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 five traumatic events in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian?

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It seems the entire novel is one traumatic event after another for Junior as he deals with bullies, death, and his attempts to have a normal teenage life. Here are five traumatic events from the book in chronological order.

Changing Schools

Not only does Junior make a life-altering decision to change schools, but this switch involves race. Junior will now be attending a white school over 20 miles away from his home. This choice causes his tribe to hate him, and even his best friend, Rowdy, beats him up when Junior reveals his new life plan. Now he will enter a new environment without any friends.

Halloween

Junior gets beaten up and robbed on Halloween night as he ironically tries to collect money for the "poor." Not only is he hurt, but he is dealing with the trauma of poverty that, at this point, Penelope is ignorant of.

The Death of His Grandmother

Junior's grandmother was hit and killed by a drunk driver. She dies during surgery. Her last words were to forgive the person who hit her. Junior has to deal with the loss of his biggest supporter on top of forgiving the person who causes this reckless accident.

The Death of Eugene

Eugene was shot in the face in a parking lot over the last drink in a bottle of wine. The friend who shot him was so drunk, he doesn't remember shooting Eugene. Eugene, like Junior's grandmother, was someone Junior could count on. He has now lost another confidant.

The Death of Mary

His sister, Mary, and her husband threw a party in their trailer. It caught on fire, and his sister burned to death because she was too intoxicated to know what was happening. Not only does Junior face this loss, but he has to acknowledge the deeper issues of Native Americans and the reasons alcoholism runs rampant across the country.

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Five traumatic events that occur in the story are:

1) When Junior tells his best friend, Rowdy, that he will be attending Reardan, Rowdy loses his temper. He is so pained by Junior's decision that he lets out his anguish in a shattering scream. Junior tells us that it is the worst thing he has ever heard. Because Rowdy feels powerless to change Junior's decision, he resorts to violence; he shoves Junior and eventually punches Junior in the face. Junior is devastated that he was beaten up by his best friend of fourteen years. This confrontation between Junior and Rowdy is one of the most traumatic events in the story.

2) Junior gets beaten up by Rowdy again, this time during a basketball game between Wellpinit and Reardan. In a close skirmish, Rowdy smashes his elbow into Junior's face and knocks him unconscious. This happens not long after someone lands a quarter on Junior's face, drawing blood. The game is also traumatic for Junior because all the reservation basketball fans turn their backs on him during the event.

3) In order to impress Penelope, Junior tells her that he's dressing as a homeless person for Halloween. He maintains that he's doing this to raise money for homeless Native Americans. On Halloween night, Junior manages to raise ten dollars by going door to door at the reservation. However, he is accosted by three guys on the way home. They beat him up and steal all his Halloween candy (including the ten dollars). Junior tells us that the most traumatic thing that happened to him was that the men spit on him. He tells us that it made him feel like "a slug burning to death from salty spit."

4) One of the most traumatic events that occurs in the story is the death of Junior's grandmother. Junior's grandmother was walking home from a powwow at the Spokane Tribal Community Center when she was run over by Gerald, a Spokane Indian alcoholic. What causes Junior much anguish is that, due to the accident, his grandmother died of massive internal injuries. Junior feels that his grandmother deserved better, as she had never drunk alcohol in her life.

5) The death of Junior's sister is also a tragedy in the novel. Junior is so traumatized by the nature of his sister's death that he resorts to helpless, nervous laughter in order to deal with his deep grief. Accordingly, Junior's sister and her husband passed out drunk in their trailer one night. During this time, someone (possibly a friend or visitor) tried to cook up some soup on a hot-plate. Eventually, they gave up, forgot about the project, and left the trailer. Later, the wind-blown curtains caught on the hot-plate, and a fire blazed through the trailer, killing both Junior's sister and her husband.

 

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Many traumatic events occur in the life of Arnold Spirit Jr. (or simply "Junior"), the Native American protagonist of Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian:

  • Oscar, Junior's dog, gets sick. Because his family cannot afford to buy medicine for him, Junior's father shoots the dog. 
  • Junior and his best friend, Rowdy, get into many physical altercations, which usually involve Rowdy hurling homophobic insults at Junior and attacking him. Junior also must deal with the racist jokes of the jocks at his new high school, which causes a fight between Junior and Roger.
  • Junior's family friend, Eugene, is shot in the face by another man, Bobby, during a fight over who gets the last drink from a bottle of wine. Eugene dies, and Bobby doesn't remember pulling the trigger, having been so drunk. Bobby later hangs himself with a sheet while in jail.
  • Junior's Grandma, who he loved tremendously, is killed by a drunk driver as she was returning from a powwow.
  • Junior's sister dies in a fire that was started when someone left a hot plate on during a party. She was drunk at the time.
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