Discussion Questions for Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Hey y’all! Here are my discussion questions for Alexie’s book. Looking forward to getting into this book–there’s so much there! See everyone Thursday.

  1. Schools and schooling occupy a large space in Junior’s life. How are schools sites of colonization/coloniality? Sites of physical and psychological violence and trauma for indigenous students (and other students of color)? How are Reardon and Wellpinit sites of violence in their own ways? Is there space for anything to exist in these schools for indigenous students besides violence?
  2. Junior is hyper aware of what it means to belong/unbelong and he explores this constantly in the novel. What do you make of the theme of belonging/unbelonging as Junior navigates the spaces in his life—family, school (Reardon, the rez, etc.)? Where does the title of the book — The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian — figure into this conversation?
  3. Similar to the main characters in Skim and Challenger Deep, Junior’s artwork is prominent throughout the book. What is the significance of Junior’s art? How can/does his art take on different meanings in different moments for varying audiences?
  4. One of the themes I constantly grappled with is the meaning of whiteness in the novel. Junior concurrently wrestles with a vehement antipathy and criticality toward whiteness and white people and a desire to be proximate to whiteness and white people. How does whiteness function/permeate/pervade the novel? In schools? In interpersonal relationships (Gordy, Mr. P, Penelope, etc.)
  5. Poverty is discussed throughout the book; it is salient in Junior’s life. In one particular scene, Junior remarks, “it sucks to be poor, and it sucks to feel that you somehow deserve to be poor…poverty doesn’t give you strength or teach you lessons about perseverance. No, poverty only teaches you how to be poor” (pg. 13). What are the intersections of race and poverty in Junior’s life? How does he make sense of it? What are the traumas of intergenerational poverty and how do they weigh on the body and the mind? For Junior? For Rowdy? Mary? For his parents? For the rez?
  6. The basketball game between Wellpinit and Reardon is a MOMENT (pg. 143). Can we talk about this moment? What happens in it? How does it explode/implode? What does it mean and what sits in it?
  7. Emotions sit heavy and nuanced in this book—anger, hope, pain, sadness, joy, and resignation are captured and lived out in the lives of the characters. What do you make of the emotional experiences and responses of the characters? How are emotions and emotional experiences reactions to structures and systems of oppression (i.e poverty & racism)? How are emotions resistance?

1 thought on “Discussion Questions for Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

  1. Carrie Hintz

    So many great questions, Alyssa, and I cannot wait to work with them. I am particularly interested in your questions re. poverty and racism and the complex (and even problematic) figuration of “whiteness” in the text, which I also struggle with. CH


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