Study Guide

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

By Sherman Alexie

Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory


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.


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).