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Alexie Sherman – The Absolutely True Story of a part time Indian

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Alexia Sherman’s novel, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part time Indian is a great novel for the modern times. The themes that it also seeks to explore are very relevan in the modern context. They range from death, alcoholism, race, education among others. These themes in most cases work hand in hand. It is rare for instance to talk of poverty without a mention of alcoholism. This paper shall seek to explore how the author develops themes in the novel and why his chosen method is important. Among other things that shall be discussed shall be the role of using interconnected themes so as to build a narrative that is credible. The role that relationships between these themes play shall also be discussed. Discussion

The first important thing to note is that Sherman has elected to use the first person narrative to tell his story. This is a very telling sign that it is a book of a personal nature. It seeks to pass the message right from the people who are affected and not make use of observers and other people removed from the happenings. The advantages of using the first person narrative are that it gives the subjects a voice. It also makes the message being passed more poignant to the reader. It allows the reader to get inside the head of the characters and understand matters from their point of view and not merely rationalize them from the point of view of another narrator.

The choice of first person narration is especially relevant and apt in this case because the themes under discussion are of a very ‘touchy’ nature. There are issues for instance to do with race (the title itself suggests that to some extent), alcoholism, poverty and education among several others. These issues are best examined from the point of view of the affected. The world has already formed a default opinion about some of these issues. By using the first person narration, we get to understand the personal context within which they take place and therefore deal with the affected as an individual and not merely as part of a larger group. The novel opens with Arnold’s explanation of the physical problems that besiege him. He is born with excess fluid in his head. This necessitates brain operations that eventually leave him incapacitated in many ways. The problems do not end there though. There are several other physical infirmities that afflict him. One of those is the fact that some of his body parts are disproportionate. These include his hands and feet. This makes him the object of very much public scorn that even borders on hatred. He is even beaten up for sins that are not his own. He seems to undergo a kind of persecution as a result.

One of the themes that presents itself in this novel has to do with judgment. This is a very sensitive topic. The main character is already suffering the physical scars from the different infirmities that besiege him. However, he sustains several other emotional scars at the hands of those around him. He clearly has very little to do with the troubles that face him. He is in a very helpless position. The society aggravates those same troubles instead of being supportive and alleviating them . Unfortunately, this is not an exception in the modern world.

People are increasingly judging one another based on physical attributes alone. Humanity seems to have been thrown to the dogs. The onset of the modern age has brought many technological changes, but with it several social shifts too. People in some areas for instance believe in anorexic standards of beauty. Those who do not conform to them, mostly not out of their own will, are not treated lightly and are judged very harshly by those around them. The theme of judgment is replicated umpteenth times in the course of the novel. However, it’s not only this author who finds this theme worth exploring.

Another author who speaks to this theme is Isaac Bashevis Singer in his classic short story, Gimpel the Fool. The main character, Gimpel, comes across as very gullible. The people around him are to some extent responsible for his gullibility. They play the silliest pranks on him and he always falls for them. With time this turns from being merely a small weakness to become a major character flaw on his part. He is for instance convinced by the people around him to marry a well known village prostitute despite his best instincts. He even falls for the silly excuse that the woman’s small baby is her brother.

Clearly, Gimpel is made to pay for sins he does not commit, similar to Arnold in this case. There is a lot of harsh judgment that occurs in the lives of both characters that exposes the society around them in very bad light. The society does not seem to take the vulnerabilities of these people into account when meting out the kind of treatment that is well documented in both cases. In the end however, it is important to note that both of these characters are not only unfairly treated but also inaccurately judged. The authors in both cases labor to bring out the point that it is the society around them that is on the wrong and not them. As Sherman put it life for them is ‘a constant struggle between being an individual and being a member of the community’.

Another theme that is worth talking about in this novel is the theme of poverty. This is a theme that is never far away when one speaks of the Indian community. They are disenfranchised because they had to lose vast swathes of land to invaders. Worse still, those same invaders built a civilization next to them but ‘put walls around it’ meaning they were not able to access the opportunities that it held. This led, at some point in time, to intergenerational poverty. This cycle is only being broken now as society becomes more inclusive and takes the Indians under its wing.

The barest sign of poverty presents itself in the treatment of Arnold’s dog by his father. Oscar, the dog, seems to suffer from intense heat exhaustion. The father arrives at the decision to shoot it and put him out of his misery. The real reason behind his shooting however is that the father realizes he might have to pay a medical bill to the veterinary officer, which he cannot afford to raise. This is a shocking decision considering the kind of attachment and financial appraisal people put on pets in the United States nowadays. Some people even have their pets as their only living companions. An industry has even grown around pets to the extent that nowadays we even have pet psychologists!

Alexis especially develops this theme in an interesting way. He ties up this theme to the others like race and judgment so as to portray a very accurate picture of the society. Stringing together all these themes is important so as to emphasize the extent of disenfranchisement that the community as a whole and the main character to be particular face. The truth is that it is impossible to talk about the life of the Indians in the United States without giving mention to poverty. This was after all their reality for a very long time. Choosing to pursue a single theme will at best render a one-sided narrative. This is not likely to be received well by the reader, even with the full knowledge that it is a work of fiction. A popular saying even cryptically states that ‘If it’s fiction, then it better be true’.

It’s also worth noting that Singer also addresses the theme of poverty in his short story. The main character, Gimpel, comes from a poor family. He is an orphan. He is raised by his grandparents as a result. He is however forced to start working in a bakery at an early age due to the poverty he is born in and due to the fact that the grandparents are already too old to provide for him. It is an important observation that poverty is a necessary ingredient in a story of this kind.

Physical abuse and unbridled violence also make it to the plot courtesy of Arnold’s best friend Rowdy. He comes from a very poor family and has a very abusive father. The father always directs his anger at his son and his wife. So severe is the abuse that both are constantly bruised. He also at times takes out his anger on those around him, even Arnold himself. This is the sort of violence that seems to be borne out of frustration and poverty.

This is another thematic string that Sherman has wound. The strong point about the author’s development of the themes is how he seeks to create correlations between the different themes in the story. There seem to be no loose ends as a result. There are several kinds of relationships established between the different kinds of themes concerned. One of those relationships is the cause-effect relationship or action and reaction kind of relationship.

These relationships go a long way in the development of the themes. First of all they establish a basis for the different kinds of things that take place in the novel. They also hold the story closely together. A good example has to do with the theme of violence already mentioned above. The fact for instance that the father metes out such violence on his son seems to have passed some of the violent behaviout to his son who at one point punches his best friend Arnold. This therefore seems to provide a context to the violent nature of his son. His toughness can also be explained in the same way. He is tough because of the violence he has been exposed to.

Alcoholism is the last logical piece of this jigsaw. Wherever the other themes discussed above are involved, alcoholism is never too far away. This is because generally people drink to ‘drown their sorrows’. There are several problems in this community. Alcoholism only complicates them even further. To start with, both parents of the narrator are alcoholics. This obviously affects the decisions they make and by extension the quality of life that they extend to their families.

The effects of alcohol are however well demonstrated when Arnolds grandmother is run over by a drunk driver. This brings a lot of sorrow to an already overwhelmed family. It does not end there either. His father’s best friend is shot by his own friend in a fight over alcohol. Clearly, alcohol only seems to fuel deviance and increases violence, a theme already explored above. This connection is very important. A society does not rot in a vacuum. There are usually events and practices that accelerate the rot and alcohol is one of them in this case. Conclusion

Overall, the strategy that the author arrives at to develop the themes is very effective. The standout feature however is that the author chooses to employ many interconnected themes while telling the story. These themes are employed by several other writers in the same way with the same great results. An example is given of Isaac Bashevis Singer who employs the same themes while telling his highly acclaimed story, Gimpel the fool. Interconnected themes are not sufficient by themselves either. The author has to do the job of creating the connections by using different narratives. This is done very well by the author who seeks to establish strong cause-effect relationships so as to validate this work of fiction.

Alexie, S. (2007). The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. New York: Little, Brown and Company Short story -Gimpel the Fool by Isaac Bashevis Singer

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