Study Guide

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian Home

By Sherman Alexie

Home

Chapter 3

My mother and father are drunks, too, but they aren't mean like that. Not at all. They sometimes ignore me. Sometimes they yell at me. But they never, ever, never, ever hit me. I've never even been spanked. Really. I think my mother wants to haul off and give me a slap, but my father won't let it happen.

He doesn't believe in physical punishment; he believes in staring so cold at me that I turn into a ice-covered ice cube with an icy filling.

My house is a safe place, so Rowdy spends most of his time with us. It's like he's a family member, an extra brother and son. (3.21-3.23)

Arnold describes his home life for us: his family is not ideal, but they are, fortunately, not violent or abusive. Though his parents are alcoholics, Arnold still considers his home to be a safe place. How is Arnold's home life different from Rowdy's? Is Rowdy's home a safe place? How does this impact the way Rowdy and Junior act?

Chapter 5
Mr. P

"If you stay on this rez," Mr. P said, "they're going to kill you. I'm going to kill you. We're all going to kill you. You can't fight us forever."

"I don't want to fight anybody," I said.

"You've been fighting since you were born," he said. "You fought off that brain surgery. You fought off those seizures. You fought off all the drunks and drug addicts. You kept your hope. And now, you have to take your hope and go somewhere where other people have hope."

I was starting to understand. He was a math teacher. I had to add my hope to somebody else's hope. I had to multiply my hope.

"Where is hope?" I asked. "Who has hope?"

"Son," Mr. P said. "You're going to find more and more hope the farther and farther you walk away from this sad, sad, sad reservation." (5.163-5.168)

Mr. P visits Arnold's home after the incident with the geometry book and tells him that, even though the reservation is his home, Arnold must leave the reservation in order to survive. Why must Arnold go somewhere else in order to find hope? What does it mean when home is a place that harms you as much as helps you?

Chapter 15
Penelope

"Arnold," she said one day after school, "I hate this little town. It's so small, too small. Everything about it is small. The people here have small ideas. Small dreams. They all want to marry each other and live here forever."

"What do you want to do?" I asked.

"I want to leave as soon as I can. I think I was born with a suitcase."

Yeah, she talked like that. All big and goofy and dramatic. I wanted to make fun of her, but she was just so earnest. (15.87-15.90)

Penelope is beautiful and blonde and white, and her home is the rich little town of Reardan. Oddly enough, though, she doesn't see Reardan as a place of hope, like Arnold does. Instead, she sees Reardan in much the same way that Arnold views the reservation. Penelope believes that, in order to realize her very big dreams (that would be something other than getting married and having children), she must leave her home in Reardan. What are some of the other limitations that Penelope faces in Reardan?

Chapter 17

Traveling between Reardan and Wellpinit, between the little white town and the reservation, I always felt like a stranger.

I was half Indian in one place and half white in the other. (17.1-17.2)

As Arnold moves between Reardan and Wellpinit we see that he feels as though he belongs in neither place. Too Indian for Reardan and too white for Wellpinit, Arnold begins to feel like a stranger. Does this feeling ever change for Arnold?

Chapter 19

I have a lot of free time, so I have started to write my life story. Really! Isn't that crazy? I think I'm going to call it How to Run Away from your House and Find Your Home. (19.1)

This is a piece of a letter written by Arnold's sister Mary. Mary has left her home in Wellpinit and is living with her husband among the Flathead Indians in Montana. According to her letters, she loves her new life – much more than living in her parents' basement. Why do you think she gives this title to her book?

Also, though Mary has left her family's home, she hasn't actually left the reservation system. She is still on a reservation, only now the reservation is in Montana. What difference do you think this makes? (Hint: What happens to Mary in the end?)

Chapter 27

Gordy gave me this book by a Russian dude named Tolstoy, who wrote: "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." Well, I hate to argue with a Russian genius, but Tolstoy didn't know Indians. And he didn't know that all Indian families are unhappy for the same exact reason: the fricking booze.

Yep, so let me pour a drink for Tolstoy and let him think hard about the true definition of unhappy families. (27.11-27.12)

Arnold experiences a series of devastating losses: his grandmother, his Dad's best friend Eugene, and his sister. As all of these deaths are related to alcohol, we begin to see just how destructive life on the reservation can be. Has alcohol destroyed Arnold's family? His home? His reservation? Why, according to Junior, is Tolstoy wrong?

Rowdy

"It's all your fault," he said.

"What's my fault?" I asked.

"Your sister is dead because you left us. You killed her."

That made me stop laughing. I suddenly felt like I might never laugh again.

Rowdy was right.

I had killed my sister.

Well, I didn't kill her.

But she only got married so quickly and left the rez because I had left the rez first. She was only living in Montana in a cheap trailer house because I had gone to school in Reardan. She had burned to death because I had decided that I wanted to spend my life with white people. (27.191-27.198)

Rowdy blames Arnold for Mary's death, and Arnold follows suit. Still, would it have been better if Mary had never left home at all? Is living in a basement better than no life at all? Also, did Mary really leave the reservation in the same way that Arnold did? Did she also decide to spend her life with white people?

Chapter 29

Reservations were meant to be prisons, you know? Indians were supposed to move onto reservations and die. We were supposed to disappear.

But somehow or another, Indians have forgotten that reservations were meant to be death camps.

I wept because I was the only one who was brave and crazy enough to leave the rez. I was the only one with enough arrogance. (29.26-29.28)

We see here that Wellpinit is both a home and a prison for Arnold. He views the reservation as a place meant to trap Indians and to wipe them out of existence. Though Arnold leaves the reservation – a place he calls a "death camp" – he still weeps. Why?

Chapter 30

The reservation is beautiful.

I mean it.

Take a look.

There are pine trees everywhere. Thousands of ponderosa pine trees. Millions. I guess you can take pine trees for granted. They're just pine trees. But they're tall and thin and green and brown and big.

Some of the pines are ninety feet tall and more than three hundred years old.

Older than the United States. (30.1-30.7)

We see here just how complex Arnold's relationship is to his home in Wellpinit. The reservation may be a prison, but it is also very, very beautiful. Why is it significant that some of the trees on the reservation are older than the United States?

Rowdy

"So, anyway," he said. "I was reading this book about old-time Indians, about how we used to be nomadic."

"Yeah," I said.

"So I looked up nomadic in the dictionary, and it means people who move around, who keep moving, in search of food and water and grazing land."

"That sounds about right."

"Well, the thing is, I don't think Indians are nomadic anymore. Most Indians, anyway."

"No, we're not," I said.

"I'm not nomadic," Rowdy said. "Hardly anybody on this rez is nomadic. Except for you. You're the nomadic one."

"Whatever."

"No, I'm serious. I always knew you were going to leave. I always knew you were going to leave us behind and travel the world. I had this dream about you a few months ago. You were standing on the Great Wall of China. You looked happy. And I was happy for you." (30.176-30.184)

Believe it or not, Rowdy is the one to offer us some insight about Arnold's relationship to his home. As a "nomad," Arnold is not bound to one geographical location. Much like the old timey Indians, he moves from place to place, in search of what he needs to survive: food, water, basketball, books, etc. Arnold belongs to many different tribes, so all places are potentially his home. It is not the physical setting that makes Arnold who he is, it is what he does.

"For Wellpinit and Reardan, my hometowns" (dedication)

Sherman Alexie begins The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian with a dedication to his two hometowns: Wellpinit and Reardan. Like Arnold, Alexie grew up on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Wellpinit, Washington and then transferred to the affluent white high school in the town of Reardan nearly 22 miles away. (For more on Wellpinit and Reardan, see our section on "Setting.") Though he was born on the reservation, Alexie identifies both places as his "hometown." Here we are introduced to the idea that home can mean more than one thing and can be in more than one place. One person can have more than one home. What is your hometown? Do you call more than one place home?