There are a lot of dichotomies in this work, and exploring them could make for a really interesting essay. The title is the main dichotomy -- Junior feels like a "part-time Indian" -- he acts Indian when at home on the reservation, and acts white when at school. His identity is in question. He knows that he has to get off the reservation to get anywhere in life, but by doing so he wonders if he is turning his back on his heritage, on his people. He feels like he is betraying them by chasing his dreams. And even though he doesn't physically travel very far, at one point Rowdy points out to him that their tribe was once nomadic, but not anymore. However, Junior is still nomadic, not only just by leaving the reservation, but he metaphorically "travels," he's going somewhere in life. Rowdy pictures him on the Great Wall of China, experiencing the world and always learning new things. Junior is driven but also conflicted, torn between leaving his family and his tribe behind and finding hope. Sometimes Junior hates the reservation and the way his people live, other times he loves it. He has conflicting feelings about his home, about his family, his friends. He lives in two worlds, and neither world understands the other. He just goes back and forth between them, and they do not connect. I think there's really a lot to explore here.
I taught this novel in the fall and asked my students to consider the rhetorical techniques that Alexie uses to voice messages in the novel. The students are then able to explore visual images as narrative, the use of colloquialisms, the use of figurative language, and anecdotes. Looking at the novel from the perspective of its writing style allows the students to insert their own interpretations of the meaning of the novel and keeps your essay topic away from the clichés of identity, etc.
I think that Junior is so brave in this novel. He forges on ahead even when his best friends disappear and his community turns against him.
A good way to state that theme would have to do with pushing on to acheive goals even when there are roadblocks in the way.
In the book, Junior is a better person for sticking to his own dreams and ideas and he is stronger for having endured all the hardships.
I think that a theme worthy of exploration in this book is how identity is created when multiple forces exert simultaneous influence on an individual. The novel is a bildungsroman, or coming of age work, in which an adolescent is forced to develop their own sense of identity with multiple factors converging upon him. The notion of cultural identity between being Native American and being accepted into White society occupies a major position in Junior's sense of self. On one hand, he does not feel completely integrated into his own cultural world and does not feel completely immersed in White culture. Another dimension that can be explored is how the role of art or artistic expression impacts his own sense of identity and its development. Finally, I think that the role of how Junior sees himself as a part of society, yet distinct from it could be something that helps to forge his identity.