Like the narrator of “Breaking and Entering,” Sherman J. Alexie, Jr. grew up on the Spokane Indian reservation in Wellpinit, Washington. He was born with hydrocephalus (water on the brain) and was not expected to survive. Throughout his childhood, he suffered seizures, yet he learned to read by age three and was gobbling up novels such as The Grapes of Wrath by the time he was in kindergarten.
At his off-reservation high school, he was the only Indian, except for the school mascot. He excelled in his classes and became a star basketball player, an experience that inspired his first young-adult novel, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.
Alexie attended Gonzaga University and Washington State University, intending to become a doctor, but after fainting numerous times in a human anatomy class, he shifted career paths and tried a poetry workshop. Just one year after leaving WSU, his first two poetry collections were published. He had a brief struggle with alcohol, but gave up drinking at age 23, and has been sober ever since.
He is a prolific writer of fiction, poetry and essays, and the recipient of numerous awards, including a PEN/Hemingway Award for Best First Book of Fiction, the Before Columbus Foundation’s American Book Award and a 2007 National Book Award in young people’s literature. He is also a stand-up comic, a title-holder in the World Poetry Bout and a screenwriter; the movie Smoke Signals, based on his short story, “This Is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona,” received a Christopher Award for works “which affirm the highest values of the human spirit.”
In February 2003, Alexie participated in the Museum of Tolerance project “Finding Our Families, Finding Ourselves,” which showcased the diversity within the personal histories of several renowned Americans and encouraged visitors to seek out their own histories, mentors and heroes. Two of his books, War Dances and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, were selected for the One Book, One Philadelphia citywide reading program in 2011. Alexie lives in Seattle, Washington, with his wife and two sons.
“Breaking and Entering” is an engaging, surprising and thought-provoking story told in the voice of a man who confronts an intruder in his basement and ends up confronting his own ethnic identity and attitudes about power, privilege and race. Alexie uses the metaphor of “editing” to illuminate what is left out and what is highlighted in the stories we all tell about ourselves and one another; this story is sure to provoke lively discussion—and perhaps even dissension—about race and racism, stereotypes and power.
After reading "Breaking and Entering," jot down your own questions, thoughts, confusions and impressions. What intrigues you about this story? What catches your attention? Make some notes on the story or in the space below.
APPLYING THE METHOD
Moments in the story where the use of metaphor, simile, repetition, rhythm or voice may prompt discussion. 1. “ ‘Skip the door, young man!’ Mr. Baron sings in my stories—my lies and exaggerations—skipping across the stage with a top hat in one hand and a cane in the other. ‘Skip the door, old friend! And you will be set free!’” (p. 5, line 14)
2. “But oddly enough, in order to skip the door in telling this story, I am forced to begin with a door....” (p. 5, line 24)
3. “…the footage was both incomplete and voluminous. Simply stated, there was far too much of nothing.” (p. 6, line 8)
4. “This young woman had been exploited—with her permission of course—but I was still going to do my best to protect her.” (p. 6, line 15)
5. “Still, even in the most compromised of situations, one must find a moral center.” (p. 7, line 8)
6. “It had become an evangelical pounding: Bang, bang, bang, bang! It had to be the four/four beat of a Jehovah’s Witness or a Mormon. Bang, cha, bang, cha! It had to be the iambic...
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