It is a part of human nature to make judgments on others based solely on appearances. The short story “Flight Patterns” by Sherman Alexie reveals the sheer pervasiveness of stereotypes in American culture. The main character, William, is a walking contradiction in that he is a Native American businessman that loves his job and is always traveling, but hates to fly and hates to leave his family.
He is also a victim of discriminations, yet he too makes his own judgments on people. In this paper I am going to explore the theme of stereotypes and contradictions in the story, and argue that stereotypes are so ingrained into American society that those who are stereotyped do not even realize they are stereotyping others. One source I found called “Open Containers” by Stephen F. Evans discusses the reoccurring themes in Sherman Alexie’s work, and one of them is the theme I am discussing in this paper, which are stereotypes.
He also discusses the different opinions on Sherman Alexie’s themes. He says, “One of Bird’s most serious charges against Alexie is that in Reservation Blues he ‘’prey[s]’ upon’ his community and culture in perpetuating damaging stereotypes, including that of the drunken Indian. As she puts it, ‘Stereotyping native people does not supply a native readership with soluble ways of undermining stereotypes, but becomes a part of the problem, and returns an image of a generic ‘Indian’ back to the original producers of that image’ (49)” (Evans).
This quote is talking about another one of Sherman Alexie’s stories where he also talks about Native American stereotypes, and how someone else feels about this, which is not a positive feedback.
Another insightful source I found is called “Identity, Not Race the Subject of 9/11 Tragedy” by Jan Collier. This source also discusses stereotypes, especially after September 11th. In the story, William, the main character, is discriminated at airports after the disaster of September 11th, because of his appearance. This article talks about the changes in American society after the attack and how it is wrong. Jon Collier says, “This tragedy was not about race; it was about identity.
The legacy of 9/11 includes a sobering opportunity to teach what we as Americans hold in common, to touch the ground we all tread, to point out the sky we all see no matter our city, state, ethnicity, or religion” (Collier). This passage in the article states how it should be in America after the tragedy. How instead of creating stereotypes and discriminating others, we as a whole should come together and unite with the one thing we actually have in common. This is similar to the story when William and Fekadu converse and compare how they have been living since the incident, and the fact that they are both victims to stereotypes in their own way is what makes them get along well during their ride.
Hopefully this insight informs the reader of what it is like to be stereotyped and to be aware of the judgments they are making about other people. In “Flight Patterns”, the theme of racial stereotypes occurs in many instances a number of times. The first time in the story where the theme starts to develop is when the narrator first mentions the tragedy that happened on September 11th. As a businessman, William spends a lot of time in airports. The narrator says, “…William always scanned the airports and airplanes for little brown guys who reeked of fundamentalism…
William himself was a little brown guy, so the other travelers were always sniffing around him, but he smelled only of Dove soap, Mennen deodorant, and sarcasm. Still, he understood why people were afraid of him, a brown-skinned man with dark hair and eyes” (Alexie, 30-35). In a way, this passage in the story describes how America reacted after the tragedy. Prejudice and discrimination escalated and the target was now on people who look Middle Eastern because that just so happens to be where the terrorists who attacked us are from. This is also a contradiction because William even says how he is guilty of doing what others do to him.
Another instance of stereotyping is when William meets his cab driver, Fekadu. After seeing a large scar down his neck, William immediately judges him to be “A black man with a violent history…” (Alexie, 75-80). This falls under the young African-American male stereotype that suggests all young black males are involved in crime, violence, gangs, et cetera. “…William thought and immediately reprimanded himself for racially profiling the driver…” (Alexie, 75-80). William realizes he had judged the cab driver and regretted it right away, which is the contradiction because he still made the judgment.
During the ride, William and the cab driver start making conversation and both find they have a few similarities. They discuss their races and the judgments people make about them. William says, “’People usually think I’m longhaired Mexican’” (Alexie, 105-110). Fekadu responds, “’People think I’m black American. They always want to hip-hop rap to me. ‘Are you East Coast or West Coast?’ they ask me, and I tell them I am Ivory Coast’” (Alexie, 105-110). This also falls under the young black male stereotype. Since William is a victim of discrimination at airports because people also mistake him for being a terrorist, he wants to know if Fekadu has experienced the same thing.
Fekadu responds with yet another black American stereotype saying, “’Because people think I’m black, they don’t see me as a terrorist, only as a crackhead addict on welfare’” (Alexie, 110-115). Then William tells a story about how soon after September 11th, someone drove by yelling, “Go back to your own country!” The ironic thing about that, which is also another contradiction, is that William is Native American. So, being the witty guy that he is, he yelled “You first!” The two men found it hilarious and the narrator describes them as, “Two dark men laughing at dark jokes” (Alexie, 115-120). So, after reading and rereading the short story “Flight Patterns” by Sherman Alexie, an obvious theme in the story is stereotypes.
There were a number of stereotypes and images described by the author, one of them being a Native American image. The narrator says, “Maybe William should have worn beaded vests when he traveled. Maybe he should have brought a hand drum and sang ‘Way, ya, way, ya, hey.’ Maybe he should have thrown casino chips into the crowd” (Alexie, 55-60). The author describes these stereotypes to the reader to create the Native American image portrayed in America.
The meaning behind this image is suggesting that all Native Americans own casinos and dress and act a certain way which William, the protagonist, clearly shows is not true. From writing this paper, I hope the reader has a better understanding and is more aware of the actions and judgments made everywhere around them. Stereotypes, in my opinion, are something that will never go away, however there are better ways to deal with them and approach them. It is evident in the story “Flight Patterns” by Sherman Alexie that William and Fekadu are victims of stereotypes in a negative way.
These examples, as well as the ones in the sources discussed, should give the reader an insight on what it is like to be stereotyped in this point of view, regardless of what race they may be, and to help them understand and be more aware of the judgments constantly made in our American culture. Especially because William is a perfect example of how we rarely ever notice when we are making these judgments and assumptions on others.