For many years, Native Americans have encompassed a negative pool of stereotypes; one of these negative stereotypes is the attachment to the term “alcoholics”. In today’s society, the propaganda, that “all Native Americans” are being insensitively addicted to alcohol, is extremely offensive; this is because it stigmatizes an unfortunate disease some members, within their culture, face. Members of this discourse community whom are authors are commonly attracted to this method (of exposing reality). For instance, Sherman Alexie — a prominent Native American author – puts an aggressive highlight on alcoholism within the Native American community; this meaning he constantly brings up harmful rhetoric to attack his own community. In his novel, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, written by Alexie, his characters all seem to be alcoholics. Within the text Alexie uses Arnold’s (the main character who voices the novel) close relationships with his immediate family to show the negative impacts of alcohol. Everyone Arnold has ever loved eventually gets affected, or dies; because of the effects alcohol has on the characters. Arnold’s repetitive sarcastic comments, about alcohol, generalize the image all Native Americans; further, Alexie’s writing adds to the continuation of negative stereotypes encircling his own marginalized community. This harms the novel by strengthening the normalcy of these negative (and societal) stereotypes while inadvertently allowing a general/improper viewpoint – about the Native American culture – to be passed onto non-Native American readers (Kern 3).
From the start of the novel, we see Arnold struggling for a better life — one that is away from his [alcoholic] community. As he struggles, it is evident that he is perpetually stuck – he continually battles to keep a close relationship with everyone he loves (Alexie, 1). Despite his father’s alcohol addiction, once Arnold leaves the reservation, he witnesses firsthand how alcoholism has ruined his loved one’s and his people. He is disappointed [and angered] about how many lives were taken away by alcohol. In fact, the subject begins to dominant to Arnold’s mind; this can be seen when he comments,“ I know only, like five Indians in our whole tribe who have never drunk alcohol” (158). He labels the majority of the tribe as being “alcoholics”; this imposes inherent normality to the portrayal of Native American culture – and their behaviors, this toxic portrayal fathers negative stereotypes about their culture as well. Moreover, one may see that the main character carried only a single perspective to frame the negative situation he is in. This lens allowed him to understand the implications of alcohol, as well.
The consequences of alcoholism are typically seen with his relationship with his father. He continuously forgives his father and excusing his faults; this action proves the love Arnold has for his father. Despite his father’s addiction, he wants to see the better in him. However, his thoughts, towards, his father, begin to shift during Christmas-time. He explains, “ When the holidays rolled around, we didn’t have any money for presents, so Dad did what he always does when we don’t have enough money. He took what little money we did have and ran away to get drunk” (150). Arnold’s anger does not last long when his father gives him his Christmas present – it is a five-dollar bill. Arnold comments, “Drunk for a week, my father must have really wanted to spend those last five dollars. He could have spent that five bucks and stayed drunk for another day or two. But he saved it for me” (151). Rather then rejecting it, he accepts it with open hands and immediately understands his fathers love and sacrifice (“Alcoholism”). His father is not the only loved one who carries the impact of alcohol on their shoulder.
In addition to his father’s addiction, several of Arnold’s loved ones die due to alcohol. His idolized grandma passes away because of an accident by a drunk Native American driver. This event results in Arnold’s greatest emotional defeat. His grandmother was the person that kept him on the edge of hope, for his people on the reservation. She is Arnold’s favorite person in the world, a wise woman and a role model to Arnold. His grandma was one of the many of the Indians that did not drink (and was not portrayed in a negative tone) throughout the novel; this made her a great source for advice (Jill D 02:56). Arnold emphasizes the rarity of his Grandmother’s character through sarcastically stating, “ that’s the rarest kind of Indian I know”(158). This comment is making a bold statement – it displays Native Americans as [excessive drinkers], at large. Her death makes him irritated and unable to cope with the fact that she died – especially in relation to alcohol. He explains, “ Grandparents are supposed to die first, but they’re supposed to die of old age. They’re supposed to die of a heart or stoke or cancer of Alzheimer’s THEY ARE NOT SUPPOSED TO GET RUN OVER AND KILLED BY A DRUNK DRIVER”(158). Instead of holding in the resentment of the action – he blames those on the reservation (and his culture). This motivates him to leave the reserve and to turn back on his own identity; this event cements the idea that alcoholism will forever be attracted to his people. The death of his grandmother is not the only event that emotionally hurts him.
As one progresses through the text, they can see that Arnold also struggles with his sister’s death, Mary. Arnold’s father explains to him the details of his sisters death (205). Arnold angrily comments, OF COURSE THEY HAD A BIG PARTY! OF COURSE THEY WERE DRUNK! THEYRE INDIANS!” (205). Her death allows him to find another way to group Native Americans into one mistaken category: alcoholics. Arnold’s anger did not allow for his fathers comfort to alter his attitudes towards the situation; he asserts, “My dad was trying to comfort me. But it’s not too comforting to learn that your sister was TOO FREAKING DRUNK to feel any pain when she BURNED TO DEATH” (205). In this situation, he’s upset; he clearly felt his sister doesn’t deserve to die in this way. Arnold really looks up to her, and admires her dreams/passions about romantic novels (26). She inspires him to leave the reservation behind (similar to herself). This event, along with the passing of his loved ones truly dispersed Arnold in to a world of misery. He feels unhappy, incomplete and believes that everything that causes him unhappiness is in relation to alcohol. When he leaves the reservation, to attend his new school, he reads a book and argues that, “ unhappy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” He continues, “Well I hate to argue with a Russian genius, but Tolstoy didn’t know Indians. He didn’t know know that all Indian families are unhappy for the same exact reason: the fricking booze” (200). This statement allows for an open door of assumption about Native American culture; additionally, it harms the true nature of their culture. Reading this work can distort the Native American culture as whole.
However, some readers may find issue with the idea that the novel is an attack (or slander) on Native Americans. They may argue that Alexie’s uses of his main character; Arnold is to break stereotypes of Native American (specifically regarding their ethnic background being synonymous with being “alcoholics.” This out look on the novel – however – is incorrect. While the protagonist (Arnold) is not an alcoholic, the rest of the characters are alcoholic; there is no balancing act (of this unfortunate stereotype) within the novel. Specifically, the ratio of having only one character shadow the majority of native American character (whom are alcoholics) – is ignored in a wrongful view. The negative impact – of having a majority of Native American characters be alcoholics — outweighs any positive idea (of social progression) within the story. One character is not enough to deconstruct the stereotypical “Indian.” Instead, the text leaves one with the impression that Native Americans are incapable of having a positive image; this ideology can be damaging for uneducated individuals (on Native American society). This meaning, it directly paints an inappropriate image of the Native American culture by portraying most Native Americans as alcoholics. In addition, Alexie proposes no solution to the problem of alcoholism within the Native American society. The only resolution that is given is the act of “escaping” the reservation; this means leaving his best friend and family behind (Kern 17). In addition to displaying Native Americans as alcoholics, he matches this negative (and unfortunate stereotype) with a barrage of sarcastic comments.
Within the text, despite all the heartaches, and the painful regularity of deaths Arnold endures, he as able to surpass all his problems; this occurs through the realization of hatred within himself. This is the eventual cause and drive for his decision to flee the reservation. Primarily, one could argue that this is caused from his surrounding environment; this being, his family attachment onto a web of alcohol. This leaves the reader such to facing an unfortunate stigma. Moreover, it puts Arnold in a tough position (of endlessly forgiving his fathers bad faults, his sisters passing, and his grandmothers’ passing – due to alcohol). The cryptic nature of alcohol, shown within Arnold’s relationships, empathizes a problematic issue; it allows for a negative impression of Native American culture to grow. This stereotype is extremely harmful for readers who are not familiar with Native American culture. Alexie, as the author, uses his voice to display the negative aspects of Native American culture within his novel. Since his work is famous (and commonly distributed in schools around the world), his negative message carries even more weight – it is a tool used to convey culture. Instead of providing a comprehensive and diverse text to uneducated individuals – about this culture, he chooses a rather harsh approach; this is he generalizes Native Americans into one category: alcoholics.