Different cultures, races, traditions and more exist across the world. They may not understand each other completely and be conflicted, but we can all overcome those differences eventually with an open mind. There are many themes throughout The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. Perhaps the most constant and obvious one is the impact racial discrimination has on Indians, but the ideas of loss within the community and hope for a brighter future are equally as important. The protagonist of the story is Arnold Spirit, who everyone calls “Junior”. He was born with “water on the brain”, which basically means there was too much fluid in his skull when he was born. He also had a stutter for most of his pre-teen and even the first few teenage years, which caused most people to look down upon and mock him. Despite not being born the healthiest baby in the world, Junior had hope that he could rise up and live a better life than his parents and sister. He transfers to a new, very different school. That is where his story begins.
The first theme in the The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is racial discrimination and the impact it has on Indians. “And what’s more, our white dentist believed that Indians only felt half as much pain as white people did, so he only gave us half the Novocain.” (Alexie, 2) Thankfully, most people these days are not that clueless, especially doctors. But this shows how ignorant people can be—in this case—towards Indians. “After all, I was a reservation Indian, and no matter how geeky and weak I appeared to be, I was still a potential killer. So mostly they called me names. Lots of names.” (63) Junior wrote this about the jocks and other white male students at his new “white” high school. This shows how discrimination and racism isn’t always physical; it can be as common or simple as name calling but hurt just as much as a punch. “The guy who wrote the article says people care more about beautiful white girls than they do about everybody else on the planet. White girls are privileged. They’re damsels in distress.” (116) This piece of dialogue was spoken by Gordy, Junior’s friend from Reardan. He was explaining a news story where a white girl disappeared in Mexico, and everyone was devastated. But the article also said two hundred Mexican girls have disappeared in the exact same part of the country over the last three years, and nobody cared about that. This shows the inequality between white and Mexican girls at the time. Discrimination is present in countless forms of media, from To Kill a Mockingbird to The Hate U Give and even The Ugly Duckling. Though it is a children’s tale, the theme behind it is not too different to racism and discrimination in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, except towards poultry animals instead of Indians. In the beginning, the Ugly Duckling is, true to his name, very ugly. Everyone else sees him as someone strange or pathetic, simply because his is different. Because they were exposed to so little diversity, they made fun of this animal purely because he wasn’t what they were used to seeing. That is present in the real world today as well. People fail to open their minds and understand those with different looks, culture, or even simply who they are as an individual.
Another theme is loss, especially the deaths of family members or close friends and how they can bring you back to your cultural roots. “And I realized that, sure, Indians were drunk and sad and displaces and crazy and mean, but, dang, we knew how to laugh. When it comes to death, we know that laughter and tears are pretty much the same thing.” (166) Junior has been to forty-two funerals in his life, which is many times more than the average Reardan student. This particular funeral was for his grandmother, who he describes as “the rarest kind of Indian in the world” because she never drank a drop of alcohol. “Each funeral was a funeral for all of us. We lived and died together.” (166) Funerals are painful, like they are for everyone regardless of culture. However, because they are such a prominent part of Indian ethnicity, it also brings people together. For Junior, it allows him to connect back to his Indian roots, despite attending a “white” school. “And you know what the worst part is? The unhappy part? About 90 percent of the deaths have been because of alcohol.” (200) Throughout the story, Junior’s grandmother was not the only one who passed away. His sister, Mary, as well as good friend Eugene also, sadly, died. All three of these central deaths were correlated to alcohol in some way. His grandmother was killed by a drunk driver. His sister passed out drunk, and didn’t notice as her house caught on fire and burned down. Eugene was shot by one of his best friends, Bobby, while they were both completely drunk. Thankfully, I have never experienced any heavy deaths or losses in my life, so it is difficult to make a personal connection. One of my favorite books, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, also has themes about death and loss. It is not unhealthy to mourn for those who have passed on, Augustus Waters in Hazel Grace’s case, but you must not let that control your life. Even with a disease as incurable as cancer, you should still keep a fairly positive outlook and be thankful for those who care about you, like Hazel’s parents and friends.
The final theme is how having enough hope and perseverance can let you accomplish almost anything. “Seriously, I know my mother and father had their dreams when they were kids. They dreamed about being something other than poor, but they never got the chance to be anything because nobody paid attention to their dreams.” (11) Hope is important, but having people who support you is even more needed. Everyone has dreams, but because they either don’t have the resources or, like his parents, have nobody who supports them, their dreams wash away over the years. “You can’t give up. You won’t give up. You threw that book in my face because somewhere inside you refuse to give up.” (43) Perseverance is also imperative along with hope. If you have a dream, you cannot give it up, no matter what. This line was spoken by Mr. P, one of Junior’s teachers from Wellpinit, his “Indian” school. He was also a crucial reason why Junior moved to Reardan. “‘You always thought you were better than me,’ he yelled. ‘No, no, I don’t think I’m better than anybody. I think I’m worse than everybody else.’ ‘Why are you leaving?’ ‘I have to go. I’m going to die if I don’t leave.’” (52) No matter how much hope you have, there will always be someone dragging you down. In Junior’s case, it is his best friend, Rowdy. This must have been very difficult for him, because Rowdy is one of, or maybe even the most important person in his life, and he is angered by his dreams. But Junior knows that as time passes, Rowdy will understand. He did not let one person go against his dreams and cause him to give up. A famous person in history also had a life that was fueled by hope and perseverance— Alexander Hamilton. Growing up poor on the Caribbean island of Nevis, Hamilton refused to live a despondent life even after his father left and mother died. When a terrible hurricane struck his hometown, he took his chance and wrote an incredibly detailed account of the disaster to his father. It was then published in the Royal Danish-American Gazette, and impressed many rich community leaders. They then decided to send Hamilton to the North American colonies to pursue his education. Thus, Alexander Hamilton rose up from his lowly circumstances and became one of the Founding Fathers of the United States.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is one of the best books I have ever read. It evoked many emotions from me that I thought ink on paper could never do. The themes included are also valuable. They include the impact discrimination and racism have on Indians, how death can bring you back to your cultural roots, and that you can do almost anything if you have enough hope and perseverance. As stated before, Junior says his grandmother is “the rarest kind of Indian in the world”. However, I feel like Junior is as well. No Indian has ever left Wellpinit school, especially to transfer to a “white” school like Reardan. Junior was poor, but he never gave up. I think that makes him the rarest Indian in the world too, along with his grandmother. To readers, always remember to be open-minded to different people, mourn over loss but do not let it control your life, and also have hope and follow your dreams, no matter how unlikely they seem.