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 8 : How to Fight Monsters | Summary



Junior's dad drives him to his first day at Reardan. Junior's terrified, but his dad admires his courage and reminds him white people aren't better than he is. As the other Reardan students file in, Junior feels them staring. He still has the black eye Rowdy gave him. He's the only Native American there besides the stereotyped school mascot. Junior's cartoon shows a student who is half white and half Native American. The white half is dressed in designer clothes, looking forward to a bright future; the Native American half wears cheap clothes and has a "vanishing past."

Feeling worthless, Junior considers walking away. Instead, he goes to his first class. A gorgeous blonde girl named Penelope catches his attention, but she laughs when he tells her his name is Junior—a common name on reservations. When Junior's teacher calls him by his given name, Arnold Spirit, he's caught off guard. He tells the teacher his name is both Junior and Arnold, feeling like "two different people inside of one body."

His accent and lisp make him self-conscious, and he doesn't speak for six days. On the seventh day Junior gets into a fistfight. He's used to the Spokane Indian Rules of Fisticuffs, which require fighting anyone who insults you or your family. Though Junior has lived by these unwritten rules, he's a terrible fighter. Kids at Reardan don't punch him—they fear him because he's Native American and "a potential killer." Instead, they call him racist names.

Scared of their strength, Junior doesn't challenge them until the seventh day. A large football player named Roger tells Junior the most racist joke he's heard in his life. When Roger and his friends laugh, Junior knows he has to defend himself and his people, so he punches Roger. Instead of fighting back, Roger stands still, stunned and offended. Junior says they'll finish the fight after school. Roger calls him crazy and walks away. Bewildered, Junior asks Roger what the rules are. As Roger leaves without answering, Junior's left feeling like he's stranded on an alien planet.


Are the white people really better than Junior? Is he a loser in a world built for winners? Does he really not deserve to be at Reardan simply because he is Native American? His language is hyperbolic (overstated) and deeply honest—whether or not that's the truth, it's the way he feels, and it's the world presented to him. He'll strive throughout the book to be a warrior—both a nod to his Native American heritage and a reference to the inner strength he develops to face obstacles.

The "translucent" whiteness of the students exaggerates the difference between the two races. The Reardan mascot is a twist of situational irony; Native Americans in war paint and headdresses are often used as school and sports team mascots in racist representations. The white world has preconceived notions about who Junior is and how he'll act. Maybe, he thinks, he should prove them right and go live in the woods.

Then there's the problem of his names. He has a Native American name—Junior—and a white name—Arnold. Already, he's become two people. Penelope's joke that he "can't figure out his own name" isn't far off. Names are a crucial part of identity, and identity is what Junior's struggling with. He wants some aspects of whiteness: the positive role models, the hope of attending college. But he wants to keep his Native American heritage, too.

And he wants to know the rules of engagement in this new world, which doesn't seem to have any. Junior's accustomed to violence, but the violence isn't random. It's regulated, prioritizing the defense of family, history, masculinity, and culture (picking fights with white people and Bureau of Indian Affairs workers' kids, for instance, is defense of culture).

At Reardan, verbal violence is the weapon of choice. When Junior responds to verbal attacks with a physical one, Roger calls him an animal—another reference to Junior as less than human. Junior himself sees the white boys as monsters—not human, but more threatening. Roger and Junior will both learn to see past their initial prejudices and learn the truths about each other.

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