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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Mr. P. tells Junior he must leave the reservation. Rowdy, on the other hand, thinks Junior is a traitor when Junior tells him about his plans. What advice would you give Junior? Is he right to transfer to a school outside Wellpinit, or should he stay on the reservation with his people?

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To answer this question, it is necessary to look at what happened to Junior's parents. In a graphic, the author illustrates the way in which Junior's parents would have been different if they had been able to pursue their dreams. His mother might have become a college professor, while his father might have become a jazz musician. Instead, they live in poverty on the reservation.

By leaving the reservation, Junior has the chance to achieve something greater and to pursue his dreams, because the education available on the reservation is of poor quality. Rowdy criticizes his friend for leaving the reservation for school because Rowdy feels abandoned. His opinion is that of someone who is threatened, and he doesn't have the largest horizon, as he is still a child. Mr. P., on the other hand, has a wider horizon as an adult. Junior is not abandoning his tribe by leaving the reservation; instead, he is investing in his future and can return to help his family and friends when he is older.

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There can be no correct answer here.  Much of it is going to depend on what one believes.  For example, if one values Junior's need to stay with his people over all else, Rowdy is right.  Junior has to remain loyal to the Native Americans on the Rez and help them.  In this light, one values social solidarity over personal choice and thus Rowdy is correct.  At the same time, if one values individual action over community, then Junior should follow Mr. P's advice and leave.  Mr. P speaks from a position that has seen the death of individual dreams.  Mr. P alludes to the idea that he was a participant in this process of denying dreams.  Mr. P speaks from a position that validates individual experience over anything else.  The bonds to the community are secondary to the connection to one's dream.

This is the paradigm in which Junior must decide to leave or stay.  It is in this where his choice is made and through this lens, his decision is made.  There is not a right answer to the predicament because it is dependent on what is valued more.  Through his decision, it becomes clear that Junior values the preservation of his own dreams and that individual pursuit takes precedence in his mind.  While he balances the demands of his own sense of self with his own understanding of his place in the world, Junior acts in preservation of his own self- interest and advancement of his own condition of happiness. It is through this where Junior sees the need to take action.

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It is important to look very carefully at what Mr P says to Junior when he tells him to leave the reservation, and his reasons for giving him this advice. Mr P identifies very accurately that Junior is different from those around him because he has "refused to give up." What characterises so many Indians, including both himself and also Junior's friend, Rowdy, is that they have "given up," or they have accepted the life that society has carved out for them and refuse to fight against that. Junior is differnet because of his detrmination to keep on fighting and not become a member of the group of "defeated" Indians:

But not you... You can't give up. You won't give up. You threw that book in my face because somewhere inside you refuse to give up.

Mr P sees in Junior a young man who has been "fighting" since he was born, and thus the only advice he can give Junior is to "take your hope and go somewhere where other poeple have hope." Exploring this a bit further, it is clear that Junior has to decide between two choices, both of them involving incredible loss and suffering. He can stay on the reservation, in which case, as Mr P assures him, he will be "killed" by those around him because of his difference. This clearly relates to not his physical death but the sense of hope that he carries within him. If he stays at the reservation, eventually, he will join the ranks of the "defeated," or of those who have "given up." The other option involves leaving, which is very risky, because of the way in which he will be treated by his friends and family on the reservation. However, really, Junior only has one option, even though it is incredibly hard for him. The only way he can be true to himself is to leave the reservation, even though this estranges him from his friends like Rowdy. The advice I would give Junior would therefore be to go and leave the reservation, but to be prepared that he is going to have a very tough time as he leads his life of being a "part-time Indian."

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