Study Guide

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian Mortality

By Sherman Alexie


Chapter 2

I ran away from there as fast as I could.

I wanted to run faster than the speed of sound, but nobody, no matter how much pain they're in, can run that fast. So I heard the boom of my father's rifle when he shot my best friend. (2.59-2.60)

Arnold faces death for the first time in the novel when his father shoots his dog, Oscar, because the family can't afford to take the dog to the vet. We see the terrible effects of poverty as the sweet and innocent pup is killed – and Arnold loses his best canine friend. Poverty is immediately linked with senseless death, pain, and loss.

Chapter 22

But my family had to bury my grandmother.

I mean, it's natural to bury your grandmother.

Grandparents are supposed to die first, but they're supposed to die of old age. They're supposed
to die of a heart attack or a stroke or of cancer or of Alzheimer's.


Though Junior's grandma is elderly, her life is brought to an untimely end by a drunk driver. Junior feels like he's been robbed of his grandmother by the rampant alcoholism on the reservation – and rightly so. As in the case of his dog Oscar, Arnold sees death as something senseless and totally preventable.

Chapter 23

People had either ignored me or called me names or pushed me.

But they stopped after my grandmother died.

I guess they realized that I was in enough pain already. Or maybe the realized they'd been cruel jerks.

I wasn't suddenly popular, of course. But I wasn't a villain anymore.

No matter what else happened between my tribe and me I would always love them for giving me peace on the day of my grandmother's funeral. (23.5-23.9)

Though the passing of Arnold's grandmother is difficult for him to accept, her death brings the Indian community together and Arnold stops getting harassed, as the reservation allows him to mourn for her in peace.

And so, laughing and crying, we said good-bye to my grandmother. And when we said good-bye to one grandmother, we said good-bye to all of them.

Each funeral was a funeral for all of us.

We lived and died together.

All of us laughed when they lowered my grandmother into the ground.

And all of us laughed when they covered her with dirt.

And all of us laughed as we walked and drove and rode our way back to our lonely, lonely houses. (23.122-23.127)

On the Spokane Indian Reservation, death is not an individual, but a communal event. In a very sad way, death is a commonplace and is one of the things that brings everyone on the reservation together. Also, why are the Indian people laughing and crying? How do they cope with death as a community?

Chapter 24

And I kept trying to find the little pieces of joy in my life. That's the only way I managed to make it through all of that death and change. (24.72)

To cope with the deaths of his loved ones and to bring joy back into his life, Arnold makes a series of lists of all of the things he loves most in this world (see Chapter 24). They are things that bring him joy. What would be on your lists?

I mean, the thing is, Medea was so distraught by the world, and felt so betrayed, that she murdered her own kids.

She thought the world was that joyless.

And, after Eugene's funeral, I agreed with her. I could have easily killed myself, killed my mother and father, killed the birds, killed the trees, and killed the oxygen in the air.

More than anything, I wanted to kill God.

I was joyless. (24.21-24.31)

Much like the tragic character Medea, Arnold is utterly joyless. Instead of killing his own children, though, Arnold longs to "kill God." Why? And why is joy so important? Can joy save Arnold? Can it save anyone?

Way drunk, Eugene was shot and killed by one of his good friends, Bobby, who was too drunk to even remember pulling the trigger.

The police think Eugene and Bobby fought over the last drink in a bottle of wine: fig 24.2.

When Bobby was sober enough to realize what he'd done, he could only call Eugene's name over and over, as if that would somehow bring him back.

A few weeks later, in jail, Bobby hung himself with a bed sheet. (24.2-24.5)

Alcoholism again brings senseless death to the reservation, as Eugene, Arnold's father's best friend, is accidentally shot in a drunken scuffle. We continue to see a larger pattern in which poverty and alcoholism leads to destructive behavior, death, pain, and suffering. What do you make of Arnold's comic strip about the event (fig 24.2)?

Chapter 27

"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 in turn blames himself. Rowdy claims that, if Arnold hadn't left the reservation, then Mary wouldn't have either. Still, did Mary every really leave the reservation?

I'm fourteen years old and I've been to forty-two funerals.

That's really the biggest difference between Indians and white people.

A few of my white classmates have been to a grandparent's funeral. And a few have lost an uncle or aunt. And one guy's brother died of leukemia when he was in third grade.

But there's nobody who has been to more than five funerals.

All my white friends can count their deaths on one hand.

I can count my fingers, toes, arms, legs, eyes, ears, nose, penis, butt cheeks, and nipples, and still not get close to my deaths.

And you know what the worst part is? The unhappy part? About 90 percent of the deaths have been because of alcohol. (27.4-27.10)

We agree with Arnold that 42 funerals is pretty high number for a fourteen year old. The reservation is a place associated with multiple, senseless, alcohol-related deaths, most of which did not have to happen.

Mr. and Mrs. Spirit

"They had a party," my father said. "And your sister and her husband passed out in the back bedroom. And somebody tried to cook some soup on a hot plate. And they forgot about it and left. And a curtain drifted in on the wind and caught the hot plate, and the trailer burned down quick."

I swear to you that I could hear my sister screaming.

"The police say your sister never even woke up," my father said. "She was way too drunk."

My dad was trying to comfort me. But it's not too comforting to learn that your sister was TOO FREAKING DRUNK to feel any pain when she BURNED TO DEATH! (27.85-27.88)

As he has so many times before, Arnold loses someone he loves to a terrible alcohol-related accident. But, why Mary? Didn't she leave the reservation? Why could she not escape the same fate as so many of her loved ones?

Chapter 29

But I was crying for my tribe, too. I was crying because I knew five or ten or fifteen more Spokanes would die during the next year, and that most of them would die because of booze.

I cried because so many of my fellow tribal members were slowly killing themselves and I wanted them to live. I wanted them to get strong and get sober and get the hell off the rez. (29.23-29.24)

Arnold describes the reservation as a place of senseless, meaningless death. Though Arnold is able to leave, he knows that few will. How can Arnold help those he has left behind? (Hint: Remember this book is inspired by Alexie's own life.)