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The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

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The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

By: Sherman Alexie

It sucks to be poor, and it sucks to feel that you somehow deserve to be poor. You start believing that you're poor because you're stupid and ugly. And then you start believing that you're stupid and ugly because you're Indian. And because you're Indian you start believing you're destined to be poor. It's an ugly circle and there's nothing you can do about it." (Alexie 2.53)

Have you ever wondered what it feels like to be a young boy who is a stuttering hydrocephalic living on a poor Indian reservation? Have you ever wonder how it feels to have your hopes and dreams crushed? Have you ever wondered what it feels like to be beat up and bullied? Have you ever wondered how it feels to have parents who are alcoholics? In the novel, The Absolute True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, you will meet Arnold Spirit who faces these daily challenges; however, Arnold has hope, and he makes a life altering decision that changes his life and future.

Sherman Joseph Alexie, Jr., is a writer, poet, and filmmaker. He was born on October 7, 1966 and was raised on the Spokane Indian Reservation, having his heritage of both the Spokane and Coeur d' Alene Indian nations. Alexie overcame many childhood obstacles, suffering a life of poverty, poor health, and alcoholic parents. "Born with a buildup of cerebrospinal fluid in the brain, Alexie was not expect to survive and suffered subsequent seizures and ill health throughout childhood. Not being strong enough to endure many of the normal physical activities of youth, "Alexie found solace in books and became a voracious reader" (Sundborg). It was during this time that Alexie developed his love for literature and most of his writings draw from his personal experience as a Native American and his life living on the reservation.

During his freshman year of high school, Alexie left the Indian reservation to attend Rheardon High School. Life at Rheardon was successful for Alexie. He was the captain of the basketball team, a member of the debate and National Honor Society, and president of the Future Farmers of American. He graduated with honors and went on to attend Gonzaga University.

The culture shock of university life proved to be too much for Alexie, and he began to drink heavily. At the end of his sophomore year, struggling with the alcoholism that had plagued his parents, he dropped out of Gonzaga to regain his sobriety.

Alexie returned to college three years later and graduated with a degree in American Studies from Washington State University, Pullman. At WSU, he discovered a love for poetry and began to flourish as a writer. (Sundborg)

Sherman Alexie has been named one of our country's most prolific young writers; his best known works include: The Long Ranger and Tonto Fistfights in Heaven - a book of short stories and Smoke Signals a movie addressing Indian stereotypes. A review from Turner Movie Classics review states, "Smoke Signals explores the nature of Native American Stereotypes in popular cinema by both seriously challenging them and humorously poking fun at them. At times, the reference to standard Indian clichés, types, and stereotypes takes the form of a simple line of dialogue or a joke; at other times it is interwoven into the fabric of the characters" (Doll). The Absolute True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is a semi-autobiographical novel for young adults and won the 2007 National Book Award for Young People's Literature.

The main character and narrator of The Absolute True Diary of a Part Time Indian is Arnold Spirit (a.k.a. Junior). "Junior is the geekiest Indian boy on the Spokane Reservation. He wears chunky, lopsided glasses, his head and body look like a Sputnik on a toothpick, and when he doesn't stutter, he lisps. Junior is a 14-year-old high school freshman. When he goes outside he gets teased and beaten, so he spends a lot of time in his room drawing cartoons" (Barcott). When sitting in his room drawing, Junior often feels, "I think the world is a series of broken dams and floods...and my cartoons are tiny little lifeboats" (Alexie 1.16).

Arnold finds himself immersed in two different cultures, which seem like two different worlds. Wellpinit (Indian) and Rheradon (white). The Wellpinit characters are: Rowdy, Junior's best friend to his enemy and everything in between, Mr. and Mrs. Spirit, Junior's alcoholic parents. Mary Spirit is Junior's sister who lives in her parent's basement. She is inspired by Junior to move away; Grandmother Spirit, who is famous on the reservation for her powwow spirits; Mr. P., Junior's geometry teacher who offers Junior hope and convinces him to move off the reservation; Eugene, Mr. Spirit's best friend who gets shot in a parking lot at 7-Eleven while arguing over the last drink of whiskey from a bottle; and Billionaire Ted, a white person who collects Indian art and culture.

Rheardon's characters include: Gordy, who is the school's genius; Penelope, "perfect" blonde girl that Arnold falls for; Roger, the school's basketball star; and Coach, who helms the Rheardon basketball team.

Arnold takes us along his journey as he transfers from his school on the reservation to the all-white school twenty-two miles away. There, "all the kids stare at him like he was "Bigfoot" or a UFO...The only other Indian at the school, after all, is the mascot" (Alexie fig.8.1). Life on the reservation seems hardly any better, whereas Junior describes himself as, "just a poor-ass kid living with his poor-ass family on the poor-ass Spokane Indian Reservation" (Alexie 2.1).

However, in the book, one of the major conflicts Arnold faces is between his part-time Indian Wellpinit self (Junior) and his half white Reardon self (Arnold). On the reservation Junior is bullied and harassed. At Rheardon, Arnold earns respect and decides to change his Indian fate.

Throughout the years, Sherman Alexie has "explored the struggle to survive between the grinding plates of the Indian and white world. He's done it through various characters and genres" (Sundborg). The Absolute True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is a coming of age story that focuses on several themes. Some themes include: hope, poverty, mortality, and identity. Alexie's novel offers insight in the life of Junior as he struggles with choices within himself.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is a novel about hope, about who has hope and who doesn't, and how hard life can be when hope leaves. Chapter Five, "Hope Against Hope" describes



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