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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Consider the adjectives "absolutely true" and "part-time" and explain what concepts appear to be emphasized by the images and the title in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.

The phrase "Absolutely True" refers to the unfiltered, first-person narration of the story. All of the internal struggles and external conflicts in this book are absolutely true realities for Junior as he struggles to find personal meaning in the contradictions he is forced to navigate in his life. "Part-Time Indian" certainly refers to Junior's struggle of feeling alienated both on and off the reservation.

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In The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Junior provides a first-person narrative account of his internal conflicts, hopes, dreams, and how he processes his life on and off the reservation. Junior's account is unfiltered and filled with emotion. It is the non-linear pondering of an adolescent who's struggling to find belonging. The phrase "absolutely true" speaks to the this unfiltered, first-person narration of the story. All of the internal struggles and external conflicts in this book are absolutely true realities for Junior as he struggles to find personal meaning in the contradictions he is forced to navigate in his life. "Part-Time Indian" certainly refers to Junior's struggle of feeling alienated both on and off the reservation. On the reservation, he knows that he doesn't fully fit in, but he is still completely alienated when he's in the racist world of his mostly white school.

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Both adjectives in Sherman Alexie's title introduce the reader to the voice of Arnold Spirit, Jr. ("Junior"), the narrator, and his perception of both himself and the world at large. The novel is written in the form of a diary. The title's emphasis that this diary is "absolutely true," reflects Junior's commitment to relating the events of his life as accurately as possible. There's something a bit defiant about the phrase, as though Junior anticipates from the beginning that his reader won't believe him. This defiance is very revealing about Junior's character and experiences. From the phrase "absolutely true" alone, the reader can infer that this is someone who has been overlooked and taken less than seriously. There's also a meta-fictional element to the descriptor, as the reader knows that they are holding a novel, so its contents will not be "absolutely true" at all.

"Part-time" is even more revealing about Junior's perception of himself, or, more specifically, his perception of how the rest of the world sees him. Of course it is impossible to be a "Part-time Indian." Being Native American is an identity, not something one can clock-in to and out of like a part-time job. The descriptor "part-time" in the title refers to the fact that Junior splits his time between the reservation and Reardan, a predominantly white high school, leading him to live a kind of double-life.

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Alexie's adjectives "absolutely true" and "part time" reflect the difficulties of adolescence that Junior experiences.

One of the concepts that Alexie emphasizes in the title is the challenge in growing up Native American.  Junior experiences the struggle in being "part time."  He does not fit in on the Rez because he possesses hope and belief in the future, elements that do not exist on the reservation.  He wants more, something that life on the reservation does not fully encourage. Thus, when he is on the reservation, he feels like a "part time" Native American because he envisions a life outside of it.  

When Junior achieves this and goes to Reardan, he experiences racism and prejudice.  The school mascot, the denigrating jokes, and his experiencing life as an "outsider" in a largely White setting all reflect how he feels "red" when he among White folks.  Reardan is “filled with farmers and rednecks and racist cops who stop every Indian who drives through.”  In this light, Junior is "part time" because of the difficulties he faces in a different community.  The image of "part time" communicates the difficulty and struggle in Junior's adolescence.

The "absolutely true" image in the title reflects how Junior's narrative is told. Junior's first person narrative enables him to authentically communicate emotional content.  Junior speaks with an openness that makes him such a convincing and reliable narrator.  The approach Junior takes has been described as "dramatic monologue, verse novel, and standup comedy."  All of these are accurate descriptors because all of them are "absolutely true" ways to describe Junior's existence.  He experiences different and difficult realities.  The common denominator underlying all of them is the honest and "absolutely true" approach he takes in communicating them.

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