The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

by: Sherman Alexie

Arnold Spirit Jr. (Junior)

Junior is the unreliable narrator of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Unlike many unreliable narrators, however, Junior is never unreliable as the result of maliciousness or intentional dishonesty. Rather, the gap between Junior’s version of events and what Alexie suggests really happens, is the result of Junior’s youthful naiveté or an emotional shock. Junior thinks he and Rowdy will be friends forever, for example, that they are closer than family. But shortly after Junior describes their inseparable bond, Rowdy rejects Junior’s friendship for the rest of the novel. Junior still has things to learn about family and friendship. Many of the novel’s episodes are stories of Junior waking up to one of his biases or blind spots. Such is the case when Rowdy and Gordy show Junior that his infatuation with Penelope’s whiteness is only a subtle variation of the racism and prejudice to which bigoted white people treat him and other Indians every day. Still, for the most part, Junior is sincere, compassionate, resilient, and persistent. When he recognizes them, he is honest about his faults with himself and readers.

Throughout the novel, Junior struggles with a sense of double-consciousness or internal contradiction. After his decision to attend Reardan, Junior feels he is not fully Indian when he is on the Spokane Reservation. Yet, when he is at Reardan, Junior is all too aware that he is not white. This is reflected in many of Junior’s cartoons, which show the stark divide between life on and off the reservation. Junior struggles to find acceptance in both communities, and his positive character traits, especially his persistence, eventually secure him friends among the white kids—Penelope, Gordy, Roger and others—at the Reardan high school. One of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian’s main ironies is that Junior finds it harder to find acceptance from Rowdy and the other members of his own tribe—the tribe he was born into—than he does in the white world. As the novel progresses, Junior’s internal contradictions are never really resolved. Instead, after great losses and in light of passing time, they fade in significance.


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