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

Start Free Trial

What does Gordy mean by "Life is a constant struggle between being an individual and a member of the community" in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian? Is this true for Junior and Gordy?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In this answer, I'll address the statement from Gordy's point of view.

Gordy is right in that life is a struggle between being an individual and a member of the community. In the book, Gordy is Junior's best friend at Reardan High School. Like Junior, Gordy is also a marginalized member of his community. His classmates think that he is "weird" because he loves intellectual discussions and enjoys reading what most teenagers would consider esoteric material.

In the book, Gordy is a white American teenager who is a self-described "Anglophile," or "someone who loves Mother England." He reads Tolstoy and uses words like "tautologies." Gordy is likely the only teenager who knows exactly how many books there are in the Reardan High School library: three thousand four hundred and twelve. This is because he has counted them. He teaches Junior that "really good books" should give one a "metaphorical boner."

Gordy loves books because he prizes the knowledge he gains from them. Because of his predilections, he is marginalized by his peers and teachers. So, it's as much a struggle for Gordy as it is for Junior to fit into the community and yet retain some semblance of his individuality. Gordy must weigh his very human desire to be liked with his competing aspiration to be an intellectual who treasures knowledge.

In the story, Gordy stands up for Junior when the latter contradicts Mr. Dodge, the science teacher. In doing so, Gordy makes himself unpopular with the teacher and perhaps, even the larger school community at Reardan. His reputation for being a nerd becomes solidified. Later, when Gordy becomes Junior's best friend, his social status at Reardan becomes even more tenuous. Both Gordy and Junior become outcasts, equally "lonely and sad and isolated and terrified."

Junior is a native American teenager who decides to attend a white school, rather than a reservation school. His bid to be successful in life is considered a betrayal by many of his own people. Meanwhile, Gordy is a white American "farm boy" who decides to explore knowledge apart from what is taught in the classroom, and he also befriends a Native American teenager. Both treasure their individuality and their right to decide who they will be in life. Yet, the desire to be liked, accepted, and welcomed by the larger community is a strong one. So, Gordy is right in that "Life is a constant struggle between being an individual and a member of the community."

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The truth of this statement is shown in the struggles that Junior faces as he tries to work out who he is and what kind of future he wants to have. The statement means that all of us face a conflict between doing what we want to do with our lives without regard for anybody else, or doing what other people would have us to: family, friends and our ethnic group. Of course, for Junior, this struggle is made extreme because of the way that he faces such problems for wanting to seek a better life outside of the reservation where all of his family and tribe are based and live their lives. He certainly does not have it easy, and even when he does make the decision to go to the school outside of the reservation where he can receive a better education, he still encounters massive problems as a result, as his first day at his new school shows:

They stared at me, the Indian boy with the black eye and swollen nose, my going-away gifts from Rowdy. Those white kids couldn't believe their eyes. They stared at me like I was Bigfoot or a UFO.

Junior struggles to fit in, and his decision to prize the individual over the community only accentuates this problem. This quote therefore is very true for Junior as it encapsulates the dilemma he faces: either to follow what everybody else would have him do and settle for a life in the reservation, or do what he wants to do and try and achieve a better life.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial