The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
by Sherman Alexie
Analysis: What's Up With the Title?
Attention all Shmoopers:
The book you are reading is not just a diary.
It is not just a true diary.
It is an absolutely true diary.
And this absolutely true diary does not belong to just anyone.
This absolutely true diary belongs to an Indian.
And not just any Indian.
This absolutely true diary belongs to a part-time Indian.
That's right. The book you are reading is (ahem) The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.
It's a mouthful of a title, we know, but there is a reason for that. Allow us to explain:
The title phrases "Absolutely True Diary" and "Part-Time Indian" introduce us to two of the book's major concepts.
First, the absolute truth: The story of Arnold Spirit, Jr. is in some ways "true" because it is based, at least in part, on Sherman Alexie's own childhood. Just like Arnold, Alexie grew up on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Wellpinit, found his mother's name in a geometry book, and decided to transfer to the more affluent white school in the neighboring town of Reardan. Alexie has even said in interviews that "Arnold is me" (source: Tanita Davis and Sarah Stevenson, "Sherman Alexie," 2007, Conversations with Sherman Alexie,189).
So did everything that happened to Junior in the book happen to Sherman Alexie? Well, no, of course not. This is fiction, after all. But the novel is still "true," don't you think? Though the book might not relate every detail of Alexie's life as it absolutely happened, it still remains "absolutely true" to the experience of growing up on a reservation, of living in poverty, and of struggling with one's own search for identity. Alexie makes use of his own personal experiences to convey these larger truths. Because of this, Arnold's emotions – his hope, his despair, his joy – all feel very genuine, very real to us.
That brings us to the Part-Time Indian to whom this diary belongs.
This novel is very much about Arnold Spirit, Jr.'s attempt to figure out just who the heck he is. Is he Junior, the poor Indian kid from the Spokane Reservation, or is he Arnold, the star basketball player who goes to the white high school in Reardan?
Juggling these two identities, Arnold starts to feel like a "part-time" Indian (17.1-17.3), someone who is a stranger both on the reservation and in the white community of Reardan. The novel, then, details his attempt to reconcile these two versions of himself.