The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

by: Sherman Alexie

Important Quotations Explained

4
I used to think that the world was broken down by tribes,” I said. “By black and white. By Indian and white. But I know that isn’t true. The world is only broken into two tribes: The people who are assholes and the people who are not.

This quote, which occurs about three-quarters of the way through the novel in the “Valentine Heart” chapter, is spoken by Junior to his social studies teacher Mrs. Jeremy. After Junior misses many classes because he’s attending funerals, taking care of his mother, or because his family doesn’t have the gas money to take him to school, Mrs. Jeremy tells Junior that it’s nice of him to show up. Junior’s classmates stand and parade out of the classroom in an act of protest, leaving Junior and Mrs. Jeremy alone. That’s when Junior delivers this brutal line. The quote is an indication of the evolution of Junior’s thinking about race. He claims to have learned that internal moral qualities are more important than external social or political factors, but, it is important to keep in mind, as a whole The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian challenges even Junior’s new binary. Plenty of characters in the novel are sometimes assholes, and sometimes compassionate and kind. Roger, for instance, says racist things to Junior when they first meet, but, after some time has passed, he loans Junior money and gives him rides home.