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Course Hero. "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian Study Guide." December 12, 2016. Accessed January 21, 2019.


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The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian | Discussion Questions 1 - 10


What does being a warrior mean to Junior and other men in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, and how does its importance cross cultural barriers?

Being a warrior means proving physical strength and competence, which Junior does in his basketball tryouts and games. A warrior also defends others at possible personal cost. When Gordy stands up for Junior in social studies class, risking discipline from the teacher, Junior calls him a warrior. According to Junior, a warrior also shows control over emotions. Some men, like Eugene, think Junior shows the strength of a warrior by doing something scary and risky, like going to a white school. Ultimately, being a warrior means proving manhood. Junior describes himself and his fellow basketball players as warriors in that they are, "boys desperate to be men." The expectation for boys to transition into men by mastering their emotional and physical strength is present in white society as well, though the comparison to becoming a warrior is more implied than spoken. To act like a man often means downplaying sensitivities, but Junior is an example of how more men come to terms with their softer sides.

What is the significance of Junior's two names, Junior and Arnold, in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian?

The two names represent the two selves Junior struggles with as he attends Reardan. Arnold Spirit Jr. is his given name, the name he uses at Reardan, his white name, and the one accepted by authorities. Junior, a common Native American nickname, is the name every other person on the reservation calls him. Junior's confusion over which name to use at school exemplifies his confusion over who he is and who he can choose to be. Going by Arnold shows he's trying on a new identity. Names are a key aspect of selfhood, and Junior decides to change the name he goes by since he also wants to change his life. When the Native American audience chants his Reardan name, Arnold, in the basketball game, he knows they're mocking his school identity, his "white" self.

How does Mary's desire to write romance novels in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian challenge traditional ideas of careers for working-class Native Americans?

Junior thinks Mary would have been "a hero around here" for writing books on the reservation, implying few Native Americans have the choice or desire to pursue a creative career. Mary, however, hides her ambitions from her family. She and Junior both know big, impractical dreams, such as making a living writing romance novels, take hope and a willingness to fail. Mary's parents' goal is for her to get a part-time job at a post office—stability without huge risk. Working-class Native Americans, who struggle to put food on the table, often make family and money their priority. Mary is making art a priority. Junior realizes he can do the same.

How are Junior's experiences at Wellpinit and Reardan High Schools representative of the real world in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian?

The contrast between both fictional high schools is representative of how socioeconomic status plays out in school districts across America. Disadvantaged students get by with less and their education suffers for it, while advantaged students receive more opportunity and choice due to better funding. Wellpinit High School is poorly run with few supplies. Most students lack ambition and drive. Adult Native Americans aren't given much more to work with since they live on reservations that were meant to be death camps, and they turn to alcohol in the absence of hope. When Junior receives his mother's geometry textbook, he realizes school is a preview of life; the world's leaving behind Native Americans, declaring "nuclear war" on them. Reardan High School shows many of the power structures Junior will face in the adult world. Popular, high-achieving kids are at the top of the pack, money buys status, and racism goes unchallenged. Based on the prejudice his family has faced driving through Reardan, and the behavior of Reardan adults like Penelope's father Earl, Junior can tell the white world will give him the same challenges Reardan does.

Throughout The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, how and why does Junior use sarcasm to cope with trauma and pain?

Junior's sarcastic and dry sense of humor gives him an authorial distance from his troubles, even though he feels grief deeply. His description of Ted at Grandmother's funeral, for instance, shows that through mocking the falsely sympathetic rich man when he writes, "Even billionaires have DARK NIGHTS OF THE SOUL," Junior can take back power. Sarcasm also helps Junior see the situational irony in his friends walking out of social studies class without him, though he was the reason for their protest. Seeing a darkly comic side of things has helped Junior's people survive; for example, Dad's Thanksgiving joke that they should be thankful the whites didn't kill all the Native Americans.

How do the different styles of illustration in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian reveal the nature of Junior's thoughts?

The text uses three main types of illustration. The smaller sketches, usually a quick joke or a passing thought, reveal Junior's surface thinking in that they are light, comical, and witty. The sketches in darker ink, with detailed captions, are either of people in Junior's life, such as his family and favorite teachers, or five-paneled cartoons illustrating important aspects of his life, like his poverty or journeys to school. These represent concepts into which Junior has put more thought and care. The lightly penciled portraits are of people close to Junior, whom he wants to illustrate respectfully, like Rowdy, Gordy, and Penelope. Junior draws cartoons to honor his friends and family, and he takes time with their representation.

In The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian how does laughter become an expression of grief?

Native Americans know, "Laughter and tears are pretty much the same thing" when it comes to grief since both entail spontaneous, loud expressions of emotion when things happen outside of their control. Since Native Americans have lost control over their land and their people, they're used to misfortune and can greet it with laughter as well as tears. The crowd at Grandmother's funeral laughs over the absurdity of Ted's tribute, a laugh started by Mom, whose grief is most acute. The bond of laughter shows Mom the community will be there for her in whatever way they can. Junior also laughs out of relief his father is still alive after Mary dies. This laughter is more motivated by shock, but it still lets him release his tumultuous emotions of fear, grief, and guilt.

How does Junior's journey in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian mirror the journey of the epic hero?

Junior's beginnings are humble in that he's born into poverty. He also has several unusual features that at first don't seem to mark him for heroism, but single him out for bullying. Like a hero, though, he stands out from the pack. He notes his eccentricities would have been celebrated by older tribes of Native Americans; his brain, smart but damaged, is "beautiful and sacred and magical." Junior leaves his home to go on a journey where he faces dangers. The journey aspect is emphasized by his efforts to get to school, even walking 22 miles. He also goes through trials to prove his strength, most notably in playing basketball. After a victory he returns home to find a great deal has changed.

What advantages to being an ethnic minority does The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian portray, and what does Junior appreciate about his culture?

Despite the poverty he lives in, Junior has the advantage of not only belonging to a strong nuclear family, but also belonging to an entire reservation of people who are like family. "Indian families stick together," he says. This is in contrast to his observations of how many of the families of the white students at Reardan are often ignored by their parents. The support of his parents allows Junior to take on new adventures and to achieve his goals. Junior enjoys watching the powwow dancers and admires the respect Indians of different tribes have for his grandmother. He notes traditional Native American culture's respect for difference in that, "Weird people were often celebrated." Indians know how to celebrate with the dead, too, ensuring dead family members aren't forgotten. Toward the end of the novel, Junior appreciates the physical and natural beauty of the reservation.

How is The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian a bildungsroman, or a coming-of-age narrative?

Junior's transition into high school marks a change from childhood to young adulthood. So does his choice to leave the reservation on his own. He's making decisions independent of his family, friends, and past—though as the novel progresses, he'll see his childhood influences are always with him. Some of his oldest relationships, like his relationship with Rowdy, change forever. Junior has sexual awakenings in his relationship with Penelope and in his observation of other women in the novel. He notices the boys on his basketball team all want to become men, and the basketball games are trials of their own. Junior's change and growth, from feeling like the biggest loser on the reservation to being determined to never to give up, mark the novel's biggest shift. He discovers, for the first time, that he is a member of many tribes.

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