A View of the Continuous Vengeance in Sherman Alexie’s Book, Flight
Cycle of Revenge
Gandhi said, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” What Gandhi meant was that taking revenge will make a destructive cycle. In Sherman Alexie’s Flight, it shows the vicious cycle in action. In the story there is a boy named Zits who discovers the true meaning of revenge through seemingly getting killed, and then getting embodied into people from both sides of the Indian war. His recurring theme about revenge is that revenge becomes a never ending cycle, there are those who seek to continue the cycle and those who wish to end the cycle.
Revenge becomes a cycle when someone harms a person and he or she seeks to harm anyone associated with that someone. When Zits is embodied into an Indian child, he wakens in the middle of an indian camp. He soon meets and father and then realizes that his throat has been slit by a American soldier. When the camp gets attacked by Custer’s cavalry, the tribe successfully fights them off. Then he is given the chance to cut the throat of a young white soldier. At first he is confused but then “[he] remember[s]: A white soldier slashed [his] throat… and now my father wants revenge. He wants me to want revenge” (Alexie 75). Everyone around Zits also wants him to take revenge, but he realizes that if he takes revenge on this soldier, the soldier’s family and friends will have the right to take revenge on the Indians also. Zits realizes that the cycle will keep on continuing as long as both sides are taking revenge on one another. This shows that the cycle of revenge will continue until someone one side steps up and stops the never-ending cycle.
The cycle of revenge continues when a group of people kills someone’s family and they wish to kill anyone associated with that person. Zits is now embodied into an old white Indian tracker named Gus. Zits quickly realizes where this is going to lead and tries to avoid it, but Gus’ will is too strong. When he instinctively leads the soldiers to a hill overlooking the indian camp, Gus has a flashback and sees the “slaughtered white settlers… the body of a little girl… lay the naked body of a woman… forever reaching out to this little girl” (87). This is the flashback that Zits sees when he is on the ridge above the Indian camp. Zits feels the grief and anger that Gus feels and charges down into the camp. They mercilessly kill innocent indian children and women. These soldiers believe that they are taking justice upon those slaughtered in the town, but they are just continuing the cycle.
Stopping the cycle or revenge can also be done. During the battle Zits sees a young white soldier, whom he nicknamed “Small Saint” chase and pick up a small Indian boy and runs for the forest. Zits quickly goes on a horse and picks them up and helps them escape and how he wants to “outrun that monster revenge” (97). Zits classifies revenge as a monster, which shows that revenge can lead someone innocent into being a “monster”. Zits falls off the horse and gets injured. Small Saint try to get him to continue. Zits eventually asks the boy why he did it, and Small Saint replies with “I joined the military to defend people, and thats what I’m doing right now.” Small Saint, as young as he is, understands that revenge will become a cycle that will kill many innocent people for the actions of their people. He tries to stop the rhythm and do what he thinks is right. When you want revenge for a group of people who hurt you family, you want to go kill them, but there are those who seek to stop the vicious cycle.
Revenge can be sought for many things, but it’s cycle can be stopped when one party accepts that what they have done is wrong. When Zits is Jimmy, a pilot, he soon finds out that he has been secretly cheating on his wife for a long period of time. Zits doesn’t realize until he “hear[s] another woman’s voice… a choked sob…” (117), that is Jimmy’s wife. When she finds out she throws out all his stuff and wants to shoot him in the face as revenge. Helda, Jimmy’s wife points a gun to his face; however, “Jimmy realizes he wants her to pull the trigger. Jimmy wants his wife to kill him (124).” Jimmy takes his death wish into his own hands and goes to his plane and reminisces peacefully while he crashes into the ocean. He realizes the consequences and is taking responsibility for them, which is stopping the cycle. When he realizes that he did harm to his wife, he realizes that he broke her heart and hurt her dearly, he takes his regret into his own hands and ends his life, feeling like he didn’t deserve to live after that. The rotation is stopped when one party accepts and repents for what they have done.
The final act to put a stop to the cycle is to just accept and forgive. When Zits is back to his own body, he now knows that these people have done nothing wrong to him, and that taking revenge on them will do nothing. After some wandering around he finds officer Dave and feels relieved. He chooses to end the cycle and asks Officer Dave “I want you to take [the guns] from me. Please take them away.” Zits decides to be as peace without the cycle of revenge and gives his guns to officer Dave. He now understands many things about revenge and how it does not solve anything. Zits accepts and forgives what people have done to him and has come to peace with himself. He is one of the people who wish to step up and end the cycle. When a person forgives someone who has wronged them, they take it into their own will and stop the pattern of revenge.
The never ending cycle of revenge is dangerous because it always includes someone doing harm to a person or the person’s friends and continues with the mentality that the person can retaliate and do harm to them back in the form of justice. This triggers a vicious cycle that is difficult to stop, but there are those out there who understand and wish to end the cycle, such as “Small Saint,” Jimmy, and Zits. Revenge is a big theme inside this novel and the that it will become a cycle until someone stops it.
The Theme of Self-Education in Superman and Me by Sherman Alexie
In the case of Sherman Alexie’s Superman and Me, we see that self-education is not only just learning what a word is, and what a few letters thrown together looks like. Instead it is taking many of those things and conceptual ideas and applying them to everyday life. Something that people don’t really think about generally is that children do this a lot. They are like sponges absorbing information from everywhere around them. I agree with Alexie’s definition on education and what it means to be literate.
As told in Superman and Me by Sherman Alexie, learning to read is not hard once you become dedicated and find some interest in it. It helps that he was surrounded by all books because it somewhat “forced” him to have an interest in his surroundings. Alexie says, “Our house was filled with books. They were stacked in crazy piles in the bathroom, bedrooms and living room. … My father loved books, and since I loved my father with an aching devotion, I decided to love books as well.” (Alexie p. 15) You can say that Alexie’s role model was his father in the sense that he wanted to love what his dad loved. This helped spark the “love/fiery interest” of learning how to read and gaining an understanding of it. What’s crazy about this story is that to the outside world Alexie was considered poor, but his father understood what reading could do for a young child. Therefore he surrounded his children in books. Even if it wasn’t the newest book, it was still some type of pathway for greater knowledge.
Young children use a lot of context clues to make sense of their surroundings. Alexie states, “The words themselves were mostly foreign, but I still remember the exact moment when I first understood, with a sudden clarity, the purpose of a paragraph.” (Alexie p. 15) When he started reading he did not know what a paragraph was but using his context clues he was able to form an idea on what it was and what its purpose was. He said, “I realized that a paragraph was a fence that held words. They had some specific reason for being inside the same fence.” (Alexie p. 16) It’s amazing to think that a child can come up with a thought so grand and novel like that. He wasn’t only able to keep this applied to just reading, but also to the life around him. This is a huge part of being educated, when you can use what you learn and apply it to an everyday thing. In the story, Alexie says, “I began to think of everything in terms of paragraphs. Our reservation was a small paragraph within the United States. My family’s house was a paragraph… Inside our house, each family member existed as a separate paragraph but still had genetics and common experiences to link us. At the same time I was seeing the world in paragraphs…” (Alexie p. 16) This is the moment that everything comes together. The reading and the context clues and bigger ideas become a grand thought process that people are then able to apply to multiple situations.
Being educated and literate means to have a wide span of knowledge on many different things in life. Once you open a book, that’s one more word in your vocabulary bank that will help you understand the world even more. The phrase knowledge is power, is so true because once you can read, you can understand your rights as a citizen and this, to the men who created the country, can pose a huge threat against them. It allows for minorities to rise up and rebel. Alexie tells us, “A smart Indian is a dangerous person, widely feared and ridiculed by Indians and non-Indians alike.” (Alexie p. 17) The government doesn’t want minorities to be educated enough to understand the injustices they are dealt. This is when one knows that they are truly educated.
Alexie refused to live up to society’s expectations of what he was suppose to be. Living in this box was not an option for him. He says, “We were Indian children who were expected to be stupid. Most lived up to those expectations inside the classroom but subverted them on the outside. … As Indian children, we were expected to fail in the non-Indian world. Those who failed were ceremonially accepted by other Indians and appropriately pitied by non-Indians.” (Alexie p. 18) He was determined to be successful at reading and began to have a love for it. Failing was not an option for him. He even said, “I refused to fail. I was smart. I was arrogant. I was lucky.” (Alexie p. 19) In this second to last paragraph he states fourteen times “I read…” There were many instances where he would just be eager to pick up anything with words on it and read. It became an addiction sort of. But the addiction wasn’t just for laugh and giggles, it was for something much greater than that. Alexie tells us that his reason for reading so much was, “I was trying to save my life.” (Alexie p. 19) At the end of the story he tells us that he is not only trying to save his life, but he is trying to save their (Indians) lives as well.
As we have seen being educated means gaining knowledge for a purpose bigger than oneself. When one can take what they have read and apply it to a bigger meaning in life, they have unlocked many doors for themselves in life. Hard work and dedication are two major factors for getting the most knowledge out of oneself as they possibly can. Alexie has definitely shown us what it means to be self-educated and have literacy about what was read.
The Theme of Perseverance in What You Pawn I Will Redeem, a Short Story by Sherman Alexie
Life is full of situations that challenge people to overcome the odds and achieve what they thought was impossible. Such is the case in Sherman Alexie’s short story, “What You Pawn I Will Redeem.” The narrator is faced with what seems to be an impossible situation – to come up with $999 in just 24 hours to obtain his deceased grandmother’s stolen regalia from the owner of a pawnshop to whom it had been pawned. These insurmountable odds bring out the best in the otherwise flawed narrator, Jackson. Jackson is a homeless alcoholic whose disease has almost cost him his life. Nonetheless, Jackson rises above his circumstances and show three tremendous qualities while overcoming his extremely difficult task. He shows endurance through hard times, generosity in spite of dire financial need, and patience with other people along the way.
The first of Jackson’s astonishing characteristics in the face of adversity worth considering is his tremendous ability to endure through impossibilities. Almost anyone in Jackson’s position – being able to buy back his deceased grandmother’s stolen regalia – would have desired to accomplish the goal. However, not many people would have endured through the impossibility of coming up with $1,000 cash in less than 24 hours, especially consider the odds against him in the sense of him being a homeless alcoholic. Most people would have given up without even trying. Jackson, however, not only tries to accomplish the goal, but he does so with extreme optimism. Consider, for example, when Alexie tells us that Jackson buys two lottery tickets, each with a possible winner of up to $500, and scratches them off hoping to win the necessary $1,000 to accomplish his goal. It is arguable that he is delusional; however, one could likewise suggest that Jackson simply has so much endurance in the face of adversity that he genuinely feels he can win against such insurmountable odds. Despite all practical notions to the contrary, Jackson seemingly glides from one deadbeat endeavor to the next with a nonchalant, carefree approach that borders on self-deception but nonetheless leads him on with endurance despite the odds that are stacked against him.
The second of Jackson’s outstanding characteristics that come to the surface during his struggles is his financial generosity. It would be easy for someone in his situation to hoard every penny possible in order to try to get as much of the necessary $999 as possible. Jackson, on the other hand, does exactly the opposite. Rather than hoard his money, he gives it away. When he gets $100, for example, he gives $20 back to the woman and keeps the $80 for himself. However, he doesn’t even spend the $80 on himself but rather buys drinks for the other people in the bar. According to De Leon, good short stories are those that portray “characters with real desires” (2016). Alexie does just that in a superb fashion by juxtaposing Jackson’s real desire to get money quickly for his grandmother’s regalia with his extreme generosity. It has been said that money doesn’t turn one into someone else; it simply reveals who the person already is. The same has been said about adversity. With those two thoughts in mind, it seems that Jackson is inherently a very generous person. When both adversity and money fall into his lap at the same time, he shows himself to be a generous giver rather than a stingy hoarder.
The final amazing characteristic of Jackson that comes to life during his adversity is his patience with other people along the way. He had two friends to help him on his journey, Rose of Sharon and Junior. Very soon into their quest to obtain the money, however, Rose of Sharon leaves and Junior passes out drunk. Most people would become very upset in such a situation. They would get angry at Sharon for “abandoning” them and would accuse Junior of “leaving them at their work moment” as if he purposely chose to hurt them by getting drunk and passing out during their time of need. Jackson, however doesn’t respond in such a manner. He speaks well of both characters. In fact, he justifies and makes up reasons as to why Rose of Sharon left. Additionally, he continuously checks to make sure Junior is still breathing thereby taking responsibility to help and protect his drunk friend in spite of the weight upon him to get so much money so quickly. Jackson, therefore, shows tremendous patience with both of his friends.
Overall, it is important to note that this story is told as a story. It is a first-person account that is related as if the narrator where sitting across a coffee table telling the reader what happened to him at a certain time in the past. This is evident in the text when he says “This whole story really started at lunchtime…” The reason this is important to point out it that the story shows a lot about the thoughts of the narrator. For example, Ebenbach points out that “stories reveal what we believe” (2010). Therefore, it can be assumed that the story the narrator tells reveals what he believes about himself. By reading the story, it can be inferred that he endured through tough times, he was generous, and he was patient. Therefore, not only do readers see these characteristics in the narrator, but the narrator actually sees them within himself. Jackson believes that despite all the odds against him, he is in fact a man of endurance, one who is generous, and certainly someone who is patient with those he loves.
How to Embrace Two Mentalities: S. Alexie’s the Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
Sherman Alexie’s first young-adult novel, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, uses instances of sexuality, aggression, and profanity to expose a rawness in the cultural divide between Indians and Americans. The novel’s protagonist and narrator, Arnold “Junior” Spirit, grows up on an Indian reservation, and after throwing an antiquated geometry book at a particularly empathetic teacher, he is thrust into a a series of events that prompt him to leave the reservation so that he may reap the advantages of the outside world. As Junior navigates this transition with great humor, friendship, and innocence, he takes integral steps in identity formation. Alexie foils themes of humor and vulnerability both textually and visually to more completely explain the inherent aporia that Junior faces during this process as a cultural minority.
From the very beginning, Alexie’s novel employs a juxtaposition of humor with themes like aggression and discrimination in order to shed light on Junior’s cognitive state. For example, in chapter two — notably titled “The Black-Eye-of-the-Month Club” — Junior describes his predicament, stating, “Everybody on the rez calls me a retard about twice a day” (4). In a normal lighthearted tone, he then quips, “Do you know what happens to retards on the rez? We get beat up. At least once a month” (4). The quote pays homage to the frequency of aggression in a community of low socioeconomic standing where physicality is often used as a sort of coping device. Junior’s best friend Rowdy follows in this pattern: he is abused by his father and he himself seems to perpetuate this cycle of violence. Junior provides a unique perspective, not because he is exempt from such adversity, but because his wit allows him a way of coping self-reflexively. Junior’s hydrocephalus in fact prohibits him from any physical outlet — any physical trauma could endanger his health. In this way, his disability serendipitously forces him to an alternative, an association which implicitly awards power to disability. A perfect example of this coping mechanism in situ is found on page 4, were a cartoon self-portrait of Junior as a eclectic, stuttering, dysmorphic pre-teen seeks to provide insight into why he is bullied. The portrait is clearly exaggerated as part of his coping mechanism: by overstating his own stereotype, Junior is able to regain a degree of control. This creates for Junior a space of space of comfort within his disability stereotype, and later, it come to do the same within his cultural stereotype.
When Alexie parallels Junior’s positive encounters with comics, he works to show the pervasiveness of the Indian stereotype on the Indian. For example, while Junior is processing Mr. P’s hopeful advice, he creates a drawing that distinguishes from “home” and “hope,” complete with a moose and a sparse sketch of the future (43). Later, banter about his sister’s hidden passion for writing is accompanied by a sleazy and purposely-stereotypical depiction of romance novels in which an apache king appears to woo his caucasian matron (38). Again, stereotypes are overstated in order to gain control and create amusement, but notable is the fact that Junior feels the need to grab the reigns and draw a comic whenever anything dips too heavily into optimism. In this way, the comics supersede their status as coping mechanisms and venture into expressions of cognitive dissonance. Insight as to where this psychological split arises from can be found on page 58, where Junior sketches the outline of a man split in half by ethnic distinctions. The drawing acts as a perfect objective correlative for Junior’s mentality: the right half of the body illustrates a stereotypical Indian, dressed in cheap clothes and burdened by a “bone crushing reality,” whereas the left half of the body shows a white man, adorned in designer clothing and promised “a bright future” (57). All of Junior’s cartoons reduce themselves along these exact lines: an element of the serious is satirized into its constituent elements to create distance from hope, fear, or trauma. This cautious authenticity can be more accurately labeled as a double consciousness in which Junior views his actions as both the natural product of his own doing and through the lens of his cultural standing.
Moments in the text act implicitly to support the cognitive split noticeable within the cartoons. During his conversation with Mr. P, Junior finds himself supporting his sister’s desire to write romance novels, but once he realizes the danger of this tendency, he chastises himself for his unsubstantiated positivity, saying, “I almost gagged when I said that. I don’t even believe that. There’s never enough time to change your life. You don’t get to change your life, period” (40). Junior feels hope, but then feels that he is feeling hope — in a sort of metacognition, he corrects this emotion as he remembers his cultural standing. Specifically, he recalls that an American Indian, hope has often proven to be illusory. This is part defense mechanism and part cultural mentality, and what it results in most poignantly for Junior in a depleted sense of worth. Several times, he questions his deservingness. At one point, he admits that he “wanted to have it better” but “didn’t deserve it” (40-41). He even questions his standing at Reardan, remarking, “Reardan was the opposite of the rez […] I didn’t deserve to be there; all of those kids knew it. Indians don’t deserve shit” (57). The rare curse-word in the young adult genre creates tension, emotion, and emphasis as Junior pours anger into what he feels is a cultural inevitability. Because his ethnicity is associated so often with the adversity of alcoholism, poverty, and the other realities of being a second-class citizen, a young Junior infers that this association must be a matter of worth.
Although Junior’s double consciousness allows him to oscillate in the safe space between devastation and triumph, this security of sentiment also prohibits his growth. The cartoons are created in two distinct styles, and changes in pattern between the two are able to demonstrate Junior’s eventual transcendence over this mindset. The dichotomy of cartoons is demonstrated on page 23, wherein Junior draws a detailed sketch that shows an often-hidden kindness in Rowdy, who is indulging in a comic. This is type one: quick and light pencil marks creating a space of empathy, which in this drawing are scribbled over to demonstrate type two, which itself is marked by comics and cartoons that sit on the surface of emotion. By combining both tactics, this drawing in particular shows that as a frequent aggressor, the prospect genuine motion is terrifying to Rowdy, and he deals with it using anger. Moreover, it highlights the honesty that lies beneath the surface of this anger, and that in itself allows even the characters like Rowdy, who lack Junior’s insight, to be seen under the umbrella of his kindness. The art within the novel is split between traditional comics and raw sketches, the former of which make up the majority within the work. In contrast, the sketches correspond with instances of acceptance. For example, the sketch of Eugene, Junior’s father’s best friend, occurs after Junior is dropped off in the man’s motorcycle and is subsequently embraced by one of his enemies. Here, the Indian stereotype inches toward reversal by one carefully articulated phrase on behalf of a notorious Reardan bully, Roger, who utters, “Cool” (73). Later in the text, two sketches appear back to back as Junior finds a new happiness with Penelope. Here, Junior acknowledges both hope and the cross-cultural limitations of hope. Penelope tells Junior that she wants to go to Stanford — the west-coast school with a whopping 5% acceptance rate — and Junior says, “I couldn’t make fun of her dream. It was my dream too. And Indian boys weren’t supposed to dream like that. And white girls from small towns weren’t supposed to dream big, either” (112). As Junior finds out about Penelope’s eating disorder and her desire to travel the world, old conceptions of worth dissolve with new conceptions of pain and dreams. Furthermore, his preconceptions about his culture start to change in a slow, insidious fashion, and Junior begins slowly to see himself on a playing field equal to that of his classmates at Reardan. Finally, the last sketch in the book occurs to parallel the revival of Junior’s friendship of Rowdy, which shows them holding hands and jumping into a lake. Junior’s friendship with Rowdy allows Junior to bridge his connection from the outside world to home, to himself, and back again. He thinks about Rowdy, whom he “missed…so much,” and then says he “wanted to find [Rowdy] and hug him and beg him to forgive me for leaving” (217-218). By the end of the book, Junior has grown because he is able to recognize his vulnerability without inherently attempting to mask it. Instead, he accentuates the cliffhanger of the penultimate chapter with the rawness of a pencil sketch, a subtle change in format that serves to emphasize the culmination of Junior’s development.
However, this does not suggest that Junior, after taking a handful of steps into the outside world, is now magically rid of the lingering effects of his double-consciousness. Rather, the dichotomy of comics within the work demonstrate that he simply has found ways to navigate challenges within this mindset, and when necessary, he has found ways to poke holes into it, ways to let vulnerabilities seep through just enough to promote growth.
Individuals and Community
“Society exists only as a mental concept; in the real world there are only individuals.” These are the words of the 19th century writer and poet Oscar Wilde, and they perfectly illustrate the oft-contentious dispute between individualism and conformity to the community. Indeed, this dispute has played out through the pages of history, and it is difficult to objectively state that either of the extremes provides better outcomes or a more correct answer. On the side advocating conformity to community, there are both unforgiving despots who wished to carve men into machines, along the lines of Stalin, and cherished apostles of societal betterment, similar to Mother Teresa. On the other hand, advocating individualism and relative neglect of larger society, we can see both great writers, much like the above-mentioned Oscar Wilde, and cruelly apathetic hedonists, including Nero and many other Roman emperors of the first century.
In reality, though, few people have devoted their lives to advocating either extreme conformity or extreme individualism, as have the above-mentioned individuals. Rather, most people hold views somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, incorporating bits of both theories. When the debate does surface in the modern world, it tends to do so quite tacitly, perhaps through a certain slant or implication about society when discussing current events or perhaps through symbolism and hidden meaning in works of literature that focus on protagonists who are “outsiders.” The short stories “The Third and Final Continent” by Jhumpa Lahiri and “What You Pawn, I Will Redeem” by Sherman Alexie are perfect examples of this latter situation. Both of the stories depict an individual from an outside world, so to speak, trying to live in a foreign society. This, however, is where the similarities end. While “The Third and Final Continent” holds that “outsider” individuals can become a part of society and benefit from it without having to lose their tradition and dignity through complete conformity, “What You Pawn, I Will Redeem” offers a much darker conclusion, stating that conformity in a new community is difficult to achieve, but those who do not achieve it will be chewed up and spit out, with a loss of tradition and dignity resulting either way.
In his many adventures across three continents, the narrator in “The Third and Final Continent” always manages to successfully blend himself into a new society, in small and large fashions, all the while hanging on to both his tradition and his dignity. The narrator never forgets to bring a small slice of his “first continent” wherever he goes. For example, in London, before he has arrived in the United States, the narrator speaks of attending the London School of Economics while living “in a house occupied entirely by penniless Bengali bachelors like myself, at least a dozen and sometimes more” (1216). At the same time, he and his roommates sip tea while smoking Rothman’s, a prominent British cigarette; they listen to traditional Indian music on a western-made reel-to-reel tape player.
All in all, this shows that the narrator is keen on retaining his traditions, and the fact that he is able to easily do so is a comment by the author. Entering a new society does not necessarily mean losing every bit of the old society, she seems to say. Indeed, time and time again, it is emphasized that the narrator not only wants to maintain his traditions while factoring in some aspects of his new community, but that he is accepted for doing so. One particularly charming, if understated, instance of this state of affairs is the narrator’s meal regimen after his wife, Mala, arrives. “I… [came] home to an apartment that smelled of steamed rice,” says the Narrator, “The next morning when I came into the kitchen, [Mala] had already poured the cornflakes into my bowl” (1225-1226). This blending of Indian cuisine for dinner and American fare for breakfast suggests the ultimate harmony of cultures in a mundane way. After all, when the narrator says he prefers cereal for breakfast, his wife does not bat an eye, and when he comes home to an Indian dinner, he eats it as a taste of home that he would not (and should not) deny himself. As if this wasn’t enough, there are many more testaments to harmonious blending of old culture with a new community littered throughout the story. Mala, for instance, wears an Indian sari every day, but it is not frowned upon by the community. Indeed, when the narrator takes her to meet Mrs. Croft, he thinks to himself, “I wondered what she would object to. I wondered if she could see the red dye still vivid on Mala’s feet, all but obscured by the bottom edge of her sari. At last Mrs. Croft declared, ‘She is a perfect lady!’” (1227). This delightful response on the part of Mrs. Croft exemplifies what the story hammers into our heads again and again: communities are not at all incompatible with outside individuals and their traditions.
In stark contrast to the successful mixing of cultures in “The Third and Final Continent,” the societal blending in “What You Pawn, I Will Redeem” is messy and unsuccessful, fraught with tales of lost heritage. The most strikingly obvious testament to this is the homelessness of the main character and, indeed, most of the Native Americans in the story. It clearly indicates that, for one reason or another, the goals and tribulations of the Native Americans were not reconcilable with American culture. This testament, however, is furthered immensely with the description of Jackson, the protagonist: “I grew up in Spokane, moved to Seattle twenty-three years ago for college, flunked out within two semesters, worked various blue- and bluer-collar jobs for many years, married two or three times, fathered two or three kids, and then went crazy” (1246). The downward spiral of Jackson’s life, then, began when he moved away from his Indian family to Spokane, into a new community. Thus the implication here is that entering a new community does indeed mean losing the bearings provided by the old community, and it also means that no new bearings can be gained until very difficult conformity and assimilation are achieved. Jackson’s story is not the only one, however.
There are many more Indians in the story whose lives pay tribute to both the difficulty of conformity and the dangerous results of being unable to conform. “Most of the homeless Indians in Seattle,” Jackson notes, “come from Alaska. One by one, each of them hopped a big working boat… to Seattle… [partied] hard at one of the highly sacred and traditional Indian bars, went broke and broker, and has been trying to find his way back to the boat and the frozen north ever since” (1249). Like Jackson, these Indians left their homes with bright prospects, only to see everything spiral downward as they failed to conform. This passage, however, makes note of something else. There is an intense irony in partying hard at a sacred, traditional Indian bar, and this suggests a true loss of tradition and heritage. All Indians, even those who ended up unable to conform, saw their valued traditions trampled in the process, replaced with the American value of a good party even as they were still unable to conform and fit in. This constitutes a slap on each cheek, and it also gives new meaning to the homelessness of the Native Americans in the story (and the rootlessness of the few with a home). They could not assimilate into the white community, and in the process, they lost everything that makes them Native American, precluding a return to that community. The Native Americans in “What You Pawn, I Will Redeem” truly are homeless in every sense of the word.
Venturing into his “Third and Final Continent,” the narrator of that story embarks on a true coming-of age journey, for his new community affects him in an undeniably positive way, directly preparing him for the rest of his life. When he first leaves India, the narrator is but a boy. He is unmarried. He has no job. He doesn’t have much of a formal education. While he gains the latter of these three things in England, it is without a doubt that the narrator truly comes of age in his third continent, America, particularly through his interactions with Mrs. Croft. Over the time he spends with Mrs. Croft, the narrator begins to feel a sense of duty toward her. At first, this is apparent simply in the ritual that he performs every night, keeping Mrs. Croft company on the bench and telling her how “splendid” it is that the American flag is now on the moon. After he learns of her age, he is very impressed, and he offers to heat up her soup, though Mrs. Croft’s daughter turns down the offer. The narrator laments, “There was nothing I could do for her beyond these simple gestures” (1224). However, there is a tinge of admiration apparent in his voice when he tells Mala that “for the most part [Mrs. Croft] takes care of herself” (1226), despite her age. This admiration, this desire to care for another person is built up in the narrator by Mrs. Croft. When Mrs. Croft finally meets Mala, she declares, “She is a perfect lady!” (1227). In giving the narrator her seal of approval, the narrator’s care for Mrs. Croft is, in a way, bestowed upon Mala; it is this event that begins to spark the love in their relationship. In this way, it is thanks to the narrator’s new community that he grew into a good, caring husband. It should not be forgotten that the narrator’s new community readily bestowed him with numerous other positive things. He easily obtained a job; he found a home without any trace of discrimination; he grew emotionally mature, living on his own for the first time. Despite these important positive contributions, it was Mrs. Croft whose contribution was greatest, but either way, the third continent and its community were undeniably forces for good in the narrator’s life.
On the other hand, our outsider protagonist in “What You Pawn, I Will Redeem,” is negatively affected by the community, his interactions with the people of Seattle hearkening directly back to interactions between White settlers and Native Americans so long ago. Negotiations with Native Americans from the 17th through the early 20th centuries were marked by lavish gifts of everything from precious metals to food and alcohol to “protected” reservation land in exchange for “just a little bit” of their current, unprotected land. According to the government, they did not even own that land, anyway. Eventually, the tribes began to rely on these gifts, economically and socially, but once the supply of land, the only truly durable resource, had dried up, the flow of gifts was choked off, and they were utterly ruined (Banner 51). They lost both their self-sufficiency and their dignity. Was the little bit of protected land that they held onto truly theirs if it was tossed at them like some sort of gift? Just the same, the whites of Seattle’s community that Jackson befriends are constantly giving him “gifts.” When Jackson is trying to raise money to buy the regalia, the pawnbroker decides to help him a bit: “He opened up his wallet and pulled out a crisp twenty-dollar bill and gave it to me” (1249). Moments after receiving the money, Jackson went over to “7-Eleven and spent it to buy three bottles of imagination” (1249). This symbolizes the manner in which the Indian tribes lost their trades and abilities in the face of gifts provided by European settlers.
The prompt expenditure of the cash on alcohol also portrays something deeper. It represents the downward spiral of alcoholism unleashed upon the Native Americans as they became further dependent on something that only the white man could provide. If this was the only occasion in the story along these lines, though, this symbolism could be written off. On the contrary, it happens time and time again. Jackson later visits a newspaper publisher to buy a large number of newspapers to sell on the street for profit. With only five dollars for initial investment, the company manager says, “I’ll give you fifty papers for free. But don’t tell anybody I did it” (1250). After selling five newspapers, Jackson promptly trashes the other 45 and spends the profit on some food. When Jackson wins $80, he spends it on alcohol. When Officer Williams, a friendly white policeman, gives Jackson $30, he spends it on some more food. All of this occurs in the course of a day, drawing an undeniable parallel between Jackson’s dependence on gifts and alcohol and the dependence of the Native Americans on the settler’s “gifts” and alcohol. In the end, Jackson is given the regalia only as a gift, likely foreshadowing that he will eventually sell it for alcohol or a good time.
The irony in this, though, draws one final parallel between Jackson’s situation and that of the colonized Native Americans. The gift that was ultimately given to them, the regalia in the former case and the “protected” reservation land in the latter, already belonged to them in the first place. The numerous resemblances between the sad state of Native Americans in the 19th century and Jackson’s situation in “What You Pawn, I Will Redeem” puts it beyond doubt that Alexie intended to declare through his story that an outsider can only be further hurt by a community which has denied him acceptance.
The narrator of “The Third and Final Continent” does not manage to change much about his new community, but considering the story’s overall argument that larger societal conformity is unnecessary, the small, personal way that he does have an effect on his community is more than sufficient. Just as the most prominent mark left on the narrator came from Mrs. Croft, the most prominent change exacted upon the narrator’s new community was concentrated on Mrs. Croft. Mrs. Croft is a person very focused on the past, in no small part due to her age. For example, note her response when her daughter, Helen, speaks with the narrator upstairs: “It is improper for a lady and a gentleman who are not married to one another to hold a private conversation without a chaperone!” (1222). Though the world Mrs. Croft speaks of is gone, she still holds emotional attachment to it. It was, after all, that world of “chaste conversations in the parlor” in which Mrs. Croft grew up. When Helen asks Mrs. Croft what she would do if she saw a girl in a miniskirt, Mrs. Croft responds dryly, “I’d have her arrested” (1223).
As time progressed, Mrs. Croft slowly became more separate from and bitter toward her community. The narrator actually gives her hope. One day, the narrator hands his rent payment, on time, directly to Mrs. Croft instead of placing it on the piano ledge. This touches her. She says nothing at first, but after the narrator returns that night, many hours later, she still holds the payment in her hands, saying, “It was very kind of you!” (1221). While this is a relatively minor action on the narrator’s part, these small acts of chivalry have come to be all that Mrs. Croft truly desires, as mentioned above. After all, these acts of chivalry hearken back to Mrs. Croft’s time, a time during which a gentleman would rise when a woman left a table or remove his hat in a woman’s presence. Indeed, Helen tells the narrator, “You’re the first boarder she’s ever referred to as a gentleman” (1222). In the final months of her life, the narrator gives Mrs. Croft something to believe in, just as Mrs. Croft gives the narrator something to care for; in this way, he gives back to the community that helped him, having a positive effect on it. In the end, this is a change that the narrator exacts on an individual, not the community, but since the story touts maintenance of individualism in the face of a new community as an admirable, possible goal, there can be nothing more glorious than giving an old woman one last hope.
Jackson of “What You Pawn, I Will Redeem,” also falls completely short of changing the larger community around him, but considering the story’s opposing message, this incapacity for change in the community has an entirely different meaning. Recall that “What You Pawn, I Will Redeem” holds that the effect of a new community on an outsider is wholly negative, resulting in forced conformity, which usually ends up unsuccessful and, either way, robs the subject of his/her heritage. This is directly in contrast to the positive effect of a new community on an outsider extolled in “The Third and Final Continent.” Thus the former is in need of change and the latter is not, so a lack of change in this story can only be a bad thing. (The aspect of the community in need of change, of course, is its perpetuation of the old, indirectly-cruel treatment of Native Americans.)
Jackson does indeed build close personal relationships with some white characters in the story, not too much different from the narrator’s relationship with Mrs. Croft in “The Third and Final Continent.” In particular, note the interaction of Officer Williams with Jackson. “You bet I’d give you a thousand dollars if I knew you’d straighten up your life,” says Officer Williams. “He meant it,” Jackson reassures us, “He was the second-best cop I’d ever known” (1256). At the end, though, Williams gives Jackson $30, perpetuating the cycle of his dependence on gifts in exchange for dignity. This previously-noted negative relationship between Jackson and his community is further indicated by another passage relating to Officer Jackson: “He’d given me hundreds of candy bars over the years. I wonder if he knew I was diabetic” (1255). A diabetic may crave sugar, but it will only further harm him/her. Just the same, Jackson craves the gifts with which his white friends provide him, but they only makes him more dependent on them, causing him to lose his dignity (and recall that this, itself, parallels the larger situation of Native Americans).
In the end, the reader is left with the impression that, unlike in “The Third and Final Continent,” individual relationships with the conformed members of the community do not matter here; they have no influence on the community or how it eventually treats the outsider. However, the conclusion of “What You Pawn, I Will Redeem” does offer one small glint of hope. “I stepped off the sidewalk and into the intersection,” says Jackson, adorned with his grandmother’s regalia, “Pedestrians stopped. Cars stopped. The city stopped. They all watched me dance with my grandmother” (1260). That the entire city takes pause to focus on a homeless Native American man represents that the community has realized what its destructive behavior has wrought. Perhaps they can realize the sad irony in the happiness of a homeless Native American man, shunned from the land that should have been his, who is thrilled to receive that which belonged to him all along. After all, while Jackson was, on a personal level, unable to change Seattle and its destructive modus operandi in terms of Native Americans, the reader is left with the hope that maybe, just maybe, it can realize the error of its ways and change itself.
All in all, “The Third and Final Continent” and “What You Pawn, I Will Redeem” come to entirely different conclusions about outsiders entering a community; according to the former, entering a new community can be an emotionally enriching experience that does not require abandonment of traditions, but according to the latter, an outsider who comes into contact with a new community will forcibly try hard to conform, usually ending up unsuccessful, and always losing his/her heritage and dignity. Throughout the two stories, differences that indicate these conclusions are made obvious. While the narrator in “The Third and Final Continent” successfully brings reminders of his first home wherever he goes, the story of Jackson’s life in “What You Pawn, I Will Redeem” is one of an intense downward spiral after immersion in a new community. While the narrator in “The Third and Final Continent” undergoes emotional and mental growth in his “third continent,” coming to admire someone for the first time and learning to love his wife, Jackson’s interactions with his new community are negatively marked by a dignity-draining cycle of dependence on others and addiction to alcohol, mirroring the sad fate of many Native American tribes.
Even though the two stories agree that the only real effect an individual can have on a large community comes about through individual relationships, they draw a different conclusion based on this premise. “The Third and Final Continent” holds that these personal relationships are more than enough, allowing any individual to have a beneficial and admirable effect on a community as he/she chooses. On the other hand, “What You Pawn, I Will Redeem” paints the picture that, though caring individual relationships are possible, they can do nothing to change the overall negative effect that a community has on an outsider. On the whole, these two diametrically-opposed conclusions that Lahiri and Alexie have produced represent two different outcomes for two different individuals. In conclusion, when we enter any society as outsiders, it may be for the best to take both of the theories in each of our hands.
The Symbol of the Hurricane in “Every Little Hurricane”
The understanding of the readers is dependent on the manner in which they interpret the symbols used in literary works. Symbolism is a literary device which entails the conveying of specific themes and messages through symbols. The symbols help in relaying deeper meanings in a literary work beyond the ordinary meaning. It requires critical thinking for the reader to understand the things that the writer is trying to hint through the use of specific symbols. Symbolism helps the reader to make a connection between the symbols that are used in the literary works and the main themes. The hurricane is a recurring symbol in Sherman Alexie’s “Every Little Every Hurricane.” The hurricane symbolizes all the bad things that happen in the Indian reservations, and these include violence and alcoholism. The damage that is caused by these hurricanes is tremendous. The hurricane is a significant symbol in Sherman Alexie’s “Every Little Hurricane” that underscores the problems that that threaten victor’s family and the Indian in the reservation as a whole.
Firstly, the hurricane symbolizes the fights that tear apart the family of Victor. The story begins with New Year celebrations, and a weather forecast indicates that there will be a hurricane. “The forecast was not good. Indians continued to drink, harder and harder, as if anticipating. There’s a fifty percent chance of torrential rain, blizzard-like conditions, seismic activity. Then there’s a sixty percent chance, then seventy, eighty.” This passage implies that something based is going to happen to the party attendants (Sherman 1).The party attendants are involved in heavy drinking. Two of Victor’s uncles, Adolph and Arnold start fighting. The fight gets intense because of the drunkenness that has dominated the party. A fight breaks and this brings the party to an end. The author’s use of the hurricane, in this case, indicates that even though the family and the whole community is striving to be unified through the New Year Celebrations, fights that always break them apart. The fight between two of Victor’s uncles alludes in the hurricane because they threaten the unity of the family. The narrator points that “In the morning, all was good, but the Indians, “the eternal survivors, gathered to count their losses.” The implications of the hurricane are deadly. The family members turn against one another, and this brings a lot of pain. Therefore, the hurricane of fights destroys the peace and unity of the family.
Second, the hurricane symbolizes the poverty in Victor’s family. To illustrate, Victor has a flashback about a Christmas Party that occurred when he was five years old. His father tells him that he will not have the money to buy him a Christmas gift. They can only afford to buy a Christmas tree that has few ornaments. His father sits looking at his empty wallet, and he cries. Living in poverty is difficult, and it is a huge hurricane in the life of Victor. Victor is upset because of this hurricane of poverty. Poverty hinders the family from enjoying their Christmas time together. Additionally, the narrator points out that” when children grow up together in poverty, a bond is formed that is stronger than most anything. It’s this same bond that causes so much pain”(Sherman 2). This quote implies that poverty brings feelings of resentment and negativity that is why the hurricane symbolizes them. Poverty makes the family members sad, and the hurricane symbolizes the sadness. Consequently, the hurricane of poverty destroys happiness in Victor’s family.
Thirdly, the hurricane represents the suffering of the Indians that reside on the reservations. The suffering causes a lot of suffering and resentment on the part of these Indians. To elaborate, the narrator notes that “One Indian killing another did not create a special kind of storm. This little kind of hurricane was generic. It didn’t even deserve a name” (Sherman 3).This quote means that the Indians in the reservation have the tendency of killing one another and this creates a lot of suffering. Furthermore, the narrator explains terrible memories that guests in the party have because they are Indians. For example, Victor’s father remembers an incident of how someone spat on him while he was waiting for a bus. Also, Victor’s mother recalls how the Indian Health services sterilized her without seeking her consent when she gave birth to victor. Moreover, Victor’s brothers remember the battles that they faced when growing up. Suffering is part and parcel of the lives of the Indians that reside on the reservations. Consequently, the Indians are victims of circumstances and this makes them resentful and hateful.
In conclusion, the hurricane is a significant symbol in Sherman Alexie’s “Every Little Hurricane” that symbolizes the problems that that threaten victor’s family and the Indian in the reservation as a whole. The use of symbolism in the story evokes emotion in the reader. The first hurricane is predicted at the beginning of the story. Another hurricane appears in Victor’s flashback about the Christmas party. This is personal hurricane. The family does not have sufficient money to buy a Christmas tree. The big hurricane represents the relationship between the parents of Victor. The relationship brings out the theme of the sufferings that the Indians in the reservation face. Symbolism brings out the theme of sadness in Victor’s family. The suffering of the Indians in the reservation is emphasized through the symbolic hurricane. The hurricane in this story represents poverty, fights and the suffering of the Indians in the reservation. Victor remembers the difficult moments that his family has been through. Further, his father, mother, brothers and other members of the Indian tribe remember the suffering they have been through because they are members of the tribe. The author introduces the hurricane in the beginning in a bid to foreshadow the pains, suffering, and fights in the story. All in all, the hurricane symbolizes the things that destroy Victor’s family and the lives of the other Indians in the reservation.
The Use Of Tone In Superman And Me By Sherman Alexie
I have always been slower at being able to learn things. Growing up it always took me longer to learn new material and I have always needed extra help. Throughout my education I have been in programs and get accommodations on specific things. It has been hard at times because everyone will understand something and I will act like I get it but I really do not. That has been the hardest part at times, but I realized that it is ok that I need extra help or extra time on learning things. In “Superman and Me,” by Sherman Alexie he uses a variation of tones in the purpose of explaining how his childhood was rough which shows his tone through society and how he was a survivor.
Sherman opens his story with an unexpected tone that his first experiences with reading, is what influenced him and how it affected his life and his career path. An example of that is when he writes “They carry neither pencil nor pen. They stare out the window. They refuse and resist. “Books,” I say to them. “Books,” I say. I throw my weight against their locked doors. The door holds. I am smart. I am arrogant. I am lucky. I am trying to save our lives”. Alexie uses repetition when he is saying “I say to them books.” “Books,” I say. Alexie uses repetition to indicate the break between himself and all of the other Indians. He uses “I” to show his separation into his own individuality. When he uses alliteration when he says “I am arrogant. I am lucky. I am trying to save our lives”. He wants to get the point across that he survived and followed one of his passion which was teaching kids. The short sentences refer to him saying that he will not fail because he is determined and has faith in himself. As an Indian he was viewed as “dumb”. The short sentences also represent that since he taught himself how to read and write as a little boy he read all the time and he was actually smart as a young kid. He is not doing it for himself he was doing it for people so they can see that Indians can be smart too. In a way he is superman for the children. Alexie is trying to save the lives of the children of the reservation whether they want it or not. Throughout the story he also uses anaphora when he continually uses the phrases “I” was trying to save my life. “They are trying to save their lives”. I am trying to save our lives”. Alexie uses anaphora because it is another attempt to emphasize his experiences reading, and the overall importance that he places on the act of reading to succeed. Although Alexie may seem of concern to only a small group of people, it should in fact concern anyone who cares about society.
Sherman switches up the tone to society and he opens up with that he struggled as a young kid, but his desire was to be successful and do what is best for his own future and also what is true to his heritage and his culture. Alexie himself writes, “The Indian kids crowd the classroom. Many are writing their own poems, short stories and novels. They have read my books. They have read many other books. They look at me with bright eyes and arrogant wonder”. In this quote he uses repetition when he writes “They have read my books”. They have read many other books”. Alexie repeats the word “books” hoping that “books” will be an echo in the children’s minds. He wanted to get the point across that these children love to read and he is feeling accomplished because they are reading his books and he has taught them how to read. He also uses alliteration when he says “They look at me with bright eyes and arrogant wonder”. He uses alliteration because many children were confused and did not know how to write which is why they were giving him blank stares. At the end of the story he uses periodic sentence. The last sentence that would show that is emphasizing that he wants to save children’s lives and make them as educated as possible.
Many Indian children were looked as that they were not capable to learn and be as smart as others in society. Society looked at them like they can’t do anything and that they will never learn like others. Indians were expected to fail in the non-Indian world. This is why he wanted to make a difference/change in their society because it’s not fair that people looked at Indians that way. Sherman wanted to be a survivor and make and impact on the world and did not want to be seen as that Indian who wasn’t smart and was looked at as “dumb”. He wanted to give children an education that they deserved. He is a survivor because without his dad he would not be the same person as he is now. He is a survivor because he managed to stick through all the negativity but that did not stop him from following one of his passions. These findings have important implications for the border domain of social injustices.
Sherman Alexie’s Survival Equation and the Resilience of Native American Culture
Sherman Alexie’s The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven portrays the hardships faced by Native Americans at the hands of the overpowering force of mainstream American culture. Alexie uses multiple perspectives in his book to convey the complexity of the situation on the reservation. However, his recurring themes such as survival, tradition, and underlying cultural ties connect the stories together as does the overarching message about the resilience of Native American people and their culture. With these consistent themes, the multiple perspectives found in his stories prove the validity of his cultural points due to their repetition. In his composite novel, Alexie reveals the resilience of Native American culture by breaking it down into a mathematical equation that makes an important statement about the survival of Native American culture.
Alexie brings to light the importance of imagination through his illustration of the process of survival: “Survival = Anger x Imagination. Imagination is the only weapon on the reservation” (150). The ability to imagine a better world or a better situation is a coping mechanism for the Native Americans. One way they do this is through storytelling. This is shown when the narrator of “A Good Story” tells a happy story at the request of his mother. He observes the poor situation he and his mother are in at the beginning of the story with no food in their cabinets and only sad stories. He concocts a lighthearted story for his mother and in the end states, “Believe me, there is just barely enough goodness in all of this” (Alexie 144). Using imagination to form a simple story that painted a pleasing picture was enough to make the hardships of life seem bearable. In this case, the use of imagination was “barely enough.” Alexie attributes the power of such imagination to its necessity in Native American society in his epigraph for the chapter “Imagining the Reservation,” which is a quote from Lawrence Thornton: “We have to believe in the power of imagination because it’s all we have and ours is stronger than theirs” (Alexie 149). This quote comes from one of Thornton’s novels where a character is in a situation similar to the Native Americans because he is left to imagine his country the way it was in the past to deal with the declining situation of the present. This quote itself conveys that imagination is stronger in the Native American society because it is integral to their survival. The necessity of imagination is also exemplified in the story by the need for tradition and the deeply rooted need for stories as a connection to tradition. This is shown when Victor decides to let Thomas accompany him to Arizona. He lets him go because he “felt a sudden need for tradition” (Alexie 62). Imagination is strengthened by its necessity and the necessity of it is extensive because of the roots imagination has in their tradition of storytelling. With this in mind, Alexie’s composite novel can be viewed as a product of necessity and imagination with the purpose of carrying on a piece of Native American culture.
While conveying its necessity and potency, Alexie conveys that the Indian imagination is being tethered in modern American society. The narrator in “Imagining the Reservation” poses an important question concerning the effect of modern society on Indian imagination: “How can we imagine a new language when the language of the enemy keeps our dismembered tongues tied to his belt? (Alexie 152). Native American culture only finds a place in society by incorporating modern day American culture into its expression. In the subsequent lines, Alexie furthers this restriction: “How do we imagine a new life when a pocketful of quarters weighs our possibilities down?” (152). Not only is their expression in society limited, but their culture’s survival in general is threatened in a materialistic society. This book shows that a culture that favors storytelling, dancing, and ancestral connections struggles to survive amidst mainstream American culture, which is focused on the material factors in society including monetary value and gain.
The tension between the two competing cultures in the book that is tethering the Native American imagination also brings to light the differences between those two cultures, which produces anger among the Indian population, the second factor in Alexie’s survival equation. Rather than traditional anger, he seems to suggest that anger is meant to refer to the recognition of the suppression of their culture by the invading forces of American culture, which should foster a conscious need to remain separate from said culture. In “The Trial of Thomas Builds-the-Fire,” Thomas states: “Some may have wanted to kill me for my arrogance, but others respected my anger, my refusal to admit defeat” (Alexie 98). If this sentiment were transposed into another equation similar to the survival equation Alexie wrote about, it would read “anger = resilience.” Anger is rooted in the wrongs of the past for the Native Americans. When combined, as Alexie suggests in his equation, with a strong imagination that can envision a better world or at least a future where Indian culture can be positively viewed, the product is survival in the present.
In Alexie’s portrayal of Native American culture, he reveals a culture that, on the surface, appears to be disappearing while conveying that, with its deep roots, it has the ability to withstand the oppression put upon it by mainstream American culture. He reveals the keys to achieving survival to be imagination paired with anger or more specifically the refusal to give up or give in. Imagination among Native Americans is manifested in their storytelling, a tradition that is deeply rooted in their culture, and also provides a coping mechanism to use amidst oppressive conditions. With this explanation, Alexie’s composite novel, which conveys the resilience of Native Americans (anger) through the telling of multiple stories (imagination), can be seen as an aide to survival that serves to inform everyone of the situation and the true culture of his people, which is disappearing in mainstream America. His survival equation encapsulates his reason for writing.
The Topic Of Literacy In Superman And Me By Sherman Alexie
The central question of Sherman Alexie’s “Superman and Me” is ‘how did the gift of literacy impact Sherman Alexie’s life?’. Alexie expected more of himself than his culture did. Literacy gave him a sense of individuality by separating him from the stereotypes of Indians and he was able to “save his life” through it.
Literacy created a divide between him and his peers. Through his abilities, he was able to avoid being categorized by the traditional Indian stereotypes placed on him by outside cultures as well as his own culture. He willed himself to be the exception. Indian children were not expected, let alone encouraged, to read and write. Indians were only accepted if they conformed to the social norm of unintelligence. He stood out from the crowd with his drive for change and unwillingness to conform to society’s expectations of what he could accomplish.
Sherman Alexie was able to “save his life” through the power of reading and writing. From the moment Alexie was born, he was expected to fail because of the circumstances he was born into- Indian, lower class, and living on a reservation. He knew that reading was the key to overcoming his adversaries and creating a difference, not only in his life but in the lives of other Indian children. While Alexie enjoyed reading, he also read out of desperation to achieve. Through Sherman Alexie’s consistent reading, he was able to save his life. He never gave in to the stereotypes his community placed upon him. He was able to become a writer, a career that is not usually pursued by Indians. Through all of his hard work, he was able to not only save his own life from becoming insignificant, but work towards saving other young Indians’ lives as well through the gift of literacy during his visits to Indian schools.
Throughout the story, “Superman and Me”, the central question is answered to full extent. The author treats the central question with pride. He was proud of what he was able to accomplish through his drive at such a young age and knows that he was lucky to be born into a home were reading was normalized instead of looked down upon. He acknowledges the he is lucky for this. This gave him the willpower to keep going even when everyone from his culture as well as from other cultures were telling him to stick to the status quo.
The Unbreakable Cycle
One of the worst feelings in the world is the one you get when it seems like you are trapped in the life you live. This is the feeling when the routine of your life gets so repetitive and tired that it’s stifling, and the city you live in becomes a dull, inescapable prison. For many Native Americans, this feeling can be amplified tenfold — namely, by living on a reservation with the same people for your entire life. There’s only so much to do and getting off the reservation is both terrifying and difficult. The outside world may offer a variety of opportunities, but many are not armed with the skills needed to take advantage of those opportunities and many more may face the forms of racism embedded in American life. It is this rational fear that, on the basis of contemporary literature, keeps so many Native Americans from breaking the constraints of the reservation and moving on with their lives. Victor’s life is the perfect example of this scenario. In the short story “The Only Traffic Signal on the Reservation Doesn’t Flash Red Anymore” by Sherman Alexie, Victor and his friend Adrian seem to be caught in an endless loop. The whole story projects the trapped feeling that Victor experiences through various symbols such as the broken traffic light and rising basketball stars. Victor is a lost character, desperate for change; however, he is a follower and is too fearful to break the routine and face the unknown before anyone else does so.
Victor does not know what he wants to do. Actually, he knows what he wants but not how to free himself from his routine. The story begins with Adrian and Victor playing a form of Russian Roulette with a BB gun. When Adrian shoots the gun into his mouth and the BB is fired, Victor asks if he is dead yet. “Nope… not yet,” is Adrian’s response before he asks for a beer, having forgot that the two of them have quit drinking (44). This section of the story immediately gives the reader an unsettling feeling. The “not yet” implies that death is something Alexie’s characters are anticipating. The immediate request for beer afterwards is so automatic that it just seems routine. They are not used to change and are so lost in the same old cycle that they do not even think twice. What really makes this cycle seem so stifling and permanent is the way the story ends. One year passes, and Victor goes on to say that year has passed and that they have done stuff such as “ate and slept and read the newspaper” (50) in between. It is basically the same scene as at the opening of the story. Not only does the repetition of the scene close the circuit of the routine that the two seem to live, but the meaningless nothings are also the only thing that Victor mentions happening in between. Clearly nothing exciting enough has happened in that entire year to give him a different view on anything. He’s bored. He feels trapped.
The broken light on the reservation can be viewed as a symbol used to parallel Victor’s character. The fact that it is broken is a huge indication of the way Victor feels. He feels broken, just like the light. However, because it has been that way for so long, no one really notices anymore. And if they notice they do not care. The light does not do all that much because there are not many cars. “About only one car an hour passed by,” (48) so how useful was the light in any case? How useful does Victor feel if he is doing the same thing that everyone else is doing on the reservation over and over again? No one wants to fix the traffic light. No one makes it a priority. No one wants to fix Victor. He does not want to save himself. He is not making it his priority. So time presses on, and a year later the light is still broken, and Victor is still trapped and broken as well.
The biggest way that Victor copes with his feeling of helplessness is by watching others and hoping that they break the mold. In the beginning of the story Vicor and Adrian are discussing Julius Windmaker, the up and coming basketball star. Victor immediately flashes back to talk about how he used to play basketball and be good at it until he lost his edge and started drinking. The reader is immediately able to see the personal connection that Victor is making with Julius, clearly wanting him to succeed for more reasons other than just wanting to see a new sports star. After hearing some noise, they watch Julius being taken away by a tribal cop. When Adrian states that he thinks Julius is going to go bad and fail, Victor immediately denies that, claiming that “He’s just horsing around,” (49). He does not want to think that someone with such a bright future will ruin his future, even if he and everyone else before and after him has. Maybe if someone else makes it all the way and succeeds, it will give Victor the motivation to do the same. It will break the endless loop and maybe others will follow. At the end of the story Victor and Adrian go to see Julius’s game a year later to see that he is too drunk to play well. He ends up passed out on Victor’s floor the next morning after stumbling drunkenly into his house. The two friends start talking about a third grader named Lucy who is so good a basketball that she is playing with the sixth graders. “God, I hope she makes it all the way,” Victor says. He just puts all of his hopes into the next one. And the cycle continues.
Ultimately, Victor has found himself trapped in the lifestyle of any other self-confining Native American. Too afraid to leave the reservation and build a life off of it, he traps himself in a depressing cyclical routine. He is lost in his own life, unsure of where to go or what to do with himself. He’s broken and no one, not anyone else nor himself, seems to care enough to fix him. He is like the broken traffic light, just part of the scenery at this point. He is nothing special. Sometimes it just feels like an escape from yourself is impossible. Any routine can go from comfortable to stifling. Sometimes it is both, as it is in Victor’s case. Breaking the cycle is much easier said than done.