The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian Themes

Managing misery with humor

As Junior faces bullying and alienation both on the rez and at Reardan, he always has the choice of letting his misery defeat him or trying to overcome it. His survival tactic, however, is to use humor to offset life's most difficult challenges. Junior often describes his tormentors in a sarcastic and flippant tone; when the Wellpinit supporters turn their backs on Junior and the Reardan team, Junior comments, "If these dang Indians had been this organized when I went to school here, maybe I would have had more reasons to stay" (144) and starts laughing. He also draws comics to display his struggles in a humorous manner, poking fun at the fact that he rarely has a way to get to school and can't figure out how to answer the question, "are you poor?" This tone makes Absolutely True Diary a story of triumph rather than tragedy, showing that Junior's inner strength helps to lift him up even when he is forced to grapple with one devastating loss after another. 

Chasing hopes and aspirations

At the beginning of the novel, Junior describes how living on the reservation makes Indians lose hope. He uses his parents as examples of Indians who did not follow their dreams because nobody ever believed in them enough to support their ambitions. A desire to break out of this cycle of poverty and destitution motivates Junior to transfer to Reardan. Once at his new school, Junior immediately notices that his new classmates have endless hope for the future. Though he wrestles with the feeling that he has betrayed his tribe by attending Reardan, Junior is also realistic about the fact that staying on the reservation would not offer him any opportunities for advancement. 

Wealth inequality

When Junior is on the reservation, everyone around him is poor; he is used to it. However, once he starts attending Reardan, he becomes acutely aware that he is from a different social class than his peers. He is used to not having much, studying from 35-year-old textbooks, and wearing worn-out hand-me-downs, but his classmates have grown up with an endless array of resources and opportunities. Junior struggles with revealing his family's poverty to his Reardan friends. Meanwhile, Junior's poverty is just as foreign to his wealthy classmates, who turn out to be much more understanding than Junior had expected. When Penelope finds out that Junior is poor, she actually cries. Roger easily lends him money and gives him rides to and from school. Junior discovers then that the first step towards fostering understanding is being truthful about his circumstances, not hiding in shame. 


Junior experiences racism on the reservation and at Reardan. At Reardan, he is surrounded by white classmates and has to tolerate racist jokes and nicknames, even from his teachers and Penelope's father, who warns Junior against impregnating Penelope and "making some charcoal babies" (108). Then, when Junior is on the reservation, he observes the effect that generations of systematic and historical racism have had on the other members of the Coeur d’Alene tribe. He mentions several times that discrimination has broken down Indians' sense of self-worth to the point where they have begun to believe that they deserve to be treated as second-class citizens. 

The Support of Family

Despite the challenges that Junior's parents face (they have both struggled with alcoholism, there is never enough money at home), he continually affirms that they are loving and supportive. Even when the family is going hungry, Junior always has faith that his "parents will come bursting through the door with a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken" (8). When Junior decides to go to Reardan, his parents fully encourage his ambitions and do whatever they can to scrape together money to support him. During Reardan's re-match basketball game against Wellpinit, Junior knows that his father will be seated in his usual place and thinks, "Yep, my daddy was an undependable drunk. But he'd never missed any of my organized games, conerts, plays, or picnics. He may not have loved me perfectly, but he loved me as well as he could" (189). On the flip side, Junior learns that many of his wealthy new Reardan friends do not have such involved or caring parents. Therefore, Alexie makes the point that love and unity enables survival even in times of hardship. 

Alcoholism on the reservation

Junior is uninhibited when it comes to expressing his feelings about the rampant alcoholism on his reservation. He has seen firsthand how alcohol has ruined the lives of a number of his fellow tribespeople, claiming that about ninety percent of the forty-two funerals he has attended in his young life were for people who died from alcohol-related causes. Over the course of the novel, Grandmother Spirit, Eugene, and Mary all die because of alcohol. After his sister's funeral, Junior cries, thinking, "I was crying for my tribe, too. I was crying because I knew five or ten or fifteen more Spokanes would die during the next year, and that most of them would die because of booze" (216). In fact, it is this pattern of alcoholism that forms part of Junior's motivation to get off the reservation, which he describes as a "death camp" (217). 

Living between Two Cultures

Junior's main struggle over the course of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is between his cultural ties to the reservation and his ambitions to educate himself and achieve a better lifestyle than most of the members of his tribe. He faces resistance on all sides: Rowdy and many other people on the reservation call Junior a traitor, even turning their backs on him during a basketball game. Meanwhile, Junior's Reardan classmates either ignore him or torment him for being different. He does not feel as though he fits into either place, hence the title "Part-Time Indian." However, Junior eventually discovers that he does not have to mold himself into a preconceived notion of what an Indian or a white kid is supposed to be like. Many share his struggle, he realizes, and thinks to himself, "I might be a lonely Indian boy, but I [am] not alone in my loneliness" (217).