The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian Analysis
by Sherman Alexie

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian book cover
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The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian Analysis

  • Sherman Alexie set The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian in his hometown of Wellpinit on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Like Alexie, Junior grows up in Wellpinit but attends Reardan, a white high school off the reservation. Transferring schools stirs up racial tensions on the reservation, where Junior's old friends feel betrayed by his decision to leave.
  • Metaphorically speaking, the reservation is a kind of prison preventing the Native Americans from being free like their ancestors or enjoying the same opportunities as whites. Upon crossing the border, Junior learns that the world beyond the reservation also has its limitations.

Setting

The novel is set in eastern Washington, not far from the city of Spokane. Most of the story takes place on the Spokane Indian Reservation. A smaller portion is set a little more than twenty miles away, at Reardan High School, whose students are mostly from rich, white families. The town of Reardan, Alexie writes, is “filled with farmers and rednecks and racist cops who stop every Indian who drives through.” Indians who do actually dare to drive through are pulled over for “DWI: Driving while Indian.”

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No matter where Junior goes in the novel, whether to the reservation or to his new school, he feels uncomfortable, out of place, alienated. The Native American population as a whole feels imprisoned, unable to roam freely across the land as their ancestors once did, so they stagnate within the borders that have been imposed upon them—a constant reminder that they are a conquered people. The white world beyond the borders represents, at least in Junior’s mind, the hope of a better future. But when Junior is integrated into that world, he realizes that it lacks the love, warmth, and personal attention.

Ideas for Group Discussions

1. Lead a discussion among your classmates as to what Penelope’s motivation was in developing a relationship with Junior. Do you think Penelope was merely curious about Junior’s culture? Do you suspect that her attraction to Junior would have been the same if he were white? Did she like him because he was different? Or was there some common quality or interest that they shared?

2. In what ways are Mr. P (Junior’s math teacher at Wellpinit) and the rich white man who showed up for Grandmother Spirit’s funeral (the man with the powwow costume) alike, and how do they differ? How do they relate to Native American culture? What do their actions and their words suggest about their personalities?

3. Why was Junior so driven to beat Rowdy at the final basketball game between Reardan and Wellpinit?

4. When Rowdy and Junior climbed the tallest tree near the lake, why was the view so astounding to them? Do you suspect that it might have affected Rowdy differently than Junior? How so?

5. What do you think the message was in the story of the dead horse in Turtle Lake? Can you find any way this story ties into Junior’s other experiences?

6. How did Eugene (the man who rode the motorcycle) affect Junior differently than Junior’s father did? How were the men alike? How did they differ?

7. Which character had the most profound effect on Junior’s life? Back up your selection with passages from the novel.

8. Why do you think Rowdy reacted so strongly to Junior’s leaving the reservation to go to school? What in Rowdy’s background leads you to believe this?

9. With whom do you think Junior had the closer relationship: Penelope, Roger, or Gordy? Use text to prove your point of view. How did these relationships differ? How were they the same?

10. What is the significance of Junior’s comment at the end of the book, when he and Rowdy are playing one-on-one basketball, and Junior says, “We didn’t keep score”? What are some of the implications underlying this statement? What does it say about Junior and Rowdy’s relationship?

11. Alexie often uses humor in his work, even when he writes about painful memories. Why do you think he does this? Look for...

(The entire section is 1,649 words.)