An individual that conforms to society will only go as far as society allows. It seems as if an individual’s personal aspirations are held at the will of society’s judgment if there is even a slight whiff of deviation from the ‘social norm.
‘ Arnold is a teenage boy who dreams big but feels limited due to his circumstances so he seeks better education at Reardan. On the surface, Sherman Alexie’s, “The Absolutely True Diary of A Part-Time Indian” portrays a teenager’s struggle of poverty growing up on an Indian reservation, however, it more importantly conveys an individual’s struggle against societal constraints. Arnold has a clear conscious when it comes to the reality of the poverty he lives in. The author communicates this, “And because you’re Indian you start believing you’re destined to be poor. It’s an ugly circle and there’s nothing you can do about it” (13). The author alludes to the circle of life, which repeats itself when something dies it gives rise to a new life; a cyclical eternity of death and rebirth. Arnold applies this cyclical concept to his own situation, insisting that his life of poverty was inevitable because the Indians from which he originated were also in a state of destitution. Arnold views his poverty as a societal prison that keeps his dreams out of reach.
Arnold reflects, “Poverty doesn’t give you strength or teach you lessons about perseverance. No poverty only teaches you how to be poor” (13). The author uses this line as a tool to show how blind Arnold is to his own strength. This concept resonates and transforms throughout the novel as Arnold copes with his unfortunate circumstances which ultimately lead him to realize his true identity independent of society and its cycle of poverty. Despite having lived on the Indian reservation (the rez) all his life, Arnold still struggles to feel part of the community that surrounds him. Alexie utilizes the story’s first-person point of view to make the reader feel as if Arnold is talking to a close friend, therefore Arnold’s personal thoughts and feelings are shared in a raw untainted form. Growing up with hydrocephalus, ten extra teeth, and abnormal eyes Arnold’s feelings of alienation are demonstrated in the lines, “I am zero on the rez. And if you subtract zero from zero, you still have zero” (16).
This evidence reveals Arnold’s self-image as the rez’s outcast; being the first instance to shed light on the conflict between the individual and society in the novel.Attending Reardan, seemed to further divide Arnold’s sense of identity. Arnold considers himself a “part-time Indian” because he feels like a stranger at both the rez and Reardan.
The author saw this as an opportunistic use of symbolism to convey the deeper meaning behind Arnold’s dual-identity struggle. “They call me an apple because they think I’m red on the outside and white on the inside” (132) The text reveals the metaphor that Arnold is like an apple, red on the outside for his skin and white on the inside for his character. This metaphor suggests that members of his tribe consider the Indian component of Arnold to merely be superficial like the skin of an apple. Use of this metaphor aids the reader to recognize the attitude Arnold’s tribe has towards him, which is mainly the feeling of betrayal. Leaving the rez to attend school in a white community “some Indians think you have to act white to make your life better. Some Indians think you become white if you try to make your life better, if you become successful” (131). In this text and in the use of the apple symbolism, Alexie hints at how Indians on the rez view identity and/or race as a social construct, independent of what you are born into. One of Arnold’s many identities is an adolescent boy influenced by society, whose mind can be analyzed through the diction of the novel.
Sherman Alexie has a colloquial style of writing in this novel, mainly due to his desire to communicate Arnold’s feelings to young readers so the reader feels as if he/she is being personally addressed. Alexie utilizes slang and swear words such as “rez,” “zilch,” “cuss,” “wuss,” and “dickwad,” to give the novel a more raw and realistic feel. If Arnold spoke in a manner that was polite and reserved, then the novel wouldn’t be perceived as an “absolutely true diary.” As Arnold states,”Life is a constant struggle between being an individual and being a member of the community,” the author demonstrates how society plays such an influential role during an individual’s adolescent years in ways such as character, attitude, and behavior (132).Arnold experiences self-epiphany towards the end of the novel which is essential to understanding the resolution of his identity being freed of society’s constraints. Rowdy, Arnold’s best friend suggests, “Hardly anybody on this rez is nomadic.
Except for you. You’re the nomadic one” (229). The author uses this line to reflect on the past Indian way of life, comparing it to Arnold leaving the rez, therefore implying that he is truly the most Indian out of all his community. Arnold was the only one on the rez that was willing to take a chance at his dreams even if it meant leaving his community behind. At this point in the novel, Arnold realizes, “I was a Spokane Indian.
I belonged to that tribe. But also belonged to the tribe of American immigrants. And to the tribe of basketball players. And to the tribe of bookworms..
.” (217) The author points out to the reader that Arnold considers himself to be part of multiple tribes, which ultimately does not make him any “less Indian,” but rather furthers his individuality. With this mindset, Arnold realizes he doesn’t have to chose to be either Indian or white, he can be an amalgamation of tribes that construct his fundamental identity regardless of societal perspective.