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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In The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, why is Rowdy so aggressive and why are he and Junior good friends?

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Rowdy is aggressive because of his home life. His father is a heavy drinker and gets violent when he drinks, leading both Rowdy and his mother to show signs of physical abuse. This has led Rowdy to lash out in anger at others. For the most part this anger is not expressed against Junior until he leaves the reservation. Rowdy and Junior are best friends, leading Rowdy to lash out at those that threaten or hurt Junior rather than at Junior himself. It is unclear how Rowdy and Junior became friends, but they appear to remain friends because of shared interests and because Rowdy sees something in Junior. What he sees is unclear, but he does think Junior is special.

Mr. P's explanation of life on the reservation is accurate in the sense that education of Native Americans did focus on the destruction of Native American culture for a long time. This education did not, however, serve to integrate Native Americans into a broader culture and the use of reservations kept Native Americans as a separate people. Without economic investment that creates opportunities to avoid poverty, or opportunities to obtain purpose and food through some other manner, those that live on the reservation have little to look forward too. This can create a situation of learned helplessness that makes people essentially give up even when opportunities for escape exist.

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The answer to the first of these questions can be found when Junior has his life-changing conversation with Mr P, his maths teacher. When he opens up and talks about the bullying he is experiencing, Junior talks about his friendship with Rowdy and how Rowdy protects him from being bullied. However, what Mr P tells Junior is that the reason why Rowdy is so violent himself is because he is beaten by his father at home. Junior's response shows that he clearly knows this and thus Mr P's explanation is supported. Note what Junior tells the reader:

Whenever he came to school with a black eye, Rowdy made sure to give black eyes to two kids picked at random.

Rowdy is therefore shown to be a violent child, who takes the violence he receives from his father at home and allows that to transform him at school into a vindictive boy. Mr P feels that Rowdy as a character is only going to become "meaner and meaner" as he grows up. He uses this as part of his explanation why he feels Junior has to leave the reservation to avoid becoming like Rowdy and all the other Indians who have "given up" and are "defeated." It is interesting that Junior himself is unsure why he and Rowdy have become such good friends, but perhaps, given what Mr P tells Junior, it is possible to argue that Rowdy, just like Mr P, identifies in Junior something special that makes him feel protective towards him and gives him the desire to look out for him.

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