Comparing Themes from M.L Smoker to Sherman Alexie

Despite people finding issue with the themes and images that Sherman Alexie depicts in his book, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfigth in Heaven, other literary works by Native American authors depict similar scenes. Among them is M.L Smoker’s poem Can You Feel the Native American in Me.

Can You Feel the Native American in Me is a poem that is told in a first person perspective, similar to the chapters like “Jesus Christ’s Half-Brother is Alive and Well on the Spokane Indian Reservation”, where the narrator is never named but the story is told from their perspective. In this story the narrator and her friend/sister, Lara, are at a gas station when a white girl slams her door into Lara’s new car and leaves a dent. Before Lara and the narrator can confront the girl she speeds away. After this happens the story cuts to them sitting in the driveway of their Uncle’s house where their sick aunt is waiting for them as they are there to take care of her.

In this poem themes of community, prejudice and tradition are depicted. The theme of prejudice is seen first. Though not stated directly it can be assumed that the white girl purposely slammed the door of her boyfriend’s car into Lara’s new car based on her and Lara and the narrator’s responses to the incident. This is similar to the chapter “The Approximate Size of my Favorite Tumor” where the white cop pulls over James and Norma because they are Native American and proceeds to take all their money except a dollar. In both cases people went out of their way to be mean toward them because they were Native American. However, the fear that the girl experiences when Lara and the narrator advance toward her, and the enjoyment they find in it, is similar to Victor and the 7-11 manager in “Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven”. Here the manager is wary of Victor because it is the graveyard shift and Victor is dark skinned. Victor decides to have some fun with the guy and pretends he might be a robber and enjoys the uneasiness and fear the guy experiences. He is poking fun at the guy by using his prejudice and suspicions against him. While in the poem the girl gets scared once she realizes that they aren’t going to let her get away with it. Though not quite the same, the girls do laugh at the fear in the girl’s face, just as how Victor laughed at the fears of the 7-11 manager. This fear was brought on because of their prejudices. For the girl it was an obvious and physical act against them, while for the manager it was a subtle and unspoken act. Another theme that is seen in both is the theme of white assimilation and the urge to fit in. In the poem the girls listen to Tupac and hip-hop which contrasts with the traditional music of their culture. This contrast is especially seen when the poems says, “leave out hip-hop beat, add in hand drum” (Smoker, M.L). As they go to take care of their sick aunt they are reminded of their family and tradition and the more mainstream music is replaced with the music of their heritage. This is similar to Junior in college where he drinks with his white dorm mates and makes fun of the past convict despite having more in common with him than his dorm mates. But, because he wants to fit in he goes along with the crowd and forgets his culture and heritage and his past. Just like how the girls were late to take care of their aunt because they had become lost in the world outside of their family. But just as Junior greatly regrets his actions once he is reminded of his roots, the girls express repentance once they see their aunt and uncle. They feel more bad about not being on time to care for their aunt than when they got pregnant and quit the basketball team. Just like Victor feels terrible for beating up Thomas Builds-a-Fire, they feel terrible because they were late to help one of their family members in need. Victor even reminisces on the moment and wonders what in the world happened to their sense of community that he can just ignore and abandon his cousin like that. The differences in the poem and the book are the fact that the girls have enough money to buy a new car for her 18th birthday. In the book there is a constant mention of how they don’t have enough money to buy things or go places. In the chapter “A Drug Called Tradition” Junior’s new car looks good but actually runs terribly. But other than that, they both use drums and basketball to reference Native American tradition, and themes of young pregnancy are also explored.

Even though the poem is short the same themes that are very important in the book are seen in the poem. Neither sugar coat the reality of anything. They both show how sometimes their lives are like a never-ending cycle and how they experience trouble both inside and outside their tribe, but despite their problems they remain a close knit community. Because, despite their flaws they are all going through the same thing and must lean on each other for survival.

Alexie, Sherman. The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven.” Open Road Media, 2013.

Smoker, M.L. “Can You Feel the Native American in Me.” poets.org  Accessed 1 April 2018.