A person’s identity is crafted by their environment. This affects who they portray themselves as and directly corresponds with who they have relationships with. Junior’s identity and relationships in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie are primarily affected by poverty, race, and customs because of the reservation that he is growing up on.
Poverty is a very apparent problem on most Indian reservations, and Junior’s rez is no exception. This is primarily caused by the alcoholism that most families face. When we are first being introduced to Junior at the beginning of the book, he says that he is “really just a poor-ass reservation kid living with his poor-ass family on the poor-ass Spokane Indian Reservation,”. This shows us that poverty affects everyone on the reservation, and also that Junior resents that fact. Later on in the book, Junior tells us that his “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,”.
This shows us that poverty is generational on his reservation. Everyone is just born into and they accept the fact that the cycle will continue. At first, he lets his poverty define who he is and accepts the fact that part of being Indian means being poor. At the end, he learns that it is possible to break the vicious cycle of poverty and to have hope to tear free from the stereotype he had earlier conformed to.
Junior’s race plays one of the most influential roles in creating his identity. Other than making him look like his tribe members, being an Indian speaks volumes to Junior’s character and presents him with many challenges throughout the novel. One of these challenges is fitting in at his new school, Rearden. Junior says that that he “woke up on the reservation as an Indian, and somewhere on the road to Rearden, [he] became something less than Indian,” . This shows us the inner conflict that he faces with fitting into two different racial groups (white and indian).
Later on in the book, when he is reflecting on his social situation, he says that he “always feels like a stranger,” because he is “half-Indian in one place and half-white in the other,” (118). His race also heavily plays into his poverty and customs because those characteristics arise because he is Indian. It affects his relationships because he feels as if he doesn’t quite fit in with his fellow tribe members, but he doesn’t fit in with his Rearden friends either because he doesn’t look like them.
The customs that come with being a Spokane Indian help shape Junior’s identity and define his relationships. Having a strong family bond is very important in Junior’s culture. This is shown when he says that “Indian families stick together like Gorilla Glue, the strongest glue in the world,” (89). This is also shown later on in the book when Junior says that “yeah, Indians are screwed up, but [they’re] close to each other,” (153). This means that everyone has their own problems, and they can choose to deal with it in different ways based on their upbringing, but Indians choose to stick close to their loved ones.
The way that the Spokane people value their families instills a strong sense of familial pride in Junior that can be seen when contrasted with his new Rearden friends. For example, when Roger insults Junior’s people and his family, he fights back. He says that things might have stayed peaceful “if Roger the Giant hadn’t taken it too far,” (64). He explains that he had to fight back because of the Indian Rules of Fisticuffs, and to protect his pride for his family and himself.
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