Analysis: What's Up With the Epigraph?
Epigraphs are like little appetizers to the great entrée of a story. They illuminate important aspects of the story, and they get us headed in the right direction.
Way To Be Crypic, Yeats
There is another world, but it is in this one. –W.B. Yeats
Sherman Alexie prefaces The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian with a quotation that he attributes to W.B. Yeats (though we've also seen it credited to Paul Eluard, a surrealist poet). In it, Yeats offers us the idea that there are indeed two worlds, but one world contains another.
Confused? Okay: We'll take a few questions.
Q: How does the idea of two worlds relate to The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian?
A: Well, we see this in Junior's two lives. He is Junior on the reservation, and Arnold in his white high school in Reardan. The reservation is an entirely different world that is contained within the white world. (For more see our section on "Setting.")
Q: Why would Sherman Alexie quote W.B. Yeats? Why not someone else?
A: Good question. Alexie could have quoted anyone, so let's think about what it means for Alexie to quote W.B. Yeats (1865-1939) specifically.
First of all, Yeats is a big part of the Western literary canon and very much an established figure in the history of literature. This means that Yeats is a towering master of poetry, a real poet's poet, and the teachers and libraries just love him to death. (Heck, we do too.) He is responsible for master poems such as "Leda and the Swan," "Sailing to Byzantium," and "The Second Coming."
These poems have influenced scores of other writers (see also Chinua Achebe's novel Things Fall Apart) and will continue to be studied in poetry classes until the end of time. Or later.
By quoting Yeats, then, Alexie is entering into the world of the big boy poets and authors. He is pointing out his ability not only to speak about Native American experience or Native literature, but his ability to speak to the Western canon as well. In other words, he is speaking to both worlds.
Want another interesting factoid? W.B. Yeats himself was born in Ireland, a country that had historically been subject to Britain's colonial rule. Yeats himself was Anglo-Irish and was raised in Dublin and London, England. In this sense, Yeats, like Alexie, also moved between two worlds: Irish and British. Yeats was also involved in promoting a renewed interest in native Irish culture and heritage.