Identity is a combination of many factors, such as family, culture, economic status, and community. Sherman Alexie’s novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian showcases the strong relationship between identity and place; each affect each other and help to shape Junior and his path in life.
Junior lives on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Washington with his parents, sister, and grandmother. Junior’s parents and grandmother have lived on the reservation for most or all of their lives, as have many of the reservation members. Junior’s sense of identity at the beginning of the novel is strongly tied to his place on the reservation and his relationship to others in his community. He knows who he is on the reservation and what his place is. This all changes when he leaves to attend Reardan High School, an unfamiliar place both physically and culturally.
Junior must navigate a new identity after he enters this new space. He is the only Native American besides the mascot; most of the other students come from rich families; the teachers and students alternately stare and him and ignore him. His struggle with identity can be seen in something as simple as his name. On the reservation, he has always gone by Junior. In contrast, his teachers and the other students at Reardan call him Arthur. He tries to explain to his classmates that “‘My name is Junior…and my name is Arnold. It’s Junior and Arnold. I’m both.’”  His different names, used in different situations, represent the dichotomy he feels; he is a different person on and off the reservation.
Junior’s place on his peers’ social ladder also changes when he transfers schools. On the reservation, he is often picked on and bullied, even by adults. When he first attends Reardan, he is both picked on and ignored. However, becoming friends with the most popular girl in school results in Junior also becoming popular. This is something that wouldn’t have happened to him on the reservation. His new classmates see him in a different way that the Wellpinit students he grew up with never could; he explains that Reardan students like him because he “looked and talked and dreamed and walked differently than everybody else. I was new.”  This new status gives him more confidence as he expands his friend group and becomes somewhat more comfortable at Reardan.
Central to Junior’s feeling of changing identity is how his reservation community perceives and treats him. They see him as a traitor for leaving the reservation school to attend an all-white school; Junior explains to his friend that “They call me an apple because they think I’m red on the outside and white on the inside.” . This sentiment is easily seen in Reardan’s first basketball game of the season against Wellpinit. As the Rearden team walks into the gym, all the tribal members stop chanting “Arnold sucks!” and collectively turn their back on Junior. Junior’s former best friend, Rowdy, gives Junior a concussion, and his cousins are among a group of children that throw snowballs filled with rocks at the Reardan players. However, even though they see him as a traitor, the others wave a white flag the day of his grandmother’s funeral and cease teasing and taunting him. Junior realizes the significance of this, and explains that “no matter that else happened between my tribe and me, I would always love them for giving me peace” on that day”.  They recognize that Junior is still part of the reservation life, and still Native American even though he attends an all-white school.
Throughout the novel Junior struggles with who he is based on where he is. He agonizes that, “Traveling between Reardan, between the little white town and the reservation, I always felt like a stranger. I was half Indian in one place and half white in the other.”  Place is central to his both his own construction of identity and how others perceive him. His two identities often clash with each other, but Junior strives to reconcile these two sides and simply be himself wherever he is, an endeavor he ultimately accomplishes.
 Sherman Alexie, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2009), 61
 Ibid., 110
 Ibid., 130
 Ibid., 160
 Ibid., 118