The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian | Study Guide

Sherman Alexie

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The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian | Chapter 1 : The Black-Eye-of-the-Month Club | Summary



Junior, a Spokane Indian teenager in Wellpinit, Washington, introduces himself by telling his birth story of having water on the brain, which is an excess cerebral spinal fluid. He survived a surgery at six months that was expected to kill him. He emerged with several physical problems, such as 10 extra teeth. Since the Indian Health Service only funds dental surgery once a year, Junior had all 10 teeth pulled in a day, without enough painkillers.

Junior also wears thick Indian Health Service-provided glasses. Besides having lopsided vision, a skinny body, and a large skull, Junior stutters, lisps, and has frequent seizures at age 14. He's mocked by everyone "on the rez" and beat up at least once a month; this is why he considers himself a member of the Black-Eye-of-the-Month Club.

To avoid others Junior stays inside frequently, reads, and draws cartoons. He shares a drawing of himself shaking and lisping. Junior draws everyone he knows; he thinks everyone, regardless of language, can understand a picture. When Junior draws, he feels he can talk to the world and be heard. He's also hoping to become an artist—he sees art as his only chance to escape the reservation.


Junior starts from the beginning of his life, introducing himself in the casual but significant manner of other first-person narrators of a bildungsroman—a coming-of-age story. He also introduces a trend of switching between formal and informal vocabularies. Spinal fluid is a fancy word for "brain grease." He continues this trend throughout the book, translating for the reader. He's aware vocabulary marks class and place in society and also acts as a cultural signifier saying, "Water on the brain," for instance, is "serious and poetic and accurate."

The theme of his confusion about selfhood—not knowing who or what he is, or who he is supposed to be—begins with the "ten teeth past human" remark. His doctor sees him as less than human, too. The idea that people of color feel less pain than white people is a longstanding stereotype, since Native Americans have had to suffer more, they must not feel as much pain. Junior will debunk this stereotype repeatedly.

Junior likes to exaggerate for comic effect. The visuals of his skinny body and enormous head place him as an outsider immediately, before he's made the crucial decision that severs his connection to the community. He doesn't have as much faith in language as he has in drawings. This is in part due to the code-switching, or navigating between two different cultures, he's had to do his whole life. Culture influences language, although Junior and his tribe speak English. Junior—and Alexie—are aware of the colonial influence of English. Art, a universal language, doesn't have such a history.

Junior draws to break down communication barriers. He also draws to explain the world to himself. He knows "rich and famous brown people" find the easiest route to fame through the arts and entertainment, another kind of service to others, including white people. And he hints for the first time, before the reservation and its cast are even introduced, at the desire to leave home. Though words carry the bulk of the story, the drawings throughout are more lighthearted, darkly humorous, and concise than the words. For instance, Junior's "Love me!" drawing in this chapter immediately paints the portrait of an outcast, but a curious kid.

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