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Poverty vs. Privilege


The theme of poverty vs. privilege is seen in many stories and novels but the way Sherman Alexie addressed it is unique. He did not only attend to the differences of the poor and the rich families but persuaded its readers that we all are poor in distinct ways. Thus, the poverty does not only mean affordability of food, and clothes and the privileged ones are also poor in some ways which are quite different from the poverty we understand it to be. The author Sherman Alexie through his story “The Absolutely True Story” has given a new understanding of the contrast between the poor and the privileged one. The tale provides with the instances showing that even the privileged ones are poor; though not like Arnold himself.

Privileged are not poor like Arnold

“The Absolutely True Story” depicts the life of a 14-year-old Arnold who is a Spokane Indian. His family did not have any respect and self-esteem in the community because of their poverty. Arnold had physical health problems due to the scarcity of food. The whole Spokane Reservation where Arnold and his family lived suffered from extreme poverty and hopelessness. “Okay, so maybe my white teammates had problems, serious problems, but none of their problems was life-threatening” (p.195). The poverty of Arnold as shown in the story is a common definition that we all have in our minds.

Poverty does not only mean unaffordability of food

After spending a great deal of poor living on the Reservation, Arnold got a chance to observe that poverty is not only what he, his family and other families living on the Reservation are suffering from. He moves to Reardan where he keeps his poverty a secret from his rich and privileged classmates. “I lied about how poor I was” (p. 119). Moreover, in that secrecy, he noticed that being poverty does not have one definition only. It does not refer to the unaffordability of food and clothes only, or lack of education. He noticed the problems of the rich kids around him and found their poverty as well. He found that poverty comes in different shapes and forms, and privilege does not mean a perfect life.

A poverty of food is better than the poverty of positive feelings

A perfect life does not only mean the provision of food, education, and clothes. Poverty can be fought with or mitigated by other positive influences such as support within the family and the community, helping each other etc. But these positive impacts were absent from the rich and privileged community of Reardan. Lack of respect, care and love were seen in this new community. But Arnold with his sensibility taught them how to care. “All of these white kids and teachers, who were so suspicious of me when I first arrived, had learned to care about me. Maybe some of them even loved me” (p.176). Arnold also went through racial discrimination and had been called by various insulting names. A life is perfect when we have friends, when we receive love, care, and respect from the people around us, and when we are supported. Life is even better when people encourage us for our strength and bravery. “Junior,” she said. “I’m so proud of you.” That was the best thing she could have said.” (p.178)


The difference between poor and the privileged is quite obvious in the text but here we can say that all people are poor and rich in their own distinct ways. The things which Arnold possessed was missing in his white friends at Reardan and what he didn’t have, they were having it. “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way” (p.164). The term ‘privileged’ is always taken to be wealthy and rich, and ability to afford anything. But actually happiness, love, care, support, hope, and friendships; these treasures can’t be bought from money.

Works Cited

Sherman, Alexie. “The absolutely true diary of a part-time Indian.” CELL 608 (2009): 0753.



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