March 8, 2015
Introduction to Literature
An Analysis of Sherman Alexie’s “The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven” and Langston Hughes’ “On the Road”
Alice Walker stated, “the most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” Power is a mental attribute. Many people put boundaries around themselves. These self-imposed boundaries result in anguish, despair, pity, and ultimately a sense of powerlessness. Sometimes these boundaries are not only self-imposed, but society-imposed. The protagonists in Sherman Alexie’s “The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven” and Langston Hughes’ “One the Road both suffer through a state of powerlessness imposed on them by a racial prejudice society. This state of powerlessness provides both a physical and mental effect upon the protagonists.
Victor, the protagonist in “The Long Ranger,” is a Native-American man that lives in Seattle, Washington. He lives with his girlfriend (who is a white woman) and drinks frequently. He is unemployed and eventually moves back to his reservation. Sargeant, the protagonist in “On the Road,” is a Black-American man. He is unemployed and looks for salvation at a church. The church refuses his pleas. He acts in rage, and subsequently, he is arrested and jailed.
Racism in America has a long-standing tradition from the “March of Tears” to “Bloody Sunday.” Racism is “the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races” (Webster). People of color, such as Black-Americans and Native-Americans, are thought to be inferior to White-Americans. Many people hold this thought and form stereotypes such as certain races being lazy, unintelligent, violent, and etc. In each short story, the authors quickly introduce the reader to the racial disparities in the world. Within the first three paragraphs of “The Lone Ranger,” the reader automatically knows there is a racial difference between girlfriend, who is white, and the protagonist. Likewise, within the first three paragraphs of “One the Road,” the reader is introduced to a “big black man.” Race is introduced quickly because it is important. Race is part of our identity. Our identity is how the world sees us. Our identity is how the world treats us. Our identity and character are not synonymous. People treat one another based upon what they see and character is not a physical trait that is visible. However, our identity/race is always visible. Solely based upon their race, both Victor and Sargeant are wrongly prosecuted. Victor is racially profiled in the 7-11 because of his “dark skin and long, black hair.” Victor’s racial identity even restricts his ability to freely drive. While driving in a neighborhood, he is pulled over by police officers and told, “you should be more careful where you drive....You're making people nervous. You don't fit the profile of the neighborhood” (Alexie 15). Subsequently, Sargeant is refused salvation in the church solely because he is Black (Langston). Even though he is poor, hungry, and exhausted, the color of his skin restricted him from salvation. Our identity is something we cannot change. We maybe able to change our characteristics, but out identities will always be the same. However, many people infer our characteristics only based on our identities. Thus, leaving a person powerless and helpless on how the world my see him or her. Within the last year, America has been faced with understanding the complexities of the powerless and helpless through the protest in Ferguson, Missouri. Many people questioned why do people riot and loot? Dr. Stott from the University of Liverpool stated, “there is an underlying problem” that is being expressed through violence (Farrimond). When a group of powerless, disadvantaged people has been suppressed, violent behavior is a possible consequence of their frustration (Farrimond). In this case, the protagonists do lash out in violence and/or destructive behavior, but not like that of Ferguson or similar protests. Sargeant was desperate. He wanted relief from his anguish. He was unemployed, poor, and hunger, but his pleads for salvation were never heard. He knew they were never heard because of the color of his skin. He knew that because when he broke down the church doors, he stated, “know it's a white folks' church, but I got to sleep somewhere”(Langston). Though Victor never had violent outburst such as Sargeant, he had a destructive behavior in alcoholism. Victor was suppose when to college and was “one of the Indian kids that was suppose to make it” (Alexie 18). However, he ended up right back on the reservations like all the other Indians. The identities they were born with hampered them both from the work. Though our racial identities are born attributes that contribute to our characteristics and well being, they also provide an avenue for racial discrimination. The characters in both stories were face with problems solely because of their racial identities. These problems caused them to be powerless and lash out in different ways.
Alexie, Sherman. “The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven.” Farrimond, Stuart. “The Science of Rioting – Is there a reason for the violence? Is there a Solution.” Doctor Stu’s Science Blog. http://realdoctorstu.com/2011/08/09/the-science-of-rioting-is-there-a-reason-for-the-violence-is-there-a-solution/ Hughes, Langston. “On the Road.”
Webster Dictionary. “Racism.”