Who doesn’t love The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie? The book is incredible, thought-provoking, and complex. This year, my college students are reading it, and we plan to explore identity as it pertains to the novel. I wanted to generate critical, innovative teaching ideas for the book. It was my goal that students would have fun exploring the text while also thinking deeply about it. I would love for others to share what they’ve done with this book!
A few ideas/strategies:
1. Ask students to draw themselves as split between identities.
This idea feels a bit obvious, but it really allows students to connect the concepts of the text with their own lives.
2. As a class, discuss racial melancholia.
Racial melancholia is a mourning or a psychological haunting that might result from a feeling of estrangement from American mainstream “whiteness.” Scholars show that individuals describe (or are unconscious of) their realization that fully assimilating is impossible, given aspects like physical appearance. Essentially, these individuals experience a profound sense of dejection as they realize they may always be perceived as the Other. There is a lot of scholarship that analyzes racial melancholia in Asian Americans, and students might read some of these articles and consider how Junior and Rowdy may be experiencing racial melancholia.
3. Discuss reservations today.
Show articles about reservations today. Consider whether they may not be sacred places for some—as they are essentially sites of cultural genocide.
4. Research reservation schools today.
Ask students to research reservation schools today. This article is particularly relevant to the text.
5. Consider the hero’s journey.
A quick Google Images search generates some great diagrams. Have students study and critique the diagrams and consider whether this journey is present or absent in Alexie’s text. They might consider how the journey is relevant to both Junior and Rowdy.
6. Watch videos that feature Sherman Alexie.
There are many videos on youtube that feature Sherman Alexie. His words are very powerful, and he discusses the realities that face Native Americans today. Here’s one of my favorites:
7. Some discussion questions and considerations about tribal identity
- What bothered you in the book?
- Where did you struggle to understand the perspectives within the text?
- Can discomfort or anger increase our understanding or meaning?
- Does Junior’s tribal identity help or hurt him?
- What must Junior do to further his education and imagine possibilities for the adulthood that he doesn’t see on the reservation? Join the historical oppressors.
- Is it possible to leave the sadness of your home and not betray who you are?
I’d love to hear from you! What have you done to enrich your understanding of this text?