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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The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian Characters

The main characters in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian include Arnold Spirit Jr. (Junior), Rowdy, Gordy, and Penelope.

  • Arnold Spirit Jr. (Junior) is the book’s fourteen-year-old narrator and protagonist. He lives on the Spokane Indian reservation but decides to attend Reardan, a majority-white high school.
  • Rowdy is Junior’s best friend on the reservation. He is prone to violence but supports Junior’s passion for drawing.
  • Gordy is one of Junior’s white friends at Reardan.
  • Penelope is a popular white girl at Reardan with whom Junior falls in love.


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Last Updated September 6, 2023.

Arnold Spirit Jr. (Junior)

The novel’s protagonist, fourteen-year-old Junior represents the classic underdog. He describes himself as scrawny and nerdy and possessing numerous physical conditions, such as a stutter and a squint. Junior is bullied and taunted for his distinctive mannerisms and physical appearance. Apart from his physical issues, Junior also has to grapple with poverty and the alcoholism of his parents. Thus, at the onset of the novel, Junior is depicted with the odds stacked against him. However, his first-person narrative shows Junior has a sharp intellect, a dark sense of humor, and a capacity for great love. He also loves art, which enables him to channel his anger and frustration into images and jokes. Thus, Junior also possesses the tools that can help him evolve as a person.

Junior is greatly empathetic, as can be seen in his treatment of his violent best friend, Rowdy, and his dog, Oscar. Junior considers Oscar a human and is heartbroken at his death; he forgives Rowdy his bad behavior because he knows Rowdy gets beaten up by his father. At the start of the novel, Junior believes his life doesn’t have much hope. He then begins to equate hope with participating in white culture. However, as the narrative proceeds, Junior goes through many traumatic and inspiring events that expand his understanding of hope. Simply studying in an off-reservation school is not enough to propel Junior away from a stagnant life. He also has to learn to exist with both his Junior-self at the reservation and his Arnold-self at his all-white high school. He has to stand up to racist attitudes while also acknowledging that some white people are decent. The death of his grandmother and his sister, Mary, forces Junior to accept both his Indigenous and off-reservation selves. It is then that he realizes that he will be fine. At the novel’s end, Junior reconciles with his father, makes peace with Rowdy, earns decent grades, and promises his mother that he won’t drink. Thus, Junior represents youth, hope, and change.


Rowdy is Junior’s best friend on the rez, born only two hours after Junior on November 5, 1992. Like junior, Rowdy comes from a poor family. However, unlike Junior, Rowdy is raised in a violent home, with his father often beating him black and blue. Unable to control the environment in his home, Rowdy often lashes out at his peers and even at Junior. He gets into frequent fights and is prone to fits of rage. While Junior is more open about showing affection, Rowdy is more guarded. He considers displays of emotion unmanly. Rowdy feels betrayed when Junior decides to leave Wellpinit High and completely withdraws from Junior. Rowdy is a double or an alter of Junior; he is who Junior could have been if he, too, had a physically abusive parent. Thus, Rowdy’s character shows how differences in upbringing can affect and limit children.

Though Rowdy is a bully who assaults Junior at a basketball game, and often calls him names, he is redeemed by his hidden love for Junior. Rowdy values Junior’s art, the thing closest to Junior’s heart, and has a fierce sense of community and loyalty. At the end of the novel, Rowdy tentatively reaches out to Junior again and discloses that he, too, has been reading books. Thus, Rowdy, too, has changed, exhibiting a dynamic character arc.


Intelligent and bookish, Gordy is Junior’s white friend at Reardan High. Junior and Gordy connect over their outsider status and their love for books and science. Junior considers Gordy a genius and is often stunned by...

(This entire section contains 1226 words.)

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Gordy’s insights about human nature. Gordy is sometimes presented as pompous, speaking a stultified, convoluted English. When Junior thanks him for defending his argument in science class, Gordy loftily says, “I did it for science.” While Junior is never as close to Gordy as he is to Rowdy, Gordy is among the first people at Reardan High to accept Junior completely.

Gordy represents the voice of sanity for Junior, helping him assess things objectively. Despite being considered a nerd, Gordy is shown to be quite brave. When a teacher is insensitive toward Junior’s grief following his grandmother’s death, Gordy leads a walkout in support of Junior. Thus, he shows that people are often far more than they appear to be.


Penelope is a beautiful and popular white girl at Reardan with whom Junior falls in love. While she initially appears to be snobbish and self-involved, Penelope is actually shown to be warm, empathetic, and accepting. She is gracious when she learns about the poverty Junior has been hiding and offers him emotional support. Though she dates Julian, Julian believes Penelope does not truly love him. She may be dating him to annoy her racist, abusive father. Penelope is also unhappy at Reardan. She is dealing with an eating disorder and wants to escape to a bigger city to become an architect.

Junior’s portrayal of Penelope can be considered problematic, because he tends to fixate on her physical beauty. Despite this, Penelope emerges as a sympathetic character.


Junior’s older sister, Mary, represents the tragedy of unrealized potential. She dies in a trailer fire at a young age. Before she left the Spirits to move to Montana with her husband, Mary had been depressed. However, Junior reveals that Mary is actually very cool and smart and has chosen to withdraw from the world. Later, Junior learns Mary wanted to be a novelist as a teenager. The reasons for Mary’s depression are not clearly stated, but it is implied that she was troubled by her tough circumstances. For the Spirits, Mary’s death is an irrecoverable loss. For Junior in particular, it is a reminder to live life more fully in order to honor her memory.

Arnold Spirit Sr. (Dad)

Arnold Sr. is the father of Mary and Junior. Arnold deals with alcohol abuse and depression and tends to be quiet and angry. He is frustrated because he never got the opportunity to pursue music professionally. At the beginning of the novel, Junior has an uneasy relationship with him. He resents his father for killing their sick dog and for his spells of drunkenness. However, Arnold Sr. is not a neglectful father. He makes time for his children and offers them room to grow. When Junior asks to attend Reardan, Arnold Sr. supports him despite his fears about Junior leaving the reservation. After Mary’s death, the bereaved father and brother reconnect. The taciturn Arnold Sr. tells Junior he loves him. In his newfound openness, Arnold Sr. demonstrates his capacity for change.

Agnes Adams Spirit (Mom)

Agnes Adams Spirit is Mary and Junior’s mother. She also has trouble with excess alcohol consumption but is presented as a loving parent. Despite her lack of opportunities, Agnes is very smart. She loves to read books and has a sharp memory. Junior believes Agnes could have been a college professor if someone had paid her attention. Perhaps because she was denied opportunities herself, Agnes agrees to let Junior attend Reardan High. Agnes is heartbroken at the death of Mary. She extracts a promise from Junior that he will never abuse alcohol. By the end of the novel, Agnes begins to accept the loss of her daughter.