The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

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The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian Themes

Themes and Colors
Identity, Belonging, and Coming-of-Age Theme Icon
Overlapping Opposites Theme Icon
Racism, Poverty, and Alcoholism Theme Icon
Confessions, Revenge, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Hope, Dreams, and Loss Theme Icon
Drawing, Writing, and Junior’s Cartoons Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Junior is hyper-conscious of his place within any social group. In addition to his awareness of what it means to be white versus what it means to be Indian, he worries about how to be a man (when men can cry, when boys have to stop holding hands with their friends) and how to fit in as a “freak” who is bullied by his peers and even by some adults. Beginning his story “I was…

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Junior often sees himself and his world in terms of strict dichotomies: white versus Indian, friends versus enemies, rich versus poor. In his double life in Reardan and on the reservation, he feels “like a magician slicing himself in half, with Junior living on the north side of the river and Arnold living on the south.” Yet just as his true identity includes both Junior and Arnold, the divided extremes he describes often turn out…

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“I’m fourteen years old and I’ve been to forty-two funerals,” says Junior after losing three loved ones in alcohol-related accidents. “That’s really the biggest difference between Indians and white people.” For Junior, to be Indian and to live on the reservation means dealing not only with overt racism—going to a dentist who believes Indians only need half as much novocaine as white people do, or facing racist insults from his white classmates in Reardan—but also…

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Confessions, revenge, and forgiveness are central to the plot of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Junior decides to transfer to the school in Reardan because of a conversation with Mr. P., a white teacher whose nose he has broken by throwing a textbook across the room. Mr. P. forgives Junior for breaking his nose, but asks for forgiveness in return: he has been part of a system that forced Indians to…

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It may seem contradictory to include hope, dreams, and loss in the same category, but in fact, in Junior’s experience, they’re very closely connected. At the beginning of the novel, Junior understands dreams and hopes primarily as lost opportunities: his mother and father, for example, “dreamed about being something other than poor, but they never got the chance to be anything because nobody paid attention to their dreams.” The same thing is true for his…

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One unique aspect of Absolutely True Diary is the way that images are incorporated into the text. Junior is an aspiring cartoonist who uses his drawings to tell his story, and the cartoons work throughout the novel in several different and important ways. Sometimes they are integrated seamlessly with the written narrative, providing dialogue or visual information that isn’t shown elsewhere; for instance, the moment when Junior throws his geometry book and breaks Mr. P.’s

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