The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is written by Native American writer Sherman Alexie. This book of Native American literature is about the tough life of an Indian boy named Junior who is narrating his story. Here is the Summary of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian:
The narrator was born with water on the brain and he discusses his disease at the beginning of the book. The narrator name is Junior and he has many physical problems since childhood. While getting treatment for his teeth, he describes the unfair treat of White dentists. The dentist believes in the stereotyped and racist notion that Indians have a higher pain threshold, so he only gives him half the medicine to numb his mouth. According to junior, this unfairness comes under the category of scientific racism (p.7).
Apart from his many deformities and diseases, he also had a stutter and lisp and because of that everyone around him calls him a retard. Junior adopts the hobby of drawing and he draws cartoons of his family and his best friend and everyone that live around him. For him, people can understand drawings better than words. He wants to talk to the world and through his drawing, he thinks he can do it better. Drawings are his escape route from every problem.
He thinks” the world is a series of broken dams and floods, and his cartoons are tiny little lifeboats” The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (p.10)
Junior says that he can draw everything and he is pretty good at it but he wishes that his drawing would end his poverty. He wishes he could draw food and it becomes real.
He explains poverty as:
Poverty= empty refrigerator+ empty stomachThe Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
He further explains hunger is not the only thing that is worse about poverty, it is not to save your loved ones from disease and death. He sometimes hates his parents for being poor but he also knows that poverty was not their dream.
Junior tell us about his best friend Rowdy whose father is an alcoholic and beat him often. One notable problem on the Indian Reservation is abuse, which is often connected to the most widespread problem of alcoholism. Junior often alludes to these issues in his diary, especially when describing Rowdy’s father. Rather than viewing himself as a victim, Rowdy shrugs off the tragedy of his situation with cultural humour. He describes his bloody face as
“this is war paint and it just makes him look tougher”The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (p.17)
While taking revenge from Andruss brothers who beat Junior, Rowdy shaved off their eyebrows and cut off their braids and this is the worst thing you can do to an Indian guy. Junior states that Rowdy has protected him since birth.
While talking about the education system of Indians, Junior says that he is reading from his mother’s book that is at least 30 years old. He feels sad about the education system for Indians that could not get better with time and it is still the same. (p.29).
After hitting his teacher Mr P, Junior is expelled from school. However, they both solve their issues and talk about their problems. The old teacher takes his heart out that when he started teaching Indians, they used to beat them to kill the Indians that is inside them. Their mission was to kill Indians. They wanted them to give up their traditions, songs, stories, language and dancing. They wanted to kill Indian culture. (p.33)
Junior calls her sister Mary Run Away who is crazy and random. Mr P praises her and talks about how passionate she is about reading and writing. Junior is surprised to hear about his sister talent.
Junior asks his parents to change his school and they mention different schools name. They mention Hunters and Springdale (schools) where poor Indians and Poorer White kids get an education and it is the only place where White kids are poorer than Indians. However, junior wants to go to Reardan that is a rich white farm town.
Junior parents warn him about the other Indian anger because he is leaving the rez (the residence of Indians). The first of them was Rowdy, his best friend. He did not expect hate from him. They had a huge argument, beating and at the end part their ways.
After joining the new school, Junior meets Penelope and we come to know that his full name is Arnold Spirit Jr. Indians call him Junior and he feels like he has two different people inside him. He feels that Junior is living on the Northside of the Spokane River and Arnold is living on the South.
Junior often cries and he mentions whenever something happens, he cries. Junior feels he is weak so everyone picks on him and beats him. However Junior can be physically weaker than other boys but he is emotionally mature than Rowdy (his best friend) and other bullies. (p.68).
Junior fell in love with a girl named Panelope (a White girl). On Halloween, he dresses up as a homeless boy because he does not have any other option. He says to Panelope that he is representing homeless Native Americans and she gets impressed by his idea.
He realizes at school that he is intelligent than many white kids. Once he put forth a point during a lecture. However, the teacher does not like the idea of being interrupted by an Indian boy. The teacher dismisses his valid point and taunts his ethnicity. He uses his power to belittle Junior. He stresses the point that Junior belongs to the reserve and there is no way he can be intelligent or wiser than him (the White teacher).
Junior tells his best friend Rowdy that he is in love with a white girl. In his response to Junior, he says that Indian men and other men of colour see White women as the epitome of beauty. They consider light skin colour superior to dark complexion and media often justifies this. (p.101).
Junior family goes through some sorrowful events and he thinks that why his family has to go through these sorrows. While reading a play, he mentions the writer’s words that “What greater grief than the loss of one’s native land?” (p.145). He mentions that Indians have lost everything including their native land, languages, songs and dance and they only know how to lose and be lost.
With the progress in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Junior realizes the problems of the Indians and also the talent of his parents. He comes to know that it is just the circumstances that make their life miserable but they always dream about a good life. At the end of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Junior reconciles with his best friend Rowdy and they play match without counting the score.
Note: The book art is by Ellen Forney that is also used in the article.
Read More about Native American Literature:
Summary and Analysis of Ten Little Indians by Sherman Alexie
Summary and Analysis of Rolling Thunder by Doug Boyd