The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

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Confessions, Revenge, and Forgiveness Theme Analysis

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.
Confessions, Revenge, and Forgiveness Theme Icon

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 give up, and he sees encouraging Junior to free himself as a kind of atonement. Later, Junior’s grandmother, in her dying words, asks her family to forgive the drunk driver who killed her. Her belief in tolerance, love, and forgiveness is presented as her “greatest gift” and a direct contrast to racist hatred; according to Junior, tolerance is a trait that Indians lost as a result of oppression by whites. Not all confessions deserve to be met with forgiveness, however: at Junior’s grandmother’s funeral, a white billionaire named Ted makes a “confession” that the Indians meet with ridicule. His theatrical—and patronizing—attempt to “return” a powwow outfit that was clearly made by another tribe reveals his own fetishism and cultural insensitivity much more than any real attempt to make reparations.

Most importantly, one of the main conflicts in the novel is Junior’s search for forgiveness from his best friend Rowdy, who feels betrayed by Junior’s decision to leave the reservation and hates him as a result. Although each boy tries to get revenge on the other—Rowdy gives Junior a concussion during a basketball game, and Junior humiliates him at their next game in retaliation—their friendship is finally restored when they play together without keeping score, metaphorically supporting and forgiving each other without trying to keep track of wrongs. Junior’s “absolutely true diary” can be read as his own confession, which closes with his hopes and prayers that Rowdy, his family, and his tribe “would someday forgive me for leaving them … that I would someday forgive myself for leaving them.”

Confessions, Revenge, and Forgiveness ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Confessions, Revenge, and Forgiveness appears in each chapter of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Confessions, Revenge, and Forgiveness Quotes in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Below you will find the important quotes in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian related to the theme of Confessions, Revenge, and Forgiveness.
Chapter 25 Quotes

We had defeated the enemy! We had defeated the champions! We were David who’d thrown a stone into the brain of Goliath!
And then I realized something.
I realized that my team, the Reardan Indians, was Goliath.

Related Characters: Junior (Arnold Spirit, Jr.) (speaker)
Related Symbols: Basketball
Page Number: 195
Explanation and Analysis:

Throughout the book, Junior has taken refuge in basketball as an area in which he can excel despite his being Indian. He views basketball as transcending race and class, and therefore being a fairer mode of competition than, say, classroom performance. Because of this, Junior has felt justified in wanting to crush the Wellpinit team (though of course he also wants to win because Rowdy, who has hurt him, is the best player on the other team), and he thought that achieving this goal would make him feel unambiguously good.

However, once he has done it he realizes that his team does still have unfair advantages over Wellpinit. The people on the Reardan team have stable families, nice things, and general security in the present and in their futures. The Indian players who do not have those luxuries don't leave their problems off the court; how could it not affect their playing if they are grieving a loved one or if they're hungry, for example? This is a humbling realization for Junior, because it is a moment in which he realizes that he has to be careful with the advantages he has been given and he has to prioritize empathy and kindness. Otherwise, he might become one of the people who are making Indian lives harder, and he can't bear to do that.  


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Chapter 29 Quotes

“You’re an old-time nomad,” Rowdy said. “You’re going to keep moving all over the world in search of food and water and grazing land. That’s pretty cool.”

Related Characters: Rowdy (speaker), Junior (Arnold Spirit, Jr.)
Page Number: 230
Explanation and Analysis:

In this moment, Junior and Rowdy have finally made up. Rowdy has come to terms with Junior's decision to leave the rez, and Junior has accepted that Rowdy is not choosing the same path. Over a game of basketball, the two of them settle into a new dynamic in their friendship in which they can enjoy each other's company without being possessive or co-dependent. Their personalities can evolve independently, in other words, which shows that they've both grown up tremendously.

In this passage, Rowdy is offering Junior a kind observation, that Junior's choices remind him of nomadic Indians of pre-reservation times. Throughout the book, Junior has had a hard time reconciling his choices with his community. His need to leave the rez has made him feel not Indian enough, but Rowdy has now given him a way to think about his choices that connects him deeply to Indian history. This is the ultimate form of acceptance that Rowdy could give Junior.

I would always love Rowdy. And I would always miss him, too. Just as I would always love and miss my grandmother, my big sister, and Eugene.
Just as I would always love and miss my reservation and my tribe.
I hoped and prayed that they would someday forgive me for leaving them.
I hoped and prayed that I would someday forgive myself for leaving them.

Related Characters: Junior (Arnold Spirit, Jr.) (speaker), Rowdy, Mary Runs Away , Grandmother Spirit , Eugene
Page Number: 230
Explanation and Analysis:

This book refuses to give readers easy answers to complex problems, and its conclusion is no exception. Junior has grown and matured and he has made brave and difficult decisions that have put him on a path to achieving his dreams. However, Alexie does not pretend that this comes without cost or that Junior's problems are all solved.

Even though Junior has come to deep realizations about the complexity of his identity and his ability to connect to others, he is still not immune from feeling guilty about the choices he has made to separate himself from his community, and Alexie's placement of this statement at the end of the book indicates that Junior likely never will. Junior's ability, though, to sit with his ambivalence and declare that both things are true at once is a tremendous evolution from the Junior at the beginning of the book who could only see the world divided into separate categories.