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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Explain how Junior's grandmother in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian balances traditional Indian beliefs and modernity?

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Junior's grandmother is an example of how Native Americans can hold on to their past and exist in the present. She is able to accomplish this hybrid nature because of the spirit of love and acceptance that is intrinsic to her being.  Unlike the other members of Junior's family who have become overtaken by the sad and painful condition of the world around them, Junior's grandmother is able to be a part of the world and yet remain distinct from it.  This is why she is able to offer Junior advice in his struggles in modern adolescence with the perspective of someone older.  She demonstrates to Junior that there can be a sense of happiness and joy in being Native American even in the modern setting, where there is much in way of sadness in being Native American.  

Grandmother's death proves to be cathartic for Junior.  He sees the solidarity that Native Americans can show in honoring that which is the best of their culture.  The isolated and fragmented nature of the Rez is put aside in honoring Junior's grandmother.  It is at this moment that Junior recognizes much in way of goodness in being Native American.  Junior is able to recognize that his grandmother's gift for retaining the old in the face of the new is because of her own spirit of love and acceptance that is within her. Her tolerance and acceptance represents "the very best" that the Rez can offer.  This is where Junior realizes her greatness.  This quality is what makes her "the rarest kind of Indian in the world," and this rare gift is what enables her to hold both her past dear to her in a setting where it is needed to assert her own identity.

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