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 | Symbols


Art and Books

The art in the book tells a parallel story. Ellen Forney's illustrations provide a textual counterpoint that's sharp and often comical, proving Junior's point that a picture is universal. Junior himself wants to be a cartoonist with a wide audience. Art's power to transform and be a tool of survival resounds throughout the book.

Gordy adds that, "Every book is a mystery." Junior knows he can escape into new worlds and learn more about the world he lives in through reading. The literary quotations throughout the novel have different applications to Junior's life. His sister sees her own life as an exciting story in a book, and the sense of adventure and plot help both siblings view their lives as important.

The form of the novel itself emphasizes that while Junior thinks he's nothing, a zero, he's really much more. He's the protagonist in a story that matters.


Sports, basketball in particular, teach Junior as much about conflict and resolution and about himself and others, as his classroom experiences do. Basketball is one of the only entertainments his father allows himself, and it's popular on the reservation.

Yet, more significantly, Junior and others channel energy into sports both as a substitute to and an extension of violence. In this way, the sporting field becomes the modern-day equivalent of the traditional battlefield—a space where players exhibit aggression and skill for both individual and national or tribal glory. Junior reflects on the self-confidence he gains through athletics,

I'd always been the lowest Indian on the reservation totem pole - I wasn't expected to be good so I wasn't. But in Reardan, my coach and the other players wanted me to be good. They needed me to be good. They expected me to be good. And so I became good.


"All Indian families are unhappy for the same reason," Junior says—because of alcohol. Alcohol represents a destructive force in the lives of Native Americans. Drinking dominates celebratory social events in Wellpinit, both bringing people together and increasing their aggression. Junior's father drinks to dull his pain. Alcohol is even used as a balm to soothe alcohol-related deaths, a cruel situational irony that makes Junior realize he needs to break the cycle. He realizes why Native Americans drink, even as he understands how drinking is killing them.

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