Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.
Brief Biography of Sherman Alexie
Like the character of Junior in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Sherman Alexie grew up in the town of Wellpinit on the Spokane Indian Reservation in eastern Washington. He was born hydrocephalic and suffered from seizures as a child, leading him to spend most of his time reading. When he was in eighth grade, he decided to attend high school in the nearby town of Reardan and played on the basketball team there; The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian fictionalizes some of his experiences during this time. After trying out pre-med and pre-law studies at Gonzaga University, Alexie transferred in 1987 to Washington State University, where he began to write and study literature. His first collection of short stories and poetry was published in 1992; since then, he has published more than fifteen books and received numerous awards. He lives in Seattle, Washington, with his wife and two sons.
Historical Context of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
Although Junior’s story takes place in the present day, his experiences—particularly the hardships of life on the reservation—are very much informed by the historical oppression of Native Americans in the United States, and Junior and other characters make a few specific references to historical events. The slogan Mr. P recalls from his early teaching days, “kill the Indian to save the child,” was coined by Colonel Richard Pratt, who in 1879 established the first of many boarding schools for American Indian children that practiced the educational philosophy—including corporal punishment and harsh prohibitions on expressions of Indian culture—that Mr. P describes. Beginning in the late 19th century, thousands of children were taken from their families to attend these schools on and off the reservation, with enrollment reaching a peak in the 1970s before ongoing complaints and investigations into the schools led Congress to pass the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act of 1975 and to many of these schools closing. Late in the novel, Junior also refers to the fact that reservations were first established as prisons: beginning with the Indian Removal Act of 1830, the U.S. federal government systematically forced tribes off their ancestral lands into designated areas, with many reservations established by executive order throughout the 1850s and 1860s.
Other Books Related to The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian’s
coming-of-age themes and gritty realism, as well as its diary conceit and autobiographical qualities, make it similar to Jim Carroll’s 1978 memoir The Basketball Diaries
, which Alexie lists among his most important influences. (He received a copy of the book as a gift from his father when he was 15, and now considers it one of the reasons he began to write.) As a modern coming-of-age novel with a distinctive first-person narrative voice, Absolutely True Diary
can also be compared to The Catcher in the Rye
, although Holden Caulfield’s privileged background provides a stark contrast to Junior’s impoverished one.
Key Facts about The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
Full Title: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
When Written: 2005-2006
Where Written: Seattle, Washington
When Published: 2007
Literary Period: Contemporary Fiction
Genre: Coming-of-Age Novel, Semi-Autobiographical Novel
Setting: Wellpinit, Spokane Indian Reservation, Washington, and Reardan, Washington, in 2006
Climax: When Reardan defeats Wellpinit (or Junior defeats Rowdy) in basketball
Antagonist: Rowdy, Angry Tribal Members, Racism, Alcoholism, and Poverty
Point of View: First Person (Junior is the narrator)
Extra Credit for The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian