The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is one of the best novels I have ever read. It’s written by Sherman Alexie who wrote this novel based on his own experience. The novel is told in first person by the most important character, Arnold Jr. The other important characters who have influenced Arnold in the novel are Arnold’s parents, sister, grandmother, Rowdy, Gordy, Penelope, Eugene, and Mr. P. Each of these characters influences Arnold and teaches him a new thing in life.
The main character, Arnold, who is usually called Junior, is a Native American teenager who lives on the Spokane Indian Reservation. He is born with an excess cerebral spinal fluid in his skull, which causes him many physical problems after his surgery. Some of the physical problems that he has got are his over-sized head, his big feet and hands; he has 42 teeth, has poor eyesight, experiences seizures, and he lisps. His physical challenges bring him new challenges during his life. He is mistreated by people who live on his reservation because of his physical problems, and also mistreated by whites because of these physical problems, and because he is Indian.
Not only does Arnold suffer from physical problems and racism, but also he suffers from poverty. Actually, all of the Indians who live on the reservation are so poor that sometimes they eat one meal a day and some other days they eat nothing. However, the worst part about their poverty is that Arnold’s dad suffers from alcoholism and he spends most of their money that they barely get on alcohol. One day Arnold’s father shoots his best friend, his dog Oscar, as he suffers from intense heat exhaustion and they have no money to pay the veteranian for Oscar’s treatment. This was Arnold’s first loss.
Being poor, mistreated, suffering from racism, having an alcoholic father are challenges that became like a routine for Arnold. Unfortunately, every problem branches into new problems for Arnold. When Arnold went to high school in the reservation he was very excited about his geometry class. When Mr. P, his teacher passed out the geometry books and Arnold opened up his book, he discovered that this book belonged to his mother and it was 30 years older than Arnold himself. Arnold was very angry and shocked that his reservation is so poor that they can’t afford new textbooks for their high school. Because of his enthusiasm that has been crushed and the shock of how poor his reservation is, he smashed Mr. P in the face by throwing his book at him. As a result, Arnold got suspended from the school for while.
What happened that day is actually a good thing for Arnold. After he got suspended, Mr. P walked up their driveway with a bandage on his face and sat with Arnold. Arnolds thought that Mr. P hated him a lot and he wanted him to apologize, ironically, Mr. P was very peaceful. Instead of punching Arnold in the face, he talked to him about Arnold’s sister’s passion of writing romantic novels, which Arnold never knew before. “You have been fighting since you were born, you fought off that brain surgery. You fought off those seizures. You fought off all the drunks and drug addicts. You kept your hope. And now, you have to take your hope and go somewhere where other people have hope” (43) Mr. P says to Arnold. He wanted Arnold to leave the reservation to have a better education and future.
As soon as Arnold got home he told his parents that he wanted to go to Reardan, a rich white farm town that is 22 miles away from the reservation. His parents did not approve, but they agreed after his insistence. When Arnold told Rowdy, his best friend whom he grew up with, spent more time with than with his own family and who has always protected him, about transferring to Reardan he got very angry and upset. Rowdy did not want Arnold to leave and his reaction was very mean; he punched Arnold until his nose bled. This was Arnold’s second loss, his best friend has became his worst enemy.
When Arnold transferred to Reardan, he was mistreated by white students and got in fights and much trouble. After awhile, he made some nice white friends though. One of his new friends was Penelope, whom he fell in love with. He also got to know Roger who became his friend after their fight. Gordy, a very smart kid who influenced Arnold about reading also became his friend. Some days, Arnold walked 22 miles from the reservation to Reardan because his dad could not drop him off and pick him up daily as the car was always out of gas. Some days, Eugene, Arnold father’s best friend who had a bike used to drop him off and pick him up.
During this period, Arnold lost many close people in his life, in addition to his friends Oscar and Rowdy. His sister ran away to Montana with her husband without informing her family. “My grandmother’s greatest gift was tolerance”(155) Arnold says. Tolerance is the most important thing that he learned from his grandmother who died being hit by a drunk driver. Eugene was killed by his friend unintentionally because they were both drunk. Later, his sister Mary died in a fire trailer with her husband in Montana. That was really too much for a kid to handle.
Everyone has his own way to express themselves; some people express themselves by singing, others by writing, Arnold expresses himself by drawing cartoons. He was a very good cartoonist. “I draw because words are too unpredictable. I draw because words are too limited” (5) Arnold says. So many people fail to find a way to express themselves which causes them anxiety and depression; however, Arnold is good enough, talented, and smart enough to find a way to express himself. This is the thing that I share the most with Arnold. When I was depressed about my cousin’s death, and I didn’t feel I wanted to talk to anyone, drawing always made feel better than talking to people.
In spite of all of the tragedies that happened in Arnold’s life, he got very good grades in his school; he didn’t lose his ground. He was able to keep his hope. When Arnold asked his parents, “Who has the most hope”(45) before telling them that he wanted to transfer to Reardan, “White people” (45) they answered. However, it is not about “Who” has the most hope or “Where” is hope, actually, hope exists in every human’s soul by nature. It is our job either to keep this hope up and do our best to create a better life instead of staying there doing nothing but watching our hope fade away. Arnold had this hope deep down inside his heart, and he always kept it up. He explained his sister escape, “She went searching for her dreams, and she didn’t find them, but she made an attempt” (216). I admire this determination and hope that these kids have.
This novel didn’t only influence my hope and determination, but also gave me the chance to know about Native Americans who live on the reservations. I didn’t know about how poor they are; how racist people are towards them and how unified as a community they are. Besides these informative lessons, I learned from Arnold about tolerance, forgiveness, perseverance, and more. I learned how to be patient, how to be positive; how to be a hard worker and how to face challenges.
The novel has an open ending: Is Arnold going to have more difficulties in his life? Is he going to stay as strong in his future? I think as long as he keeps his hope, he will be able to.I always believed that everything in this world has an end; however, every end is a new beginning. It’s all about realizing how strong you are to overcome challenges. Ask yourself, what are your challenges? Identify them. Work on overcoming them. Where there is a will, there is a way.
Alexie, Sherman. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. New York, Boston: Little Brown And Company, 2007. Print.