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 22 : Red Versus White | Summary



Junior tells the reader he hasn't "fallen in love with white people" as they might think—he still admires Native Americans. His sister, for instance, is working hard on her book: a book about hope. His parents have their faults, but they sacrifice for him and listen to him. Junior has learned a parent who ignores their children is the worst kind. Many of Junior's Reardan classmates, for instance, have fathers with whom they rarely interact. In Junior's Wellpinit community, not only are the parents closer to their children, but everyone knows everyone else. In Reardan, a small community itself, people can be strangers to each other. And plenty of Reardan kids and adults still think Junior doesn't belong at the school.

Comparing Reardan and Wellpinit, Junior thinks the best thing about Wellpinit was his grandmother. He praises her tolerance. Native Americans used to celebrate difference—epileptics and gay people, for instance, were revered community members. Though the spread of Christianity and colonialism has made Native Americans more judgmental, Junior's grandmother kept "that old-time Indian spirit." For instance, she'd talk to homeless people on the street and even to the invisible people the homeless imagined. She was the only one on the reservation who fully supported Junior going to Reardan. Grandmother's open mind and heart made her a beloved Native American community member.

Grandmother was on her way home from a powwow when she was hit by a drunk driver and killed. In the hospital before she died, she asked her family to forgive the driver who killed her. The driver was a fellow Spokane Indian, an alcoholic. Dad respects Grandmother's wishes and doesn't hurt the driver, even when he gets out of prison. Junior is devastated by the injustice of Grandmother's death since she was one of the few Native Americans on the reservation who stayed sober to experience the world more fully.


The title of this chapter, "Red Versus White," clues the reader in that Junior is going to take stock of his situation. And yes, he still thinks the white kids have it better. But he's also beginning to realize how good he has it.

As a cultural outsider in Reardan, Junior notices the adults' tendency to "[hide] in plain sight." His own father continues to break Junior's heart, but he's present, and he tries. He also notices the lingering presence of racism, and in its wake, the need for tolerance. The fact that he uses past tense about his grandmother tips the reader off that she's recently dead.

He addresses colonialism and its effect on the Native American community more directly than he has up to this point. The assertion "weird people were often celebrated" recalls Gordy's point that weird people are still banished from modern-day tribes. There's something special and unique about being Native American, an open-minded worldview epitomized in Junior's grandmother. He looks to her as an example of what a Native American should be.

The way Grandmother approached life—with the benefit of the doubt, with a sense of adventure, and with joy—mirrors the way Gordy told Junior he should approach books—curiously and seriously. Grandmother even takes the invisible people seriously; she knows the world is full of things she can't know for sure. She wanted to experience it with all of her senses. Junior hopes to discover new worlds, like Grandmother, through his studies.

He's also acutely aware of the role family will continue to play in his life. His parents are "five years old" in the presence of their own parents, and Junior knows he'll be the same way when he gets older. Family bonds don't break.

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