illustration of main character, Junior, holding a basketball and looking over his shoulder

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

by Sherman Alexie

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What are some conflicts in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian?

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One of the conflicts in this book is whether Junior should stay on his reservation or seek a better education in Reardan. By leaving his reservation to attend the nearby white school, which has better resources, Junior causes a rift between himself and his friend Rowdy. Some of the members of Junior's tribe see Junior's efforts to get a better education as a form of desertion. Junior struggles to know whether his choices constitute an abandonment of his traditional beliefs or a way to advocate for himself and to create a better future.

Another conflict in the book is the tension between the traditions of the past and the demands of the future. Junior's grandmother participates in traditional forms of belief, such as pow-wows, but it is increasingly difficult for members of Junior's family to exercise their traditions and be part of the modern world at the same time. For example, Junior's parents have dreams of being a musician (in the case of his father) or a teacher (in the case of his mother), but their reality is that they have not been allowed to have the opportunities to make these realities true. Therefore, they struggle to continue the practices of the past and to create better opportunities for themselves in the present.

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Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian follows the story of Arnold Spirit Jr. (referred to simply as "Junior"), a Native American teenager suffering from hydrocephalus who must face down may internal and external conflicts, such as:

- Junior is bullied on the reservation due to his poor health (external conflict), which also leads him to question his outsider status within what should be a bonded community (internal conflict).

- Junior is frustrated by the poverty of his school on the reservation and breaks Mr. P's nose by throwing a textbook at him (external conflict), which leads to Junior having to decide whether or not he should attend school off of the reservation (internal conflict).

- Junior and Rowdy get into a fight over Junior's decision to attend school off of the reservation (external conflict).

- Junior gets into a fight with Roger, the school's star athlete, which results in Junior punching Roger in the face (external conflict).

- Junior must face the wrath of the reservation, who resents that he is attending a white school, an attitude which manifests during the basketball game between Wellpinit and Reardan when Rowdy knocks Junior out (external conflict).

- Junior's team wins the game, but this makes him feel guilty to the point of sickness as he remembers how underprivileged the reservation school is (internal conflict).

- Additionally, Junior must deal with several external conflicts that involve heavy drinking: the death of his grandmother, sister, and brother-in-law and the murder of a family friend. All of these incidences call into question Junior's socioeconomic, cultural, racial, and ethnic identity (internal conflict). 

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The conflicts portrayed in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie are of two types, those within the Native American community and those in which the Native American community comes into conflict with the white community. The protagonist, Junior, is involved in both of these communities.

The first major conflict for Junior and many of the other Native American characters in the story is that of the degree to which they should remain within the reservation and its culture or whether they need to interact with the surrounding white culture. For those who choose to leave the reservation for school or career, they must balance the type of cultural assimilation necessary for success in the outside world with trying to hold on to their own traditions and values.

Junior struggles for acceptance among his peers, wanting to avoid the violence and alcoholism the plague the reservation, but also not wanting to assimilate to the unthinking prejudices of the white children. 

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The main character Junior goes through both internal and external conflict:

INTERNAL CONFLICTS occur when a character is arguing with him/herself over some sort moral or ethical dilemma. It's that "should I, or shouldn't I?" debate that we all encounter when facing tough decisions.

  • should he stay on the reservation and not get the best education available, or should he go to the "white" school and betray his Indian family/friends so that he can have the best?
  • should he continue the argument with Rowdy and hold a grudge or should he let it go so that he can have his best friend back?
  • should Junior stay true to his past and his history, or should he try to be more like his new white friends so that he can fit in better?

EXTERNAL CONFLICTS occur when a character battles any outside force. The primary type of external conflict in this novel is human vs. human.

  • the scene where Junior fights off the bully on one of his first few days at his new school.
  • when Rowdy tries to punch Junior
  • when the other people on the reservation pick on Junior



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