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The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

  

by Sherman Alexie

Analysis: Writing Style

Words And Pictures

Sherman Alexie's writing style is lively and exuberant, and his narrator, the teenage Arnold, leaps from one topic to the next. So what do we get in between those leaps? Why pictures, of course.

Ellen Forney's many illustrations offer comical insight into whatever Arnold is experiencing at the moment. Forney uses three different drawing styles for Arnold's pictures: one in which the comics are scribbled, one in which the cartoons look a bit more realistic, and a third style that has a more finished look.

Can you identify which style is which? For an example of the first style, see Figure 1.2. For the second, see 24.2. For the third, see Figure 15.5. What can each drawing style tells us about the picture's subject matter?

But it's not just the pictures that seem scribbled, realistic, and polished. It's also the prose. Check it out:

I was actually born with too much cerebral spinal fluid inside my skull. But cerebral spinal fluid is just the doctors' fancy way of saying brain grease. And brain grease works inside the lobes like car grease works inside an engine. It keeps things running smooth and fast. But weird me, I was born with too much grease inside my skull, and it got all thick and muddy and disgusting, and it only mucked up the works. My thinking and breathing and living engine slowed down and flooded.

My brain was drowning in grease.

But that makes the whole thing sound weirdo and funny, like my brain was a giant French fry, so it seems more serious and poetic and accurate to say, "I was born with water on the brain." (1.1-1.3)

Phrases like "weirdo and funny" are very casual—they're the text version of scribbles. Other phrases, like "brain grease works inside the lobes like car grease works inside an engine," sound more polished. And still other phrases, like the eloquent "my thinking and breathing and living engine slowed down and flooded," sound downright lyrical.

So what is the relationship in this book between words and text? Do the pictures sometimes tell you things that Arnold's words cannot? If so, what?

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