The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

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Drawing, Writing, and Junior’s Cartoons 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.
Drawing, Writing, and Junior’s Cartoons Theme Icon

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 nose is shown in a picture rather than told in a sentence, as if Junior’s feelings are too strong to articulate in words. Some reveal Junior’s attitude toward other characters; he takes special care in sketching his friends Rowdy, Gordy, and Penelope, and these portraits help to characterize both the artist and the subjects. Still others, like “Junior Gets to School” or “Who My Parents Would Have Been If Somebody Had Paid Attention to Their Dreams,” are like self-contained diagrams or infographics; they explain what’s going on in the text in a different, visual way. As Junior explains, “I draw because I want to pay attention to the world. And I want the world to pay attention to me.”

At the beginning of the novel, Junior sees his cartoons, and his skill as an artist, as his one chance of leaving the reservation: “tiny little lifeboats” in a world of “broken dams and floods.” In a similar way, his older sister Mary once dreamed of writing romance novels; Junior sees it as tragic that she gives up on those dreams after she graduates high school. Words become even more important to him after he gets to Reardan, and his new friend Gordy teaches him to read seriously and joyfully—an approach that, Junior notes, should apply both to books and life. Mary’s romance novels are more complicated, though. When she suddenly gets married, moves to Montana, and begins writing a memoir, her life seems to be unfolding like something out of one of her stories—until she dies in a tragic, senseless accident, suggesting that the possibility of a better life might sometimes be just a fantasy and that the connection between books and life cannot be so straightforward.

Drawing, Writing, and Junior’s Cartoons ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Drawing, Writing, and Junior’s Cartoons 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.
How often theme appears:
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Drawing, Writing, and Junior’s Cartoons 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 Drawing, Writing, and Junior’s Cartoons.
Chapter 1 Quotes

My brain was drowning in grease.
But that makes the whole thing sound weirdo and funny, like my brain was a giant French fry, so it seems more serious and poetic and accurate to say, “I was born with water on the brain.”

Related Characters: Junior (Arnold Spirit, Jr.) (speaker)
Page Number: 2
Explanation and Analysis:

Junior introduces himself to readers as someone who is up against many obstacles to success. Before even touching on race and poverty, he lets us know that he has a birth defect that affected his brain. However, his command of language and his humor let us know that this is something he seems to have mostly overcome, despite its lingering effects on his appearance.

From this opening passage we know that Junior is someone who considers an important characteristic of himself that he is different from others – weird, even – and also that he understands himself to be someone who is able to overcome hardship, even against great odds. From this passage we also learn that Junior has a sense of humor, even in the face of difficulty, and he's a careful observer of the world. It makes sense that Junior is a good student and a dedicated cartoonist, because his precision with words shows that he is someone who wants to communicate his experiences to others. 


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I think the world is a series of broken dams and floods, and my cartoons are tiny little lifeboats.

Related Characters: Junior (Arnold Spirit, Jr.) (speaker)
Page Number: 6
Explanation and Analysis:

This poetic metaphor that Junior chooses to represent the world illustrates a lot about his personality. First of all, Junior clearly sees the world as a place of hardship and even despair, since he calls it a place of "broken dams and floods." We get the sense that Junior has been through a lot, particularly for how young he is, and that he has been deeply affected by living in an environment full of hopelessness and suffering.

However, Junior has developed a strategy for keeping himself from being consumed by his environment: making cartoons. When he compares his cartoons to lifeboats, he indicates that they have the potential to save him from the despair around him, and even from the fates of his family and peers. He says that his cartoons could get him off the rez by making him famous, but it's clear that they also save him in more everyday ways by giving him an outlet for his emotions and a source of hope. 

Chapter 27 Quotes

Gordy gave me this book by a Russian dude named Tolstoy, who wrote: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Well, I hate to argue with a Russian genius, but Tolstoy didn’t know Indians. And he didn’t know that all Indian families are unhappy for the same exact reason: the fricking booze.

Related Characters: Junior (Arnold Spirit, Jr.) (speaker), Gordy
Page Number: 200
Explanation and Analysis:

Throughout the book, Junior has experienced unbelievable hardship due to the rampant alcohol abuse in his community. This passage comes right before Junior reveals one more tragedy, the alcohol-related death of his sister. While Gordy looks to Tolstoy for illumination on the things that make families unhappy, Junior has firsthand experience that leads him to a different conclusion.

His statement that alcohol is what makes all families unhappy shows how pervasive this problem is on the rez, which is especially heartbreaking because alcoholism is a much more tangible and preventable problem than, say, general marital malaise, which might be Gordy's experience of unhappiness in families. This passage fits with Junior's insistence on being very concrete about goals and problems, and very frank about the state of the world. Junior has no patience for euphemism, and, just as he doesn't respect goals that are so vague and lofty as to be unachievable, he doesn't respect vague assessments of a problem that he considers, in reality, to be very specific. 

There is also a sense in which one can read Tolstoy's assertion as racist or classist. Junior is suggesting that all unhappy families can be unhappy in their own ways when those families are privileged (such as the rich Russian families that Tolstoy was writing about). Families mired in poverty and despair can't afford, or manage, to be unhappy except in the same way: because of the misery exacted by poverty and racism.

Chapter 28 Quotes

I realized that, sure, I was a Spokane Indian. I belonged to that tribe. But I also belonged to the tribe of American immigrants. And to the tribe of basketball players. And to the tribe of bookworms.
And to the tribe of cartoonists.
And to the tribe of chronic masturbators.
And the tribe of teenage boys.
And the tribe of small-town kids.
And the tribe of Pacific Northwesterners.
And the tribe of tortilla-chips-and-salsa lovers.
And the tribe of poverty.
And the tribe of funeral-goers.
And the tribe of beloved sons.
And the tribe of boys who really missed their best friends.
It was a huge realization.
And that’s when I knew that I was going to be okay.

Related Characters: Junior (Arnold Spirit, Jr.) (speaker)
Page Number: 217
Explanation and Analysis:

This is a watershed moment for Junior in which he can finally let go of his tendency to relentlessly divide the world into Indian and white. He has been so perturbed by his inability to decide whether he is more white or more Indian, or which side of himself he should bring out in a particular context. Here, he is finally realizing that his identity (and the identities of others) cannot be reduced along a single axis. Junior has many interests and qualities that connect him to others and those are sufficient connections to transcend race and class.

Junior knows at this moment that he has the power to define himself and his choices. Junior understands, too, that this revelation does not apply to everyone; just because Junior has broken free of a worldview limited by the racism directed towards Indians does not mean that his Indian friends will be able to do the same. Junior recognizes that his success means he will have to leave some people and realities behind, so even as it is empowering there is also an element of sadness. Junior knows that he is going to be okay, but as part of that "okay-ness" he is going to have to leave behind things that he loved.