April 20, 2013
Sherman Alexie and the Native American Identity
Sherman Alexie is a Spokane-Coeur d’Alene Indian who grew up in Wellpinit, Washington, on a reservation. He acknowledges that his origin and upbringing affect everything that he does in his books and short stories. The term ‘Indian’, is used to describe the indigenous peoples of the Americas. In the article titled “‘Indianness’ and Identity in the Novels and Short Storiesof Sherman Alexie”, Loree Estron says that “the term ‘Native American’ was introduced by government officials, becoming the favored term of progressive American academics and replacing ‘Indian’. The majority of Native people, however, now reject ‘Native American’ as being artificial and generic, referring to themselves as ‘American Indian’ or simply ‘Indian’, or by their tribal affiliation.”(1) The Spokane writer Sherman Alexie has stated quite clearly that he prefers ‘Indian’, and this is the term I will use in discussing his work. Throughout all of Sherman Alexis work it is noticeable that the quest for identity is a reoccurring theme that happens throughout all of his works from his books and short stories and even his movie. In all of his works the main character, usually Indian descent, is trying to find who they really are by trying to find out how they can fit into society and still be connected to their roots. The reason being is that personally Sherman Alexie connects to that, but also for many years ever since this country was invaded by Europeans, the Native Americans have been forced to leave their tradition behind and try to be more like Europeans. But that’s where the problem arises most of them have an issue of identifying with just one so thy have an inner battle with themselves trying to figure out who they really are.
The first piece of work we looked at by Sherman Alexie that really demonstrates this inner battle the main character has with himself of finding out who he is and how he tries to fit in outside his Indian culture would be the short story of Flight Patterns. Flight patterns is a short story that places emphasis on the contradictions and conflicts facing a modern Indian man who experiences hardships as he strives to balance his family, identity and career. In the story, Flight Patterns, William the main character plays a person who completely forgets where he comes from and that in fact he is Indian. He doesn’t see any value in family and pride, but he does see incredible value in being recognized and accepted by others, specifically the Americans. William is a business man who does anything and tries very hard to fit into the American culture so people see him as being American and nothing else. The story opens with William waking up and getting ready for a business trip and right away we see his infatuation with the American culture. His intellect was a big comfy couch stuffed with sacred and profane trivia. He knew the names of all nine of Elizabeth Taylor’s husbands and could quote from memory the entire declaration of independence. William knew Donna Fargo’s birth name because he wanted to know her birth name. He wanted to know all of the great and big and tiny little American details (54). This clearly demonstrates of how much he believes that knowing these cultures will make him more of an American than other Americans, and other people living in the country. The reader at this point would believe that William has made up his mind and nothing is going to change that. It’s not until he gets ready to leave for his business trip to Chicago and meets a taxi-driver named Fekadu, especially when William hears the life story of the poor driver, that William’s narrow mindedness takes a new turn, and he starts to see things from a different perspective. At first when Fekadu first starts to talk to him, William doesn’t want to talk to him at all and tries to stop the conversation. Once Fekadu the taxi...