he is Junior, like so many other Indian children. In Reardan, he is called Arnold Spirit. As Junior relates his life to A Tale of Two Cities, the reservation is “the worst of times” and Reardan is “the best of times.” On the reservation, Junior’s best friend is Rowdy, whose name reflects his violent tendencies. In Reardan, he managed to become friends with Gordy, a boy as intelligent as Arnold.

The two worlds are diametrically opposed. The reservation is characterized by:

  • Hopelessness.
  • Abject poverty.
  • Alcoholism that often leads to deaths.
  • Hunger occasionally punctuated by a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken.
  • Powwows.
  • Poor education with school books that belonged to students’ parents.
  • Generous and rare gifts of $5, which usually mean a parent has forfeited getting drunk.
  • Hitching rides or walking to and from school.

Reardan represents hope, the driving force that leads Junior to make the momentous decision to leave the reservation to pursue a better education. His white girlfriend, Penelope, has bulimia, an addiction similar to his father’s alcoholism. Money and cars fly around freely, while white fathers blend into the background.

jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The artifacts of Arnold's life on the reservation include thick, ugly, black glasses provided by the Indian Health Service, an empty refrigerator, occasional buckets of Kentucky Fried Chicken, his father's rifle (used to kill his sick mutt, Oscar), a polyester suit that belonged to his father, an old geometry book that belonged to his mother, and, according to him, a singsong accent. Another artifact of his life on the reservation is feeling hopeless.

In Reardan, off the reservation, Arnold has a school library filled with books (including plays by Euripides, which Arnold's friend, Gordy, gives him), a computer room at school filled with computers, forty dollars (the amount of money the football player Roger gives him), a homemade valentine he makes for his girlfriend Penelope, and a really good report card. Off the reservation, he feels surrounded by people with hope. 

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