Finding Your Identity in the Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,

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Finding Your Identity in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,

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The novel “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” by Sherman Alexie describes the story of an Indian growing up on a Spokan Indian Reservation. The conflict of the story was not the fact that he got bullied by others for looking weird or that he lived in poverty along with the rest of the reservation, but the conflict was Junior trying to escape the status quo he was living in, where Indians lived on the Reservation for their entire life and then they died. The theme of the story relates to finding your identity where there is racism between two races. While Junior tries to escape the identity that white people keep putting him back in, he also has to suffer from bullying from white and Indian people in his school and his reservation. In order for Junior to find his identity and capabilities, he leaves the school in his Reservation and goes to Reardan, a white school 22 miles away.

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Firstly, the main character Junior, was born a hydrocephalic which led to many health problems such as seizures, an unusually large skull, and vulnerability to brain damage. Junior is a 14 year old teenager with a very skinny and tall body with glasses that have one side bigger than the other because of eye damage he has from hydrocephalic. Junior loves playing basketball and played on his school team in the Reservation, but started playing for Reardan when he switched schools. He lives with his mother, father, grandmother and sister, but his sister leaves the Reservation to marry a man and live in Montana. After leaving to attend school in Reardan, Junior loses his friendship with his best friend Rowdy, who considers Junior a traitor for leaving to a white school. Junior realized that he needed to leave to Reardan after being told by a white teacher in the Reservation that he would be brought down and be taught to be a failure if he stayed. Junior is very courageous for making this decision, as because of this, he suffers bullying from the Indians in his Reservation for leaving, and he faces racism towards him for being the only First Nation in Reardan. In Reardan, Gordy, Penelope, and Roger become his new friends and Junior soon becomes the most popular boy in the school. Junior becomes very smart and learns the importance of reading from Gordy, and learns to be grateful from his girlfriend Penelope by going out on Halloween to trick or treat for change to give to the homeless. Although Junior was half homeless, he hides the fact that he lives in poverty from Penelope as he thinks it would result to him getting bullied again. Junior gets attacked by Indians on Halloween for going to a white people’s school, but they don’t realize Junior left for a chance to be successful and escape the hell Indians are put into on the reservation. Attacks on people for being a certain race still happen in modern times and the fact that Junior puts up with this for a better life shows bravery for trying to find his identity instead of having others give it to him.

Moreover, the theme of the novel is about Junior finding his identity and racism between Indians and white people. Although Junior thinks his world is only separated between Indians and white people, he soon realizes that the people of the world are split into two groups. “I used to think the world was broken down by tribes,' I said. ‘By Black and White. By Indian and White. But I know this isn't true. The world is only broken into two tribes: the people who are assholes and the people who are not.” This quote of Sherman Alexie indicates the identity of people in the world and portrays that it does not matter what race you are, but the way you behave and act in society is what decides your identity. “Life is a constant struggle between being an individual and being a member of the community.” Junior in the story is trying to deliver the message that there are people who follow society’s rules and become a member of the community, and there are people who decide their own identity by breaking the status quo. That is what Junior is struggling to do throughout the story as him going to Reardan as an Indian was something that he was not supposed to do, but by doing that, Junior manages to get a better chance at success, although he does have to suffer from much more bullying because of it. Junior losing his best and only friend before attending Reardan must have been very difficult for Junior, but that is one of the sacrifices he has had to face while going on the journey for a better life. Junior losing his grandmother, his dad’s best friend, and his sister in all tragic deaths must have been a very depressing and dark time, but he still managed to continue school in Reardan through all the struggles. Penelope, Roger, and Gordy are all examples of the opposite of what Indians on the Reservation think about white people. Indians think that white people are all cruel and rude to Indians, but Junior’s white friends are the opposite of that. Although Roger and his friends did bully Junior when he first came to Reardan, he later changed his identity and outlook on Indians when Junior fought back. Junior and all Indians on the Reservation are born and taught how white people are cruel while white people are born and taught how Indians are cruel. The way people are taught to be when they grow up does not necessarily mean that will be their identity, as Junior is proof of it.

However, before Junior went to school in Reardan, he had thrown a geometry book at his teacher to show his anger of how trapped he felt in the reservation. He threw the textbook because he had seen that it was the same textbook that his mom had used 30 years ago. The geometry book showed that Indians were being trapped in the Reservation and weren’t leaving it as Junior’s family still lived in the same Reservation that they went to school in. It showed that the government did not care for the Indians as in Reardan, Junior did not have old teared up books. Junior also felt caged when he went to Reardan with the rich white people as he was the only poor one. Junior went as a homeless man for trick or treating on Halloween to raise money to donate to charity since that was what Penelope was doing, but what she did not know was that Junior was already half homeless. His costume was his normal clothing as his good and bad clothes both looked like something a homeless person might wear. “I went dressed as a homeless dude. It was a pretty easy costume for me. There’s not much difference between my good and bad clothes, so I pretty much look half-homeless anyways.” The costume showed irony in the story as Junior did not even have to pretend he was homeless as he almost already was. The homeless costume for Junior was a way for him to hide his identity, although he was really showing his true self in his costume. The geometry book was a symbol to show that Junior may be stuck in the Reservation and be half homeless his entire life if he did not make a change. Although Junior managed to leave to a white school, he was not able to show his true identity which was him in his costume. The geometry book was the ignition to the flame of Junior’s determination to escape the world of poverty in the Reservation he was living in.

In conclusion, Junior managed to develop his own identity by escaping the Reservation he was born into, and managing to withstand the bullying of Indian and white people around him. Although Junior was born with multiple health problems, faced racism from white people, got bullied by his own culture for being considered a traitor, lived in poverty, and had to face the death of his grandmother, his dads best friend and his sister, he still managed to find his own true identity. Many signs such as the geometry book that his mom used were signs that he was being trapped and that he needed to go out and find his own identity, before other people created it for him. Although the times have changed and what Junior went through is very rare for someone in our generation, it shows that finding your own true identity becomes easy as soon as you cancel out the noise around you.

Works cited

  1. Alexie, S. (2007). The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.
  2. Ciancio, M. (2013). Unmasking Racial Microaggressions: A Critical Analysis of Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Children's Literature in Education, 44(4), 360-372.
  3. Culatta, R. (2011). The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian: A Teacher's Guide. Penguin.
  4. Dutt, M. (2016). A Sociological Study of Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Indian Journal of English Studies, 53(2), 56-63.
  5. Farmer, S. (2012). “You Wouldn’t Think It Could Happen in America”: Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian and Challenges to the Stereotypes of American Indians. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 56(3), 233-241.
  6. Jenkins, J. A. (2012). The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian: Using Young Adult Literature to Examine Race, Class, and Power in Schooling. The English Journal, 101(2), 58-64.
  7. Mitchell, T. F. (2012). Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian: A Study of Multicultural Literature. New England Reading Association Journal, 48(2), 11-16.
  8. Parsons, M. (2014). "What Are You Doing Here?": Cultural Conflict and the Native American Identity in Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Studies in American Indian Literatures, 26(1), 17-34.
  9. Pink, C. (2017). The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian and Multimodal Life Writing: Crossing Genres and Making Truth Claims. Biography: An Interdisciplinary Quarterly, 40(3), 386-403.
  10. Reinhart, M. (2010). Growing up Native in a White World: Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Studies in American Indian Literatures, 22(3), 59-77.

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