Tonto’s Dysfunctional Family Tree
America is a multicultural nation. This fact is undeniable. We are a mishmash of people from all parts of the globe, each with a unique story to tell. One of the struggles of being such a diverse nation is that different ethnic groups often fail to understand one another. I believe that cross-cultural writing is a powerful tool that dispels ignorance and fosters greater multicultural understanding. Writing has the power to bring people together. There are many prominent cross-cultural writers in the history of American literature. Each of them has added to a growing genre that explores what it’s like to move to this country in pursuit of the ever-elusive “American Dream.” Sherman Alexie is one such writer. However, his theme is not one of searching for the “American Dream.” His theme addresses what happens when the “American Dream” lands on you. Sherman Alexie is Native American, and his stories expose one of America’s dirty little secrets. In the paragraphs that follow, I will review Alexie’s life, the genre and style in which he writes, and the overall themes of his work. I will analyze the short story, “Every Little Hurricane”, taken from the anthology, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven. Sherman Alexie was born on October 7, 1966 in WellPoint, Washington. He belongs to the Spokane Tribe of American Indians called the Salish Group. At the time of his birth he had hydrocephalus, a disease in which the patient has an excess of cerebrospinal fluid. The only option was to get an operation that he most likely would not survive. Yet despite these dire predictions, he survived an invasive surgery at the tender age of six months. He didn’t just survive; he thrived. Despite chronic seizures related to his condition, Sherman continues to power through life with extreme determination. He learned to read at the age of three and from then on nothing could hold him back. As a teen attending a reservation school Sherman was shocked to discovered his mother’s name inscribed in one of his textbooks. The realization that the school’s books were decades old led to his determination to leave the poverty-stricken reservation and get a thorough education elsewhere. He earned a spot in one of the top high schools in Reardon, Washington, where he was a star student and athlete. He proceeded to the University of Gonzaga, where his dream was to become a physician. After fainting from disgust in his anatomy class, he had to abandon this dream. It was during this dark time period that he began abusing alcohol. He then changed his major, a decision that was based on his love for poetry and aptitude for writing. This change of direction brought him to Washington State University where he quit drinking and earned a B.A. in American Studies. Sherman Alexie began his professional career in 1990 when his work was published in Hanging Loose magazine. This initial success gave him the incentive to quit drinking at the age of 23, and he’s been sober ever since. His first collection of short stories, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, was published in 1993, and that was just the beginning. In 1995 he launched his career as a novelist with Reservation Blues, an expanded version of the characters introduced in the previously mentioned collection. In 2007 he published a young adult novel, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. This novel is a reflection of his personal experience growing up on the Reservation. Alexie is the winner of numerous honors and awards including the 2001 PEN/Malamud Award, the 1994 PEN/Hemingway Award, the 2007 National Book Award, and the 2010 PEN/Faulkner Award (www.fallsapart.com). Alexie is a modern writer who is not bound by a single genre. He has written poetry, novels, screenplays, and most notably short stories. As the dominant Native American short story writer of today, he creates unique imagery through recurrent memories, visions and dream...
Cited: Alexie, Sherman. The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven. New York, NY:
Grove Press, 1993, 2005.
Falls Apart, Offical Website, http://www.fallsapart.com, 2013
Johansen, Bruce E. Native Americans Today: A Biographical Dictionary. Santa Barbara, Calif: Greenwood Press, 2010.
Ruby, Mary. Authors & Artists for Young Adults Vol. 85. Detroit, Mich: Gale / Cengage Learning, 2011.
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