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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What purpose does the character Billionaire Ted serve in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian?

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Sherman Alexie includes Billionaire Ted in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian to illustrate a particular kind of person, namely, a white man who knows next to nothing about Native American culture yet behaves in a patronizing manner.

Billionaire Ted doesn't show up until toward the end of the novel. Junior is at his grandmother's funeral. She has been hit and killed by a drunk driver as she walked home from a powwow, and Junior grieves her death. Ted arrives at the funeral, unannounced and unwanted, with a powwow costume that he thinks belonged to Junior's grandmother. It never did, and Ted is completely clueless about the meaning of the costume. He makes an arrogant speech, trying to show off his knowledge about Native American culture, but the funeral attendees only laugh. In fact, they laugh the pompous Ted right off the reservation.

Billionaire Ted, then, represents the type of person who likes Native American culture and even collects Native American artifacts (he has plenty of money to spend on them) yet doesn't try to discover the meaning behind that culture or those artifacts. He operates on prejudices and has little or no respect for the Native American people. He is thoughtless and crass, barging his way in where he is not wanted and treating people like they are there for his own personal benefit. His own ego stands front and center, and he collects to show off rather than to discover beauty and truth.

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