The Absolutely True Diary of a Part 1

Topics: Native Americans in the United States, Native American mascot controversy, Sherman Alexie Pages: 38 (8300 words) Published: November 30, 2014

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
Lesson Plan Unit

Jaclyn Ippolito
English Methods
Professor Cella

“There is another world, but it is in this one.”
– W.B. Yeats

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
by Sherman Alexie
Individual Unit Plan

Grade/Course: 8th grade ELA class
Unit Length: 5 Weeks
Educational/Classroom Culture:
Small suburban school in Upstate New York
Approximately 25 kids per class
Mixed ability levels
Single, 50 minute periods

Novel Summary:

Arnold Spirit Jr. is the geekiest Indian on the Spokane Reservation. He wears chunky, lopsided glasses. His head and body look like Sputnik on a toothpick. When he doesn’t stutter, he lisps. Arnold is a 14-year-old high school freshman. When he goes outside he gets teased and beaten, so he spends a lot of time in his room drawing cartoons. “I think the world is a series of broken dams and floods,” he says, “and my cartoons are tiny little lifeboats.”

To say that life is hard on the Spokane rez doesn’t begin to touch it. “My parents came from poor people who came from poor people who came from poor people,” Arnold explains, “all the way back to the very first poor people.” The kid was born with 10 too many teeth, so he gets them pulled — all in a single day, because the Indian Health Service pays for major dental work only once a year. When Arnold cracks open his geometry textbook, he finds his mother’s name written on the flyleaf. “My school and my tribe are so poor and sad that we have to study from the same dang books our parents studied from,” Arnold says. “That is absolutely the saddest thing in the world.” Enraged, Arnold beans his geometry teacher with the book and gets suspended from school. The targeted teacher, Mr. P., visits Arnold at home and gives him a piece of advice: get out. Mr. P. has seen too many promising students — like Arnold’s sister, Mary Runs Away — fade year by year, beaten down by poverty and hopelessness. “The only thing you kids are being taught is how to give up,” Mr. P. says. “The Absolutely True Diary” tracks Arnold’s year of getting out. He transfers to Reardan High, 22 miles away, a gleaming campus full of wealthy white kids, with a computer room and chemistry labs. He’s the only Indian — if you don’t count the school mascot. Early on, Arnold fears being beaten up by the jocks. “I was afraid those monsters were going to kill me,” he says. “And I don’t mean ‘kill’ as in ‘metaphor.’ I mean ‘kill’ as in ‘beat me to death.’” (The comedian in Alexie pops up as often as the poet.) Arnold’s toughness soon earns him their respect, though, as well as a spot on the varsity basketball team. What he can’t win back is the love of his neighbors at home. On the rez he’s considered a traitor. His best friend punches him in the face. When Reardan plays Wellpinit High in basketball, the Indians rain so much abuse on Arnold that a race riot nearly breaks out. Triumph and grief come in equal measure. Arnold figures out that he’s smarter than most of the white kids, and wins the heart of a white girl named Penelope. (“What was my secret?” he says. “If you want to get all biological, then you’d have to say that I was an exciting addition to the Reardan gene pool.”) Meanwhile, his father’s best friend is shot and killed, and his sister dies in a trailer fire. “I’m 14 years old, and I’ve been to 42 funerals,” Arnold says. “That’s really the biggest difference between Indians and white people.” For 15 years now, Sherman Alexie has explored the struggle to survive between the grinding plates of the Indian and white worlds. He’s done it through various characters and genres, but “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” may be his best work yet. Working in the voice of a 14-year-old forces Alexie to strip everything down to action and emotion, so that reading becomes more like listening to your smart, funny best friend recount his day while waiting...
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