The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

by: Sherman Alexie

Chapters 7-9

Despite this change in perspective, Junior struggles with a feeling of internal contradiction. Like the cartoon illustrating the differences between a white and Indian student, Junior feels he has a line drawn down the center of his body. On the reservation, he is traitor and a white-lover. At Reardan, however, Junior is made to feel more like an Indian and an outsider than he has ever felt before. Sometimes Junior feels half-Indian and half-white, but, just as often, he feels he is neither Indian nor white—an outcast from both worlds. Junior’s feeling of internal contradiction is reinforced by his two names. For the rest of the novel, Junior’s white friends will call him by his official name, Arnold, but his Indian friends and family will call him by his nickname, Junior. As Junior tries to resolve his own internal contradictions, he also has to discover the rules of a strange new world. He encounters racism to a degree he hasn’t yet experienced on the reservation, but he discovers that his new white world is governed by a different set of expectations.

On the reservation, physical violence is accepted, even encouraged, as a regular part of day-to-day life. In Reardan, physical violence is much more rare. People don’t hit each other. That is the unwritten rule. But Junior violates this unwritten rule of the white world. This makes Junior seem courageous to white students even though Junior crosses the line largely because he doesn’t know that it exists. Junior begins to see that being an outsider, though challenging, has its advantages. From his outsider perspective, Junior is able to find new ways of identifying both the negative and positive elements of his culture. On the one hand, the Spokane Indians can be seen as tribalistic. The group asserts its identity in opposition to other groups around it and by rejecting and disempowering members, like Junior, who don’t conform to the group’s strict expectations. But, on the other hand, in “Grandmother Gives Me Some Advice,” Junior is reminded of the many ways in which the Spokane culture is communal, meaning that group members care for and support each other in times of hardship. Both Junior’s grandmother and Eugene give Junior this positive, communal support.