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 challenges does Junior face on and off the reservation in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian?

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Perhaps an easier question to answer would be, "What problems does Junior not go through?"

Throughout this funny, touching, and often heartbreaking book, Junior goes through a series of trials and tribulations, both on the reservation and in his new life at Reardan High School.

The first problem that Junior tells us about, apart from the fact that he was born with water on the brain, is the poverty faced by everybody on the reservation. He and his family are so poor that they cannot to take Junior's much-loved dog, Oscar, to the vet when he gets sick, so Junior's father's solution was to take Oscar out back and shoot him.

The other big problem that Oscar later faced on the reservation was being rejected by his best friend, Rowdy, after he decided to leave the reservation high school and transfer to Reardan, a "white" school.

Once he gets to Reardan, he faces problems such as a much longer trip from home to school, which he sometimes has to make on foot. Then, of course, there are the inevitable problems of trying to fit in at a new school, which were exacerbated by the fact that Junior was different from all the other students.

Perhaps the biggest trial of all is the death of Oscar's sister, which has a profound effect on every facet of Oscar's life.

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On the reservation, Junior faces poverty and a school system that is missing a lot of vital resources. His parents' lack of money means that they haven't been able to realize their dreams, and they are depressed. His sister, Mary, dreams of being a romance writer, but she too seems depressed. His family cannot afford veterinary care for his dog, who his father has to shoot. The school Junior attends is so old that he has the same geometry book his mother had when she attended school.

Off the reservation, Junior faces prejudice when he attends a school with white kids. He feels out of place in the school off the reservation, and his friends back home consider him a traitor for having left the reservation school. He also is embarrassed because he doesn't have the money the white kids do. These are some of the troubles he faces on and off the reservation.

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The protagonist Junior (Arnold Spirit) faces many challenges on and off the reservation in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian.  On the reservation, Junior feels that he is not getting a quality education.  When he receives his mother's previous math textbook, he realizes that the school materials have not been updated for decades.  He is angry because he feels like he and others on the reservation are being treated like they are not worthy of a solid education.  In addition, Junior sees the rampant alcoholism that is destroying many people's lives on the reservation, and he wishes that there were some way correct this problem.

Junior decides to pursue his education outside the reservation so that he can have better opportunities than the ones offered on the Spokane Indian Reservation.  He travels miles to Reardan, the nearest school off the reservation.  There he is the only Native American student, and he does not fit in easily with the rest of the crowd.  Plus, his best friend Rowdy who is back on the reservation feels like Junior has betrayed him, so after Junior leaves to Reardan, Rowdy cuts off their friendship.  Junior must deal with many challenges in order to try to improve his life.

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Compare and contrast the obstacles that Junior has to overcome in his life in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.

In The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Junior faces obstacles that challenge his character. For example, one of the major obstacles that Junior has to face is his desire to have a better education for himself. Junior understands that staying on the reservation may be easier in some regards because he will not have to face racism; however, he also understands that the education on the reservation is underfunded and limited in terms of future opportunities. Junior knows that either staying or going will result in some burden, but he decides that the benefits of going to Reardan outweigh the obstacles that he will have to face when others on the reservation brand him a traitor. Junior reasons that there are some on the reservation who made fun of him even before the decision to go to Reardan ever came up. For example, the 30-year-old Andruss brothers bully him because of his physical ailments, so this obstacle, compared to being labeled a traitor, is not much different for Junior. So Junior approaches the obstacles in his life by considering the benefits that will be achieved through the struggle.

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How does Junior cope with the poverty and alcohol abuse in his reservation in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian?

Junior recognizes early on the in the narrative that he is fundamentally incapable of changing the structure of Native American life.  There is very little he can do to remedy the impoverished conditions on both emotional and financial levels that helps to facilitate so much of alcohol abuse.  Instead, he recognizes that this is not the life he wishes to become for himself.  With the alcoholism that has robbed his father of his emotional and spiritual senses of self and the alcohol induced fire that robbed his sister of her life, Junior understands that this is not something in which he is going to indulge.  To this extent, Junior is able to cope with the alcoholism that is such a part of his community.  The issue of poverty is a force that Junior recognizes he cannot defeat on his own.  Yet, what he can do is to envision a life where poverty does not control him so very much.  It is here where Junior's endeavors in Reardon, in a White school with a White community, become important.  Junior copes with his poverty by seeking to rise above it, to leave it behind so that it does not follow him and haunt him as it has so many others in his community.  It is to this end that Junior recognizes that such a move will be difficult, as the hold poverty has on the community is a strong one.  Yet, Junior also knows that one of his primary character traits is a sense of resilience and endurance that will allow him to find success in an eventual frame of reference.  It is through this that will enable Junior to cope with the poverty that is so embedded in his culture and something that is such a strong part of his identity as a Native American.

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In The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, what is Junior's biggest conflict? Does he ever solve this conflict? If so, how?

Junior's most important conflict is how to get a decent education while remaining connected to his family and friends on the reservation. Junior attends school in Reardan, a white town, because he knows the school system is better there, but he feels disconnected from life on the reservation and from the white people in Reardan. In addition, Rowdy, his best friend, is angry at Junior because he feels Junior has abandoned him. 

Part of the way Junior resolves this conflict is by no longer telling lies to the white kids in Reardan. Junior admits to Penelope, his girlfriend, that he's poor. Junior is surprised by her response: "I figured she was going to march out of my life right then. But she didn't. Instead she kissed me." Junior realizes, "If you let people into your life a little bit, they can be pretty damn amazing." In other words, he realizes that by telling the truth to the kids in Reardan, he can really befriend them and bridge the gulf between them. In the end, Junior is also able to reconcile with Rowdy because they realize that they still have a lot in common, such as shared memories and a love of basketball. Rowdy also tells Junior that he is like "an old-time nomad," which is respected in Native American tradition. That is Rowdy's way of saying that he respects Junior for going to school in Reardan, and the conflict between them is over. 

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In The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian, what issues does Junior deal with on the reservation?

In The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian, Junior deals with a host of issues on his reservation including alcohol abuse, poverty, death, and lost hope.  In response to poor living conditions on the reservation, many people resort to alcohol, and their use becomes abuse.  Even Junior's father has a problem with alcohol abuse, and Junior sees the way alcohol negatively affects his father and others on the reservation.  Additionally, Junior deals with poverty, and there are several sketches in the novel that depict Junior trying to hide the fact that he is poor from his classmates at Reardan.  Junior says that fried chicken is so good to him because it's a rare occasion when his family has enough money to buy such a meal.  Due to the harsh living conditions and situations on the reservation, Junior has to deal with many deaths including his sister Mary, his uncle Eugene, and his grandmother, who ironically was killed by a drunk driver even though she herself never drank.  All these situations lead to the loss of hope on the reservation, and Junior's teacher Mr. P tells him that there is no hope left on the reservation.  So Junior must deal with all these issues on a day to day basis.

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