The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie is an amazingly well written work of fiction. It is a novel that tells a tale of great tragedy, heartbreak, but also one of joy and triumph. The book speaks about the experiences of racism, prejudices towards other people, and living in poverty. The characters feel like people that could exist in real life. We are able to sympathize with the main character Arnold Spirit Junior because of the emotions that the story draws out of the reader. Finally, Sherman Alexie is able to add dimensionality to the novel by using wit, humor, satire, and mimicking the style of how Arnold would write in a diary. This is accompanied by powerful drawings and sketches that reflect the feelings and mindset of Arnold. This makes the story feel more authentic.
The book illustrates the themes of tragedy, heartbreak, joy, triumph, racism, and prejudice. This is seen through the eyes of the main character Arnold Spirit Junior. He is a Native American boy who was born hydrocephalic or "with water on the brain" and therefore is prone to seizures. As a result of this, he has to be very careful in how he lives his life. Despite this fact, he is able to live a relatively normal life on a Native American reservation in Wellpinit in Spokane, Washington. He decides to go to school in Reardon because he wants to make something of himself. He suffers great hardship and tragedy during his freshman year in high school at Reardon. His father is an alcoholic and cannot always be relied upon for support. He lives with his family and they have barely enough to live on from day to day. Both his older sister Mary and his grandmother pass away not long after each other. The two women were extremely close to him and he has trouble accepting their deaths. They were his confidants and people that allowed Arnold to be himself when he was around them, giving him advice, and loving him for who he was. This feeling of tragedy and heartbreak shows the novel's ability to make the reader feel more connected to the plight of Arnold and his suffering. It makes us feel like we are there with him.
While Arnold goes through difficult times, he also experiences happiness and triumph as well. During his time in high school in Wellpinit, he falls in love with a beautiful white girl named Penelope. She cares about him as a person and inspires him with her dreams to travel around the world. She gives Arnold hope in a world he feels has very little for a Native American boy like him. Despite being a somewhat awkward person, he is able to excel in the school's basketball team, showing that his condition does not prevent him from excelling, despite what others have said. He also becomes great friends with a really smart guy named Gordy who helps him study and do better in school. He even becomes friends with Roger, a guy who used to bully him until he stood up to him. Arnold defies everyone that says he cannot strive to be more in life and exceeds their expectations.
The novel also addresses themes of racism, prejudice, and poverty in several ways. Penelope's father is a mean man and strongly disapproves of their relationship. He thinks that Arnold is a good for nothing because he is Native American and will amount to nothing in his life. Arnold has grown up on the Native American reservation in Spokane and has seen first hand his people's suffering from chronic alcoholism, and abandonment by society. When he left to go to high school in Reardon, he is seen as a traitor by his people for leaving the reservation and going in the world of the white people. This is the case because the Native Americans on the reservation feel that they have been marginalized and taken advantage of by society for so long. A riot nearly occurs during one of the basketball games that Arnold plays in and he gets injured by something thrown to the court by one of the Native American spectators. Tensions are still high and it shows that racism is still around today in a suppressed form, only bubbling to the surface in confrontations between nationalities.
Poverty is shown prevalently throughout the novel through how Arnold lives on a day to day basis. His parents sacrifice and do everything they can to allow him to go to school in Reardon. He even has to hitchhike at times to get to school and back home because his parents do not always have money for gas. His experiences strengthen his character because they make him more independent and needing to rely on less in life to succeed. He lives without the luxuries that many people take for granted like I Pods and going on school field trips.
Sherman Alexie is able to spin his tale of teenage youthfulness and spirit by mixing humor, wit, and satire with the enlightening perspective of a teenage boy. The diary entries are poignant and to the point, telling things like they are instead of sugar coating them. The author uses satire and humor in the form of Arnold being self-depreciating about himself. He makes fun of himself, but does so in a way that criticizes society's view of him. Society is classifying him as a cripple and being unable to achieve anything. Arnold however defies the odds and is very successful in school and his social life. Alexie expresses his own personal experiences in the form of the character Arnold Spirit. Arnold is a symbol of Alexie's childhood growing up and living between two different worlds. One world is of poverty and sadness, and the other is one of a happy future. The struggle is great and the need to succeed is even more difficult because people's expectations are low and the economic hardships are enormous. Arnold Spirit is despite all this, able to live a normal life and able to change the opinions of people that would normally look at his people with distain. His story is one of upheaval, but also one of great joy and triumph that everyone should enjoy. Sherman Alexie has written an amazing literary masterpiece that appeals to not just teenagers, but to everyone. This novel is a must read.