The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

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Travel Symbol Analysis

Travel Symbol Icon
In this coming-of-age novel, traveling is a symbol for growing up. Mary breaks out of her “frozen” state by moving to Montana to live in a mobile home. Penelope’s idea of adulthood and freedom involves a plan “to swim in every ocean … to climb Mount Everest … to go on an African safari … to ride a dogsled in Antarctica.” Gordy uses the language of travel to talk about life, saying books and comics can help to “navigate the river of the world.” And a cartoon inserted after Mr. P tells Junior to leave the reservation shows Junior standing by a road sign, beginning a journey from “Home” toward “Hope” and “???” Just as growing up means leaving the safe, known, comforting world of childhood, traveling means leaving home behind to explore unknown places. Thus, when Rowdy wishes Junior happiness in his nomadic travels, he means it literally, but also symbolically; Junior has passed out of the childhood they shared, and into a life of his own.

Travel Quotes in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

The The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian quotes below all refer to the symbol of Travel. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Identity, Belonging, and Coming-of-Age Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Little, Brown and Company edition of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian published in 2009.
Chapter 17 Quotes

Traveling between Reardan and Wellpinit, between the little white town and the reservation, I always felt like a stranger.
I was half Indian in one place and half white in the other.
It was like being Indian was my job, but it was only a part-time job. And it didn’t pay well at all.

Related Characters: Junior (Arnold Spirit, Jr.) (speaker)
Related Symbols: Travel
Page Number: 118
Explanation and Analysis:

Throughout Junior's time at Reardan, he feels caught between worlds. At school, he is expected to act like a white kid (and, as will become relevant soon, he is expected to have money like white kids do). At home, he is expected to act like an Indian. He feels like a stranger in both places because he doesn't feel that he embodies either identity completely.

It's interesting that he says being Indian is "like a job." This indicates that his Indian-ness is something he feels that he has to work to put on or perform for others, but he doesn't necessarily feel Indian when he is unobserved. A big part of Junior's growth in the story is about learning to negotiate this tension inside himself; he has to come to terms with the fact that he'll never be the "stereotypical" Indian or white kid, but that he can be himself and exist in both worlds without needing to conform to other people's expectations.

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Travel Symbol Timeline in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

The timeline below shows where the symbol Travel appears in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 15 - Hunger Pains
Identity, Belonging, and Coming-of-Age Theme Icon
Hope, Dreams, and Loss Theme Icon
...leave her hometown that she was “born with a suitcase” and that she wants to travel around the world to see “every single piece of everything.” He tells her it’s hard... (full context)