The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian Symbolism, Imagery & Allegory & themes

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Oscar

Junior's poor little dog Oscar is shot by his father in the book's tearjerker of a second chapter. The death of the animal, who is a complete innocent, becomes a symbol for the senseless destruction caused by poverty on the reservation. We see this developed in the deaths that follow Oscar: Arnold's grandmother, Eugene, and his sister Mary.

Kentucky Fried Chicken

Chicken is very important to Arnold, since he's almost always hungry. Food - and money - is scarce on the reservation. While KFC might seem like fast food to some, the treat amounts to a holy experience for Arnold. Check out Arnold's drawing of the shroud of Kentucky Fried Chicken (figure 2.1)

The Geometry Book

Arnold finds his mother's name written inside of a geometry book and throws the book straight at his teacher Mr. P (4.52-4.58). The book stands for the systemic poverty on the reservation and the way in which the school has incredibly low expectations for their students. The book is a catalyst for change. By throwing the book, Arnold is fighting back. He is rejecting what the school offers its students for their education.

Basketball

Arnold's experiences with basketball become a testament to the power of positive thinking. At Wellpinit, Arnold was nothing more than an average player; however, by the end of the novel, he has becoming a basketball shooting hero. Check out Arnold's Coach's pep talks in Chapters 20 and 25 for some inspiration.

Turtle Lake

Turtle Lake is a beautiful destination on the reservation where Rowdy and Arnold head to swim when they are around age ten (Chapter 30). Sounds good to us, but what is up with the story of Stupid Horse that Arnold's Dad tells him? According to Arnold's Dad, the horse drowned in Turtle Lake, but his body washed up on the shore of another lake about ten miles away. The people then burned the body of Stupid Horse, but after they did the water on Turtle Lake caught fire. Freaky. Days later they all found Stupid Horse washed up on the shore on Turtle Lake again. No one messed with that corpse again. It rotted on the shore for weeks. No one swam in Turtle Lake after that.

So what does Stupid Horse mean? Is it a metaphor for something that just keeps coming back and back and back again? Like determination? Does it signify resistance? Or maybe it's just an Indian myth? A story that gets passed down? What do you think?

The Pine Tree

Rowdy and Arnold encounter a giant beautiful pine tree on their walk to Turtle Lake, and they decide to climb it. Once at the top of the tree, they can see everything: the whole reservation. The act is a sign of determination and courage and maybe a little bit of youthful stupidity. Arnold writes, "I don't know if anybody else has ever climbed that tree. I look at it now, years later, and I can't believe we did it. And I can't believe I survived my first year at Reardan" (30.118-30.119).

Identity (theme)

feeling like the reservation outcast, but once he transfers to the fancy white school in Reardan, he becomes a basketball star who gets carried around on people's shoulders. When Arnold transfers to Reardan, he sees himself as having two different selves: Junior from the outcast from the reservation and Arnold from the white high-school at Reardan.

Home (theme)

Arnold Spirit, Jr. has two hometowns as well. There is his family's home on the Spokane Indian Reservation, and then there's his place at the white high school in Reardan. Though he should be at home in both places, sometimes Arnold feels like a complete stranger. In the end, Arnold stops thinking of home so much as a specific place, and instead learns to be at home among many different people. As Rowdy tells him, he is a "nomad"

Race (theme)

Arnold feel like he's only half an Indian - or as he says a "part-time Indian" - once he transfers to the white school of Reardan. He then gets split into two: Junior on the Indian reservation and Arnold in his white high school. This all suggests that one's racial or ethnic identity can change depending on place or social setting.

Poverty (theme)

we see firsthand how devastating and totally awful poverty is not only for an individual, but for an entire community. We see how poverty has squashed hope on the reservation: how alcoholism is everywhere, a condition that leads to tons and tons of senseless death. (Arnold loses his grandmother and his sister.) Though poverty may not teach us anything (as Arnold is quick to tell us), Arnold's fight for a better life inspires us - and gives us hope that things can change.

Literature and Writing (theme)

For Arnold, writing and drawing become a means of reaching out and connecting to others. He refers to his drawings, after all, as little "life boats" (1.56). For Gordy, books and knowledge have a way of expanding the world into a place of infinite possibility (Chapter 12). On the other hand, for Mary, reading and writing romance novels provide an escape from her existence on the reservation (Chapter 5). Similarly, Rowdy reads cheesy comic books in order to live a whole different life where people are happy and things are all sunshine and lollipops

Mortality (theme)

he is confronted with the death of his loved ones over and over and over again. For Arnold, death is pretty much relentless, and comes knocking at his family's door time after time. With bodies piling up left and right in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Arnold finds that death is a very hard thing to cope with to cope with - especially when it is senseless. That is, the death Arnold is confronted with is primarily the result of poverty or alcoholism.

Despite all of this, Arnold must learn to carry on. Arnold does this by focusing on life and the joy that it brings.

Friendship (theme)

Arnold's main friend - and only friend - on the reservation in Wellpinit is Rowdy. Once he moves to Reardan, though, he becomes friends with a whole host of people: Penelope, Gordy, Roger, even the school basketball coach.

Hopes, Dreams, and Plans (theme)

hope, and how important it is to have it and how it helps us stay afloat. In this novel, we see the consequences of people and even whole communities that lack hope.

Education (theme)

Arnold leaves the reservation to get a better education in Reardan, but, as we find out, the things that he needs to learn aren't always found in those fancy classrooms. so much of what Arnold learns has simply to do with attitude. From Gordy, the Reardan brainiac, Arnold learns about the joys that knowledge can bring. From Coach, the head of basketball at Reardan, Arnold learns about the power of positive thinking - and how a simple phrase ("you can do it") can completely change who you are.

Tradition and custom (theme)

the Spokane Indian Reservation in Wellpinit, Washington, a place built on tradition and custom. Arnold describes his culture for us in full detail: powwows, fry bread, and many, many funerals.

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