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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Discussion Topic

The depiction of poverty and class in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Summary:

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian depicts poverty and class through the protagonist, Junior, who experiences the stark contrast between life on the Spokane Indian Reservation and the wealthier, predominantly white high school he attends. The novel highlights the systemic inequalities and economic hardships faced by Native Americans, emphasizing the impact of poverty on education, opportunities, and self-esteem.

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Explain the portrayal of poverty in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.

In answering this question, think about what "explain" means in the prompt. What does it want you to explain about poverty in the novel? The protagonist, Junior, undeniably lives in poverty — as does every fellow resident on his reservation. You do not need to include a literal explanation of the word. Instead, I recommend focusing on the role poverty plays in the story. Junior's family is poor. How does he feel about that? How does it affect his life? How does it affect the lives of his neighbors, and friends, and classmates? How does it motivate him?

How does author Sherman Alexie contrast Junior's life on the reservation with his life in a high school full of mostly white students? How do the white students view Junior? Do their opinions change after they discover he is poor? If so, how? What about Junior's opinion of them? What is Alexie trying to say about poverty? Why do you think he chose a non-fiction story to make this statement?

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Explain the portrayal of poverty in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.

In The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian, the protagonist Junior describes his life on the Spokane Indian Reservation.  On the "rez," many people are stricken by poverty because they have few opportunities for employment.  Junior's parents do not have steady work, and for much of the novel, Junior's father is unemployed.  There are many nights when Junior goes to bed without having eaten dinner.  In an effort to try to cope with these conditions, Junior's father turns to alcohol, and there are times when he spends what little money he has on liquor rather than on food.  These difficulties are apparent from the beginning of the novel when Junior's dog gets sick and must be killed because the family cannot afford to get veterinary care for him.

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How is class depicted in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian?

In The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indianclass is represented in part through the description of the educational systems that Junior experiences. In his school on the reservation, Junior receives a textbook that was issued to his mother thirty years ago. When this happens, Junior realizes that the school in Wellpinit cannot afford to buy new educational materials for the students. However, the school at Reardan offers its students better opportunities with up-to-date resources and facilities. In the novel, class is bound with race as Native Americans live in Wellpinit and whites live in Reardan, and Junior sees that many people on the reservation live in poverty while the students at Reardan all appear to come from wealthier homes. So the novel portrays class divisions through its depiction of education.

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