Alex analyzes life experiences in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (2007) grimly and optimistically. The tale follows a fourteen-year-old Arnold Spirit, who portrays Alexi growing up as an Indian in WellPoint, Washington. As depicted by the drawings that adorn the covers, he appears to be amusing and imaginative. Since the protagonist is hydrocephalic and thus regarded as an outcast, he faces several difficulties (Alexie 2). He leaves the Reservation and enrolls in an all-white school in Reardan, twenty-two miles away. He is trapped between two worlds and must embrace a new identity that changes throughout the novel. Arnold, also known as junior, is an outcast on the Indian Reservation at the start of the book, but after moving to a posh white school, he becomes a basketball star. People respect him here and carry him on their shoulders, transforming him from zero to hero. However, the journey to the new identity is difficult as when he first goes to Reardon he figures himself as having different selves. He struggles to reconcile the different selves by learning to see himself different rather than as Arnold the traitor or Junior the Indian. He considers himself as belonging to several tribes, which helps in resolving the split personality crisis and finding a meaningful form of identity that is less restrictive (Alexie 30). He manages to perform well despite his challenges since he is from a poor background.
The author uses various literary devices to express the problems experienced by Arnold throughout the story. Symbolism has been used such as the death of Juniors little dog Oscar who symbolizes senseless destruction of life. Juniors father shoots the dog since he does not have enough money to pay the veterinary bill (Alexie 15). It also symbolizes the level of poverty facing the Indians living in the reserves. The basketball is used to symbolize the power of positive thinking in the lead character. Arnolds identity changes after playing the game and becoming the best player earning great respect for others. The pine tree represents the heights that Arnold was to reach after leaving the reservation. When he joins the white school, he rises to become a basketball star. This helps Arnold to see himself differently as an important person in the society.
The setting of the story is in WellPinit and Reardon, WA where Arnold experiences different forms of self-identity. The locations are contrasting in which the first is an impoverished Indian reservation while the other is occupied by the whites living affluently. In WellPinit, WA, Arnold lives with his family where he is known as Junior. Life in the reservation is difficult and Arnold is treated as an outcast due to his health condition. Poverty is high and the author writes No, poverty only teaches you how to be poor” (Alexie 2). This contributes to other issues such as alcoholism. In Reardan live is different and allows Arnold to better his life through basketball and change his identity. H describes the place as full of racism and people do not seem to have big ideas. However, it provides a good environment for him to discover his strengths. The narration is in the first person or the narrators point of view allowing the reader to connect directly with the characters. When one reads, he/she converses with the characters and experiences their feelings. The narration helps the reader to experience everything Arnold experiences until he earns his new identity.
The artwork in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian works in harmony with Alexies prose to relate the various themes of the novel such as poverty, racism, suffering, and identity. The illustrations give comical insight into the experiences of Arnold. There are different drawing styles for the pictures such as the scribbled, cartoons and others that look more realistic with finished looks. For instance, the first figure is scribbled revealing the shattered life of Arnold in the Indian Reserves due to poverty and discrimination (Alexie 1). It reveals his initial identity of a boy who has almost lost hope in life revealing the theme of poverty and suffering. The child-like doodle-art is used to reveal inner thoughts of the narrator especially the pains he feels. Junior struggles for acceptance in the two worlds he lives in therefore his art is a source of solace and a way of expressing himself. The theme of rejection is clearly depicted by the pictures with drawings revealing the insults he constantly endured as his schoolmate teased him because of his physical impairment. Other drawings surround issues of alcoholism, death, and child abuse, which are some of the themes depicted in the story. It is clear to notice the connection between the subject and the doodles throughout the book.
The artwork keeps on changing throughout the novel depending on Arnolds circumstances and mood. The drawings tend to bridge the awkward state of Juniors consciousness as he faces two different worlds. To him drawing connects everyone in the world and wants people to understand his feelings about the situation and the problems faced by the society. Whenever he is facing a tough time he expresses himself through pictures instead of struggling with words, which can match his feelings. The pictures demonstrate the experiences and mood of Junior at different moments.
The drawings also reveal that Arnold is maturing as time goes. For instance, the scribbled drawings and comics are suggestive that Arnold may be jolting down his thoughts. This could happen immediately revealing that he just got an idea and decided to put it down. However, there are many realistic images of cartoons such as the annotated portraits of his immediate family suggesting that he is giving more thought to whatever he is doing. At first, he just scribbled anything that came in his mind but in the portrait, there is much thought and concentration (Alexie 1). By the time he puts ideas on the paper, he has already developed them in his mind revealing a more mature thought. The pencil work reveals drawings that are more realistic and needing much time. They need concentration and focus on the subject being drawn. Such thoughts denote more maturity and ability to organize information in an orderly manner. He has spent enough time with those people especially the pencil sketches of his friends such as Penelope. Being able to produce the images clearly in a drawing shows that, he has changed and he has found some acceptance. He has matured enough to find ways of spending time with people he considers important emotionally. For instance, the portrait of Eugene who is on a motorbike suggests that he could not have enough physical contact with him since it is drawn from a photograph. The graphic nature of the book therefore reveals Arnolds life and his maturation journey through various challenges.
The main theme in the story is the theme of identity, which is portrayed by the struggles Arnold goes through. He does not find acceptance in reserves and he decides to leave for Reardan. The theme is supported by several subthemes such as theme of rejection, poverty, and education. Rejection is very clear in the story since Arnold finds it difficult to find acceptance in the reserves, school, as well as the village. He is bullied and ridiculed by his peers who feel that his condition makes him inferior (Alexie 4). Rejection is one factor that makes him to seek new life and identity in Reardan School where he becomes a talented basketball player. The Indian community also faces rejection by the whites since they do not want to associate with poor people from a different race. Poverty is another subtheme that helps to understand the theme of identity in the story. The Indians living in the reserves are poor and find it difficult to acquire basis needs. Arnolds father kills, the little dog since he could not afford to pay for veterinary services. Parents are unable to take their children in good schools like the white people. The impacts of poverty are loss of hope, alcoholism, deaths. My parents came from poor people the very first poor people (Alexie 46). For instance, Arnolds grandmother and sister die due to poverty that affects the entire community. However, he fights for better life inspiring the rest that things can change. The subtheme of education is clear and builds on the identity theme as portrayed by Arnold who travels over two miles to acquire quality education in a white school. Reardan High School is well equipped for quality learning, games courts, and computer labs. The place helps Junior to acquire a mixed identity, which allows him to associate with people of different races.
The author utilizes symbolism to convey various subthemes in the story. Reardan School symbolizes quality education due to its advance facilities such as computer and chemistry labs. Arnold comes to this school to acquire education and he excels showing that quality education can uplift individuals quality of life. Alcohol symbolizes poverty in the Indian reservation since they have become hopeless finding solace in the drink. Arnolds family is used symbolically for poverty that affects the entire community living in the Indian Reservations. Junior symbolizes a rejected society of Indians who are forced to live under deplorable conditions in reserved areas.
Alexie, S. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. New York, NY: Little.” Brown and Company (2007).
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