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Sherman Alexie Essay

In his book of short stories, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, author Sherman Alexie explores the theme of Native Americans as outsiders and outcasts. Throughout many of his stories, Alexie’s uses the motifs, imagery and figurative language to underscore the theme. Three of these stories are “Every Little Hurricane”, “A Drug Called Tradition”, and “Indian Education”; Alexie uses the motifs of storytelling, alcoholism, and the warrior to explore how the outsider status of his Native American characters affects them as individuals and shows the resiliency of their community. Alexie’s use of imagery and figurative language help depict the distance between reservation Indians and the white culture, as well as the diminishing traditions of the past. Many of the characters in The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven benefit psychically from telling stories. Alexie suggests that storytelling offers both healing as well as a pathway for Native Americans to preserve their history and their cultural traditions. He depicts many kinds of storytelling throughout this book. His stories offer insight on tribal history and how the Native American experience has changed over time. Alexie uses the character of Junior to tell stories that address the traditions of Native American and how they portray both reality and hope for their tribe. In his story “A Drug Called Tradition”, Alexie depicts the storytelling theme. Native Americans tell stories as a way of preserving their culture. These stories are usually accompanied by song and dance. Some dances celebrate victories and acts of bravery, while others symbolize renewal of life. The Ghost Dance carries a meaning of re-union; it symbolized the diminishing of the white man, and a return of land back to the American Indians. In “A Drug Called Tradition”, Junior is telling a story about the Ghost Dance when he states, “I’ll dance a ghost dance. I’ll bring them back” … “With every step and Indian rises”… “We dance in circles growing larger and larger until we are standing on the short, watching all the ships return to Europe. All the white hands are waving good-bye and we continue to dance”. Junior’s story signifies the importance of his heritage. Also in this story, Alexie uses figurative language through the character of Victor to portray the dying of the Native American culture through each generation. The character of Victor is speaking of a Tommy story has told, “Ain’t nobody else going to listen.” “Some people say he got dropped on his head when he was little. Some of the old people think he is magic.” This is representative of the distance between past and present Indian cultures. Alexie’s use of imagery in “Indian Education” does a great job of capturing the outsider theme. He conveys this by using negative diction, for example; Alexie opens this story describing characters first grade year by saying, “My hair was short and the U.S. Government glasses were horn-rimmed, ugly…” His use of the word ‘ugly’ indicates the characters lack confidence in himself and shows how his appearance is seen as different and not accepted. Alexie continues by writing, “… in school the other Indian boys chased me from one corner of the playground to the other. They pushed me down, buried me in the snow until I couldn’t breathe, thought I’d never breathe again.” As the school years goes by Alexie introduces the warrior motif to help develop his theme.

Other than the fact that he longer gets physically hurt, nothing really seems to change regarding the characters treatment. He still feels ashamed and dejected from his own tribe and will always be a considered an outsider. Regardless of his status as an outsider, the character continues to go after his goals and prevails. The warrior motif is evident throughout this story, with each challenge he overcomes during his school years. Top of Form the His AA;ex The hardships of the Native American culture are showcased in the story “Every Little Hurricane.” Alexie uses the motifs of alcoholism and poverty to highlight these hardships. Alcoholism is a very serious problem in the Native American community, and Alexie depicts a reservation where many lives have been destroyed by drinking. He describes the turbulence of a hurricane as a metaphor to the violence that stems from alcoholism and pain of their outsider status. Alexie uses figurative language to convey to his readers the feelings the Indians are experiencing. For example the following quote describes both pain and poverty of the characters, “Victor imagined that his father’s tears could have frozen solid in the severe reservation winters and shattered when they hit the floor.” ….”Victor imagined that he held an empty box beneath his father’s eyes and collected tears, held that box until it was full. Victor would wrap it in Sunday comics and give it to his mother.” Although many of the stories in The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven are riddled with stories of hardships such as alcoholism, poverty, and isolation from society outside of their reservation; Alexie also emphasizes the inner strength and resilience that helps many Native Americans cope with these problems. Through each of these hardships there are stories that support the strong sense of community and support for each other. Through his use of the warrior motif, Alexie was able share the sense of community and resiliency which is an important aspect for the Indian cultures of the past and present times. Alexie’s use the motifs of storytelling, alcoholism, and the warrior helped his readers explore the overall outsider theme of his Native American characters. He was able to depict the positive and negative affects on them as individuals, as well as show the resiliency of their community.


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