In the book The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, the main character Junior’s aspiration to “belong” or “fit in” plays a significant role in the story and in so many youths’ real lives.
Although Junior has lived on the reservation his whole life and the Spokane Indians were his native people, Junior has a lot of trouble “belonging.” When he decided to “leave” the rez and transfer the all-white school called Rearden, he is viewed as a traitor. People, who he knew and loved, harassed him. They didn’t know how to respond to this crazy news. Even his best friend Rowdy felt betrayed.
“What kind of idiot was I? I was the kind of idiot who got punched in the face by his best friend. Bang! Rowdy punched me. Bang! I hit the ground. Bang! My nose bled like a firework.” (Alexie 52)
The reaction of the Indians on the reservation was only the beginning of the torture. Junior couldn’t go anywhere on the rez without either being jumped, laughed at or slurred at, or all three for that matter. It got even worse for Junior, when Rearden played basketball against Wellpinit High on the rez. The whole gym booed him, threw stuff at him from the stands, and eventually Rowdy hit him so hard that Junior had to be hospitalized. Things didn’t change until Grandmother Spirit, or Junior’s grandmother died. It all stopped. No more harassment. No more slurs. The Indian community had realized that Junior was in enough pain from the sudden death of the person he loved most and let him have peace from then on. Even Rowdy, who hated him most, just left him alone.
When Junior first arrived at Rearden, many of people, including teachers, bullied him and treated him like a lower order of human. There was one particular incident outside the school where a group of jocks surrounded him and shouted incredibly racist things at him, just for being Indian. The only response Junior thought of in the moment was to punch the leader in the face in the hopes of attaining “respect” or to just defend himself against this in-humane treatment.
“I wasn’t just defending myself. I was defending Indians, black people and buffalo. So I punched Roger in the face.” (Alexie 65)
As the year progressed Junior slowly made his way up the totem pole due his “relationship” with the popular Penelope. Having Penelope made Junior feel complete and like he belonged at Rearden. Surprisingly enough Junior became very good friends with Roger, or the guy in which he had punched. Roger even lent Junior money, and gave him rides and treated him as if he were family. When Rearden destroyed Wellpinit in basketball Junior made it seem as if he were actually white as opposed to Indian.
“The buzzer sounded. The game was over. We had killed the Redskins. Yep, we had humiliated them.
We were dancing around the gym, laughing and screaming and chanting.
My teammates mobbed me. They lifted me up on their shoulders and carried me around the gym.” (Alexie 194)
He used the same slur against his people that racist white people used against him and his family.
At the end of the book, Junior realizes that he is in fact not white at heart but Indian at heart. No matter how hard he tries to be white, he will always be Indian and he came to accept that. He ended up “belonging” to the white community and his Indian people, he got the best of both worlds for being himself.
“I realized that, sure, I was a Spokane Indian. I belonged to that tribe. But I also belong to the tribe of American immigrants. And to the tribe of basketball players. And to the tribe of bookworms.
And the tribe of cartoonists.
And the tribe of teenage boys.
And the tribe of small town kids.
And the tribe of Pacific Northwesterners.
And the tribe of tortilla chips and salsa lovers.
And the tribe of poverty.
Until the tribe of funeral doors.
And the tribe of beloved sons.
And the tribe of boys who really miss their best friends.
It was a huge realization.
And that’s what I knew I was going to be okay. But it also reminded me of the people who are not going to be okay.” (Alexie 217)
So many youths conflict with themselves, their parents, and their friends because they don’t know which crowd to follow or whether to “belong” to their family, friends or school. The fact of the matter is that you can “belong” to all three. That’s who you are.