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The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
Author Sherman Alexie
Illustrator Ellen Forney
Type of work Novel with illustrations
Genre Bildungsroman (coming-of-age novel); autobiographical fiction; young adult fiction
Time and place written Early 2000s in and around Seattle, WA
Date of first publication 2007
Publisher Little, Brown (Hachette)
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is narrated by Arnold Spirit, Jr. The novel unfolds like a diary, with each entry (except the first, which narrates Junior’s early childhood) narrated just after it is meant to have occurred.
Point of view Junior narrates the story in the first person, sticking closely to his own experiences, but he occasionally re-tells stories that have been told to him by others or includes his sister Mary’s messages. Junior mostly describes characters objectively (i.e. with physical and sensory details) but he does not hesitate to give his opinions about other people’s appearances and actions.
Tone Junior’s tone his humorous and sincere. He is not always a completely reliable narrator, but his unreliability is usually a result of youthful naiveté rather than malice.
Setting (time) Around 1980
Setting (place) The Spokane Indian Reservation and the town of Reardan in Washington state.
Protagonist Arnold Spirit, Jr.
Major conflict The major conflict of the novel is Junior’s struggle to find acceptance and belonging in two vastly different communities, the Spokane reservation and Reardan High.
Rising action Junior decides to leave the high school in the reservation town of Wellpinit and attend school in the neighboring white town of Reardan. Junior’s Indian friends feel betrayed and abandoned, while, at Reardan, Junior is treated like an unwelcome outsider.
Climax Junior experiences three tragic deaths in rapid succession, his grandmother, family friend, Eugene, and his sister Mary all die. For Junior, Mary’s death is the most traumatic.
Falling action As Junior’s family mourns the recent deaths of loved ones and Junior completes a successful first year at Reardan, the Spokane community seems to realize it has treated Junior unfairly, and Junior finds unsuspected support among the new friends he has made at Reardan.
Themes Individual Ambition versus Communal Obligation; Poverty and Privilege; Racism
Motifs Sports and Competition; Alcoholism; Physical Violence, Domestic Abuse, and Bullying
Symbols Oscar; Junior’s dad’s last $5; Turtle Lake
Foreshadowing When Junior is so insistent, early on, that he and Rowdy are inseparable—that Rowdy is closer to him than family—Junior’s insistence foreshadows the rift in his and Rowdy’s friendship. Junior’s good moods and high expectations—his excitement for geometry class, for example—usually foreshadow a negative turn of events—hitting Mr. P in the face with the textbook. Junior’s anxiety and fear—like that Mr. P will punish him or he won’t make the basketball team—are often followed by unsuspected positive events—Mr. P’s apologizing to Junior, Junior’s making varsity. Likewise, Mary’s overly-optimistic view of her depressing life in Montana foreshadows her coming, tragic death.