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Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian Essay by Sherman Alexie

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Raphael Hanna

Writing 299 - C

Prof. Melissa Freitas

5 December 2017

WRI 299 Final Essay

Without determination, it is inevitable that one will plunder and suffer the consequences of failure. Regardless of the situation and difficulty, it is possible to attain success as long as an effort is put to reach the end goal. In The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, the main character Junior, is a Native American teenager who is born into poverty and lives on the reservation, where all hopes and dreams go to die. Junior grasps a keen understanding of life on the reservation and comes to the realization that he must change his life if he wants to avoid the failures of his parents. By making this decision, Junior eventually finds himself climbing an uphill battle by switching to a primarily white school, where he is forced to overcome many hurdles. Regardless of the challenges which Junior faces, his character is able to mature as he embraces his race and socioeconomic status within society to maintain positive hopes and dreams of a better future.

Throughout the book, Junior attempts to dispel what he sees as general stereotypes about being poor. Part of the American dream is the idea that anyone, with sufficient hard work, can work their way out of poverty, and that the lessons learned through living with poverty will lead to success later on. Although Junior believes this, he also believes that it is dangerous to perpetuate the idea that poverty is anything other than a disease. This is illustrated when Junior states, “Poverty doesn’t give you strength or teach you lessons about perseverance. No, poverty only teaches you how to be poor” (Alexie 13). Junior gives a blunt evaluation of the world around him because he only sees poverty teaching people to be poor. By this, Junior refers to the fact that poverty prevents social flexibility rather than strengthens it. Poor people are cut off from the resources that promote social flexibility, such as education. This is apparent in Junior's community; people don't seem to have realistic ideas about how to get out of poverty, and not many young people are being guided towards achievable goals that might better their lives. As a result, this is what drives Junior away from the reservation, as he recognizes that it is the only way to achieve any success.

The difficulty of escaping the nature of poverty is one that Junior struggles with repeatedly in the novel. Regardless, there are situations presented throughout the novel that helps illustrate to Junior how it is possible to free himself from poverty. One of these instances comes to light when Junior begins explaining that it is not his parent’s fault that their family is poor, as his parents simply never had any money to begin with. This is shown when Junior says, “My parents came from poor people who came from poor people who came from poor people, all the way back to the very first poor people” (Alexie 11). Additionally, Junior ties this poverty in with race, too. As Indians, his family has, for generations, not had the same opportunities as white families, and that has meant that nobody could escape from poverty and thereby create better opportunities for future generations. Based on this passage, Junior understands that the reservation is an environment where hope does not exist. If a family has been stuck in poverty for that many generations, then there is both minimal opportunity to escape and, therefore, very little reason for anyone to hope for a better life.

Moreover, Junior has his realization confirmed when he encounters a situation with his teacher, Mr. P. After Junior gets suspended from school for throwing his geometry textbook at Mr. P, Mr. P comes to see him and reminds Junior that he has already struggled through and overcome tremendous obstacles. This is shown when Mr. P conveys, “You’ve been fighting since you were born. 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” (Alexie 43). To attain “the better life” which Junior is seeking, he needs to take matters into his own hands and get himself off the reservation to a world that might be able to offer him the hope and resources that could carry him out of poverty. Ultimately, this encounter with Mr. P sticks with Junior and leads him to his decision to transfer to a white high school where he will have more opportunities.

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