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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Explain the topic of poverty in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.

Poverty is the state of being poor. It is a theme in this novel because Junior lives on the reservation, which is impoverished. He compares his life to that of his friends and neighbors, who have more than he does. He also compares his life to that of white students at Reardan High School. The author's message about poverty is that it can be overcome with hard work, education, determination, and self-respect.

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In answering this question, think about what "explain" means in the prompt. What does it want you to explain about poverty in the novel? The protagonist, Junior, undeniably lives in poverty — as does every fellow resident on his reservation. You do not need to include a literal explanation of the word. Instead, I recommend focusing on the role poverty plays in the story. Junior's family is poor. How does he feel about that? How does it affect his life? How does it affect the lives of his neighbors, and friends, and classmates? How does it motivate him?

How does author Sherman Alexie contrast Junior's life on the reservation with his life in a high school full of mostly white students? How do the white students view Junior? Do their opinions change after they discover he is poor? If so, how? What about Junior's opinion of them? What is Alexie trying to say about poverty? Why do you think he chose a non-fiction story to make this statement?

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In The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian, the protagonist Junior describes his life on the Spokane Indian Reservation.  On the "rez," many people are stricken by poverty because they have few opportunities for employment.  Junior's parents do not have steady work, and for much of the novel, Junior's father is unemployed.  There are many nights when Junior goes to bed without having eaten dinner.  In an effort to try to cope with these conditions, Junior's father turns to alcohol, and there are times when he spends what little money he has on liquor rather than on food.  These difficulties are apparent from the beginning of the novel when Junior's dog gets sick and must be killed because the family cannot afford to get veterinary care for him.

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