By analyzing Louise Erdrich’s poem, “I was Sleeping Where the Black Oaks Move” alongside “Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist-Fight in Heaven,” it can be seen that the depression that is so prevalent in Sherman Alexi’s novel is not a new thing. Alexi’s fairly modern depiction of Native American life depicts a depression which manifests in rampant alcoholism. However, the roots of Native American struggles precede Alexi’s account of life on the reservation.
In Erdrich’s poem, she describes the widespread devastation of Governmental action against Native Americans as a metaphorical flood. In the first stanza, she writes, “We watched from the house, as the river grew, helpless, and terrible in its unfamiliar body. Wrestling everything into it, the water wrapped around trees, until their life-hold was broken. They went down, one by one, and the river dragged off their covering.” This powerful imagery is mirrored in the first chapter of Alexi’s novel. “The Hurricane” that Victor describes is the same devastation as Erdrich’s flood. It is an anger that still resides in all Native Americans frequently bubbles to the top such as Victor’s uncles violently fighting.
In “Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist-Fight in Heaven,” there are many instances of Victor’s people longing to be Indians as they once were: free and true to their ancient traditions. This is displayed when Victor and his friends do some sort of drug and imagine they are dancing around a fire just as their ancestors did. This same longing is reflected in the Erdrich poem in the final stanza. “Sometimes now, we dream our way back to the heron dance. From the time White oppression began to present day, Native Americans have sought to return to their former way of life; a life of freedom and rich culture.
Though there are clear similarities in the Erdrich poem and Alexi novel; primarily, the anger and longing the Native Americans feel, the way these frustrations are expressed present themselves quite differently in the two literary works. Erdrich describes feeling sad and observing the “alone, hoarse-voiced, broken herons.” In Alexi’s novel, the characters mostly resort to drinking alcohol to deal with this sadness. Erdrich depicts a more metaphorical, internal sadness while Alexi portrays the very visible alcoholic tendencies Native Americans have turned to try and cope. Both Erdrich and Alexi reveal the sadness and depression felt by Native Americans and remind us that this is not a new problem, only different symptoms.
Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist-Fight in Heaven
I Was Sleeping Where the Black Oaks Move