Dilemmas highlighted in Sherman Alexie’s Book
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is a novel for young adults written by Sherman Alexie in 2007. It is a first-person narrative written in the form of a diary with records and drawings made by the main character. The chapters are short and dialogs are realistic, which makes every character sound believable. The protagonist, Arnold Spirit JR. or Junior, is a fourteen-year-old boy who keeps the diary during one year. Junior also adds pictures to his diary because “words are too limited” (Alexie 5). The action takes place on the Spokane Indian Reservation. The book The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian underlines many sociological issues that concern Native Americans and shows problems experienced by a boy when he leaves a reservation.
The plot of the book describes a one-year life experience of Junior. He feels uncomfortable because of poverty he sees in his school. Mr. P, the school teacher, convinces Junior to transfer from the reservation school to Reardan high school. The new school is situated 22 miles away from the reservation, and tuition fees are higher there. Although Junior’s family is very poor, they support his decision to transfer to the new school where he will be the only Indian student. Another challenge that Junior faces is that he might lose his close friend Rowdy by leaving the reservation school. In the new school, Junior meets new friends and gets more confident. The boy also deals with many tragedies happening in his family because of alcohol abuse. These events both test Junior’s strength and show him how he is important to his family and friends.
The diary describes the incident with school’s star athlete Roger. One day Roger insults Junior, who reacts and punches the insulter in the face. In the white community, it is not an ordinary reaction; most students would do it in Junior’s place. However, in his native community Junior has been taught that it is necessary to get revenge in such cases. Junior only earns the respect of Roger and sympathy of many schoolgirls due to that reaction. The above-mentioned scene demonstrates how Junior gets stronger by combining the knowledge that he has gained on the reservation and new opportunities for becoming a part of the white school community.
The major problem of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is the conflict between roots and ambitions to live happily outside the reservation. It is presented symbolically through the relationship between Junior and his friend Rowdy. In the novel, Rowdy represents Junior’s connection with his roots. The reader can see how Junior gravitates to the life outside the Spokane reservation but is not ready to lose all connections with his homeland. In addition, at the end of the book Junior’s friend Rowdy renews their friendship after realizing that Junior is more of a traditional Indian than everybody else in town.
As in every book written by Sherman Alexie, the problem of authentic Native American culture is raised in this novel as well. Indians experience much pressure in their lives both on the reservation and outside it. In the dialog between Junior and Mr. P., the reader can see parallelism that underlines the attitude of many white Americans towards Indians:
“We were supposed to kill the Indian to save the child.”
“You killed Indians?”
“We weren’t trying to kill Indian people. We were trying to kill Indian culture” (Alexie 35).
This dialogue shows how the book raises the problem of racism confronting both Native Americans in white society and white Americans in Indian society. The purpose of “killing Indians” is to make them equal members of the white American community, but the paradox is that this equity means transforming their culture to a non-native one. The topic of racism is also shown in Junior’s depiction of himself when he says, “None of those guys punched me or got violent. After all, I was a reservation Indian, and no matter how geeky and weak I appeared to be, I was still a potential killer” (Alexie 63). The author also raises the problem of stereotyping Native Americans. For example, one stereotype about Indians is that white Americans imagine them as warriors. This stereotype makes people believe that a “true Indian” looks hyper-masculine just like Rowdy. However, the truth is that Indians are just as emotional as any other white people, and Junior’s feelings prove this fact when he says, “Man, I’ve always cried too easily. I cry when I’m happy or sad. I cry when I'’ angry. I cry because I'’ crying. It’s weak. It’s the opposite of the warrior” (Alexie 75).
To conclude, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is full of mental struggle of the boy who represents the whole culture. Among all problems raised in the book, the problem of racism is the most important one as it affects lives of many non-white Americans. In her novel, the author shows how it could be difficult to get successful if a person is an Indian and how love as well as support can make him or her feel stronger. This should be seen as a useful lesson that should be followed in real life.
Alexie, Sherman. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. New York: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2007. Print.