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Self-identification in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian

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Teenagers deal with a lot of opportunities for self-discovery and growth. Adolescence is likely the most difficult time in one’s life because everybody seeks their true selves, hopes and dreams, and true friends. Adolescents will meet new people and go to new places in search of what makes them happy and what they’re good at. Junior, a young boy from The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, embarked on a journey that depicted many struggles and conflicts with oneself as he is challenged by a new school, poverty, and racism. His journey of identification and navigation through the presented obstacles does not demonstrate that one’s true identity is limited to race and ethnicity, but rather everything that defines one’s character.

For instance, take Junior’s identity crisis that followed his arrival at Reardan. He describes that, “[He felt] half-Indian in one place and half white in the other” (Alexie 118). The reason for his inner turmoil was because he could not definitively classify himself as a full-time Indian; he couldn’t sum up all his experiences and values if he’d only labelled himself as either. Junior’s conflict between being the “Indian” version of him and the “white” version of him illustrates that he feels as if he were both, due to his exposure to both cultures and circumstances. His quotidian life has caused him to adapt to both sides and understand both. The book title, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, also suggests that “part-time” means his identity had also been influenced by his white peers and experiences, but not entirely white. The significance of this proves that one’s identity is more than just race. The exposure to the different culture and his own role in a different community contribute to his identity—that cannot be explained simply using “Indian” or “white”.

From the first day at Reardan towards the end of the book, there’s quite the interesting character development among Junior’s peers. Initially, they had been snarky and blatantly racist. Junior himself also displayed prejudice as a means of defence. Much to the audience’s surprise, they managed to reach common ground despite their cultural differences and apathy. If identity was only really about ethnicity, his peers would not have tried to find out who he truly was, looks aside. The wall of contempt wouldn’t have fallen down and they wouldn’t have gotten the opportunity to learn about him. When Junior befriended Gordy and says, “I was an Indian kid…I was lonely and sad and isolated and terrified, just like Gordy” (94). The start of their friendship is very symbolic; Junior made his first friend at Reardan and found himself connected to someone who’s supposed to be so different from him. They looked beyond each other’s differences and cared about their similarities in character.

Upon Junior’s arrival at Reardan, his true identity is also challenged by his two names. The different used at Reardan and the one used on the reserve demonstrate how his names also represents his identity. When Penelope accused him of lying about his own name, he claims, “Well okay. It wasn’t completely my name. My full name is…nobody calls me that. Everybody calls me Junior. Well, every other Indian calls me Junior” (60). He eventually associated “Arnold” with his Reardan self and “Junior” with his reserve self. The difference in name choice represents his complex identity and newfound hobbies, goals, and dreams. Arnold was a new student and a basketball player, but Junior was the kid with hydrocephalus and whom betrayed his tribe. Each name holds special significance in the anatomy of his own self. In each name, he identifies a bit of himself too.

Our many interests and hobbies, as well as the friends we make and the foods we like, are deeply integrated into who we are. Our identity can be defined through said hobbies, experiences, peers, and goals. Junior reaches his ultimate realization, the pinnacle of his struggles and suffering: “[He] realized that, sure, [he] was a Spokane Indian. [He] belonged to that tribe. But [he] also belonged…And the tribe of beloved sons. And the tribe of boys who really missed their best friends. It was a huge realization” (217). This is his conclusion to his coming-of-age story. After all the pain, the ups and the downs, Junior goes through an epiphany. He realized that he only technically belonged to one tribe, but was full of so many more traits he had in common with the rest of the world. He’s a member of his community by blood, but he is joined by thousands of others through experiences, struggles, emotions, and idiosyncrasies. Junior himself realizes that he should be defining himself as a basketball player or a budding cartoonist because that tells more about him than the term “Indian” would.

Junior’s treacherous journey through his freshman year of high school gifted us a valuable epilogue—our identity does not have to be evaluated by merely the colour of our skin or who our ancestors were. Through a persistent identity crisis, Junior made friends with people who are said to be mutual enemies. He learned more about himself through his varying experiences and interests. There is more to us than what our DNA makes us. We are the sum of our experiences and emotions, the people we surround ourselves with. We decide what our identity is, not the world. It is uniquely ours and only ours. 

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Self-Identification in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. (2021, December 16). GradesFixer. Retrieved January 31, 2023, from
“Self-Identification in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.” GradesFixer, 16 Dec. 2021,
Self-Identification in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 31 Jan. 2023].
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