Born This Way

Lady Gaga, a pop artist who became popular in the 2000s, is a huge advocate for the LGBTQ community and shows this in many of her songs. One of her most prominent songs that is in support of people who identify as an LGBTQ is Born This Way, which was published in 2011. Despite belief that much more notable and significant progress was made in more recent years, 2011 was in fact a huge year for the Gay Rights Movement. Gays, lesbians and bisexuals were permitted to serve openly in the military and states such as New York decided to allow same-sex marriage. While these are smaller stepping stones in comparison to the Supreme Court decision of June 26, 2015 that legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states, it was the smaller victories and continued advocacy by cultural icons such as Lady Gaga that kept the issue at the forefront of the political agenda.

“Born This Way” depicts the feelings that many people who identify as a member of the LGBTQ community experience on a daily basis. Gaga starts the song off by saying “It doesn’t matter if you love him, or capital H-I-M”. Throughout the rest of the song, she refers to God, saying that He “makes no mistakes”. As there has been a huge shift in political views, religious views too have experienced a slight transition toward more liberal ideologies. In recent years, especially since the 2015 decision, far more members of the church have expressed their same-gendered sexualities, citing ideas in line with those in “Born This Way”. They point to the belief that were made by God and He does not make mistakes. Therefore, they were born loving people of the same sex and that is simply the plans that were laid out for them.

Shame is a frequent feeling experienced by people who are a part of the LGBTQ community. For years these people were told to box off their feelings and ignore them simply because they weren’t “right”. In her song, Gaga encourages people who struggle with their sexuality to “not hide in regret, but rather love themselves and they’ll be set”. In 2011 when she produced this song, most people who identified as LGBTQ were not comfortable with the idea of not hiding. Lady Gaga, however, felt that people should be free to be themselves, and she advocated for that in whatever way she could.

Further, one line of the song says “no matter black, white, or beige, Chola or orient made, I’m on the right track”. Gaga used this song as an opportunity to address challenges that are faced by a wide variety of people. Not only do people in the LGBTQ community frequently struggle with feeling like they were a mistake, but also people of different ethnicities have long had difficulties with prejudice. Born This Way acts a reminder that, no matter where you came from or who you love or what you believe in, you were made that way and it is a part of each person’s character that makes them unique and worthy of loving them self.

Poverty and Paternal Bonds

Sherman Alexie’s The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven portrays the numerous hardships Native Americans face in every aspect of their daily lives. From poverty and alcoholism to discrimination and lack of education, Native Americans are constantly facing obstacles that impact their lifestyle. The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven is a collection of anecdotes about the main character Victor, as well as other members of the community. In the poem “Whose Mouth Do I Speak With,” by Suzanne Rancourt, Rancourt describes the life of a Native American girl, possibly herself, and her family. Both pieces of literature demonstrate the speaker’s relationship with their fathers and the struggles of Native American families with poverty.

In the chapter titled “Because My Father Always Said He Was the Only Indian Who Saw Jimi Hendrix Play “The Star-Spangled Banner” at Woodstock,” Victor reminisces on his childhood and his relationship with his father. Similarly, in “Whose Mouth Do I Speak With,” by Suzanne Rancourt, the speaker looks back at her father’s actions during her childhood. In both pieces of literature, the speakers describe their fathers as being gone for extended periods of the day, although Victor’s father is away drinking and the speaker of the poem’s father is working. In addition, the children in both the poem and novel greet their father when he comes home by gathering at their father’s feet. Victor remembers how he “would fall asleep under the table with his head near his father’s feet,” and the speaker in “Whose Mouth Do I Speak With” describes “gather[ing] at this feet, around his legs.” I found this resemblance interesting because the habit of gathering at someone’s feet insinuates a feeling of excitement and eagerness among the children for their father’s arrival. In the case of Victor, his father often stumbles home intoxicated and proceeds to “weep and then pass out,” which does not appear to be something a child would be enthusiastic about. On the other hand, the speaker of the poem looks forward to her father’s arrival because she counts on him “bringing home spruce gum.” Although the fathers in the two works seem to be very different, both speakers enjoy seeing their fathers and cherish their time together with their fathers.

In addition, the theme of poverty is present throughout “The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven” and “Whose Mouth Do I Speak With.” In the chapter “Every Little Hurricane,” “Victor’s father wept because he didn’t have any money for gifts.” The speaker in “Whose Mouth Do I Speak With” states that her family “had no money for store bought gum,” which is why their father continued to bring them spruce gum. Spruce gum comes from the resin of spruce trees, which was originally chewed by Native Americans and later introduced to the Anglo-American pioneers. The mention of poverty in both these works demonstrates the common correlation among the Native American families. Although the speakers mention their situations of poverty, both Victor’s mother and the speaker of the poem attempt to look at the situation positively. Victor’s mother said “we’ve got each other” as a way to offset not having money for gifts. She may not have necessarily meant this, but her comment attempts to comfort Victor. Similarly, the speaker of the poem follows her statement about not being able to store bought gum by saying “but that’s alright” and “how many other children had fathers that placed on their innocent, anxious tongue the blood of tree?” The speaker of the poem makes it seem as if she is lucky to have a father that provides them with this gum that connects them to nature. She chooses to focus on what she has, rather than what she does not have, which helps her appreciate her family and nature in a greater sense.

Although Victor’s relationship with his father seems broken and unhealthy and the speaker in Rancourt’s poem demonstrates a stronger connection with her father, both works show how poverty impacts the lives of Native Americans and helps construct their family dynamics. I personally feel that the poem depicts life as a Native American in a more positive manner than the novel. Within the chapters mentioned above, Victor also addresses the serious issues of alcoholism in this family, as well as other problems in the community. Just by reading these two works, it is clear that Native Americans face many issues, most of which derive from colonization by the Anglo-Americans.

Alexie, Sherman, and Jess Walter. The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven. Grove Press, 2013.

Rancourt, Suzanne. “Whose Mouth Do I Speak With.”, Academy of American Poets, 7 June 2017,

“Spruce Gum Juice.” Trailer 605, 23 June 2015,

The Other in Sherman Alexi’s work

Above are the links to the works of Sherman Alexi  which I will be discussing.

In his novels, Sherman Alexi focuses a lot on the concept of “otherness”.  Though he doesn’t out right mention this term, for the purposes of this post I will define it as being or identifying as  anything other than society’s accepted normal.  Sherman uses his stream of consciousness narrative form in these works to portray the thoughts and experiences of those who are perceived as different.  In my opinion that is a monumental part of why middle schools implement teaching his work in their curriculum, or at least why mine did.

Sherman wrote The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian from the perspective of a high school boy’s thought diary.  This boy was native american, and had a condition called Hydrocephalus which gives him a bit of a handicap, vision issues, and is overall an awkward underdog.  The novel highlights how he is bullied and mistreated, and how making any headway in life is harder for him systematically.  Alexi comments a lot on privilege in his works.  The main character in this novel becomes good enough at basketball that he is transferred to an all white school off the reservation where he meets a girl who is also an other.  She has bulimia.  Sherman highlights that being in a mixed relationship caused even more issues for the protagonist.  Everything was harder than it could be based on the kid’s identity.  Pointing out these differences in ability like he does through wit and sassy, sardonic monologues from the mind of a teenage boy draws in a young audience and makes them more willing to recognize and learn the lessons he is highlighting.

In his second work, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven, Alexi pays even more homage to life on an indian reservation and how difficult it is to be non whites in a society that has systematically set “others” up to fail.  He highlights a corrupt BIA, and a history of poverty and alcoholism as well as the cycle of hope and apathy regarding the youth of the reservation.  Alexi provokes thought regarding those who identify in different ways in american society.  He emphasizes racism and need for change where there is no effort to make one.  He uses his narrative style to say some heavy things about how terrible society and life can be to and for Native American’s while providing comic relief that makes you cringe, sweat, and laugh all at the same time.  The jokes and comments made in his works are funny, true, and eye opening. He doesn’t provide means to or suggestions as to how to fix these situations.  That is not the point.  The point is to make his non “other” audience cringe and feel just as helpless to change as the Indians he write’s about.  Through the jokes he leaves them hanging hoping for something to smile about rather than laugh nervously about.  It is intended to provoke thought and the inspire the change necessary to better those who are different. He provides no answers for free just as society gives those who are different nothing that they don’t work twice as hard for.

Refection 3

One thing that angers me the most is to see when a marginalized group further oppresses another marginalized group just to raise themselves up, instead of helping each other. This vile act of supremacy can be seen within groups with colorism, I know in the Latino community it is a big issue. In The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven and Wide Sargasso Sea there were serval instances where similar groups degraded each other. In my opinion, the usage of this particular interaction leads a very raw natural feel to the stories.

In wide Sargasso Sea race is truly depicted as a spectrum, with more than white and black existing as the major races. Daniel, a male character who claimed to be the half-brother of Antoinette and that he had relations with her, considered himself “yellow”. He was supposable the son of a white man and an enslaved black woman, thus he was superior. He seemed to hate black people and didn’t want to be associated with him. He also wasn’t white. While this following example isn’t necessary between marginalized group I felt it was still of importance.  Antoinette’s husband noticed that if he didn’t know of his wife’s linage he would see her as “white”, when on the Island she is “white”. Race becomes a more relative topic in Wide  Sargasso Sea.

This line in The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven resonated so much with me, “sharing dark skin doesn’t necessarily make two men brothers” (Alexie 178). While there were many racial comment in his “novel” that quote hurt me the most. Not just because it was about the way a Chicano acted because I identify as Chicana, but because it showed how sometimes minority groups don’t even support each other. This Chicano teacher, who should be supporting his students, assumed the worse about his student. He throws the drunk stereotype on an ingenious student who really just had diabetes. What if these students would have clapped back with “ you must be a ‘professional mountain climber’”, the hate this would have sparked. The saddest part about that quote was that it was said so casually, like doctrine, something in their daily lives which haven’t even been that long. There was another interaction between Victor and another indigenous woman from a different tribe. I am pretty sure that they sleep together and the women discovers that Victor has scars on him and her skin is clear and he walks out saying something like “you’re no better than me”. From my interpretation the woman wasn’t implying that she was better than him, but to a mind that is programed to belief of supremacy I can see how he would have interpreted it as him being demeaned.

These displays of supremacy over other groups based on skin color or other aspects of someone just breed hate, and in The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven Alexie did a great job of indirectly mentioning a way to help get pass this. In the chapter of Imagining the Reservation, one of the character talks about forgiveness being the energy he expels.


Work Cited

Alexie, Sherman, and Jess Walter. The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven. Grove Press, 2013.

Progession and Lack of

Throughout the centuries there have been vastly different methods used to treat mental illnesses. In the Middle Ages, they believed the mental ill to be possessed and tried to bleed the demon out. During the 1800s and up until the mid 1900s, they used fever therapy, sent people to asylums, did procedures like Insulin Coma Therapy and lobotomies to treat mental disorders. By the 1960s, there were laws in pass that protected the mental ill from harmful treatments. Currently, people with mental illness go either to therapy, are on medication if not both. Treatments for mental illness have constantly changed and revolved around the popular ideas of the current century. However, one thing hasn’t changed there still remains to be stigma around the mental ill. In modern day literature, there is still the discussion on treatment and misconceptions about the mental ill that occurred in prior decades.
In the poem, “Order Your Disorder” poets Zariya Allen, Kyland Turner, and Belissa Escobedo discuss mental illness and the common use of prescription pills. In the beginning of the poem, they ask “are you feeling mentally ill?” and response with “then we’ve got the pill for you!” They then proceed to tell parents not to worry if their child is easily distracted because they can get a whole month supply of Adderall for $69.95. A common issue in the current mental health care system is the amount of prescription that are handed out. In some cases, the prescriptions pills are not the right answer to treat the disorder. Sometimes, its the easy answer to a complex problem.
In the novel, Wide Sargasso Sea the reader is introduced to Antoinette Cosway a young women from the Caribbean who is married off to Mr. Rochester. Wide Sargasso Sea is a prologue to the novel Jane Eyre, that explains how Mr. Rochester first wife Antoinette is driven into insanity. Antoinette’s family has a history of both mental illness and disabilities; her mother was driven insane and her younger brother had a developmental disability. When Antoinette becomes ill, her husband takes her from her home and locks her up in a attic. Antoinette by the end of both novels, burns down the home she is staying in and commits suicide. In most cases, the lack of action and proper treatments drove those mental ill further into insanity and cements an almost permanent stigma around those who are ill. In Antoinette’s case, due to the stigma around mental illness and Rochester’s embarrassment he locks her up and does not try to get her proper treatment.
In poem, “Order Your Disorder”, the poets discusses the stigma around mental illness as well. They state “but don’t tell your family– they’ll tell you to hide it. But don’t tell your teachers–they’ll send you to a separate room to take your tests; but don’t tell your friends– because they’ll never understand.” Even in modern society, the stigma still lives; those who are not ill have difficulties truly understanding what it’s like and what it means to be mentally ill. Even though, we are vastly more educated on mental illness, what causes it and what treatments actually work in aiding those who have a mental illness, the stigma remains.
The progression in treatment for those who are ill is wonderful; yet we have a long ways to go in how we treat those who are ill in society. The stigma remains and as long as it does progression is still needed.

Order Your Disorder: The poem

Wide Sargasso Sea By: Jean Rhys

Reflection Post 3: Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven

In Sherman Alexie’s “The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven”, storytelling serves as a major theme and is displayed as being a major part of Indian life and culture. Many characters in the cluster of short stories Alexie presents tell stories, with differing styles and methods among them. I will be looking at the differences in how Alexie’s main character, Victor, and how another character, Thomas Builds-the-Fire, tell stories and the significance of these differences in the context of the novel as a whole.  Both characters’ methods of storytelling reveal much about reservation culture, Native American history, and themes of the novel.

Victor, who is featured in the majority of the short stories in the book, tells his own stories in several instances. His stories are mainly grounded in reality and are often about the everyday life on the reservation. For example, in the chapter “A Good Story”, the narrator (presumably Victor) tells a nice story to his mother after she complains that all his stories too sad. Instead of his usual somber tale, he tells a story of a young boy named Arnold that skips a trip with his friends to visit an old man named Uncle Moses, reflecting the strong sense of community in the reservations. However, even after concluding this happy story and describing the pleasant activities of he and his mother, the narrator says, “believe me, there is just barely enough goodness in all of this” (pg. 199). This is because Victor’s stories paint a realistic picture of life on the reservation. Typical life on the reservation isn’t particularly full of happiness, so neither are Victor’s stories. They are grounded in reality, even if that reality is harsh.

One exception to this is when Victor and Adrian and recalling stories of past reservation basketball stars in the chapter “The Only Traffic Signal On The Reservation Doesn’t Flash Red Anymore”. In this chapter, Adrian recalls how Silas Sirius literally flew to dunk a ball. Victor recalls that he “believed
Adrian’s story more as it sounded less true” (pg. 85). While Victor may not literally believe that a man flew across a basketball court to dunk a ball, this chapter exhibits the function of storytelling to create heroes among the reservation. Such stories may become exaggerated as they are passed around, but they serve as a form of hope and escapism to get away from the struggles of the reservation, like Victor’s stories typically portray.

Unlike Victor’s stories, the stories of Thomas Builds-the-Fire are not grounded in reservation life.  His stories are often surreal, feature lessons or morals, and are historical, telling about past atrocities against Native Americans or about their past culture. For instance, Thomas tells a story in court about horses being captured and abused by white Americans, beginning it with “I was a young pony,strong and quick in every movement” (pg. 142 ). This captures the surrealism of his stories since he tells it from a horse’s perspective, but also it is meant to represent how Native Americans were subjected to atrocities much like the horses. He tells this story under oath and while this may not be something that literally happened to him, its historical context rings true.

Thomas is known to be a storyteller on the reservation, but no one ever wants to stop and listen to his stories. This could be because he seems to embrace a traditional view of storytelling with his tales of the past and everyone ignoring him could portray how reservation culture is moving away from traditional Native American culture. No one is following the old ways, just as no one wishes to hear Thomas’ stories. Stories like Victor’s, while they don’t reflect the same symbolism and historical greatness as Thomas’, are more accepted since they are grounded in the reality of the reservation. It is hard to hear a story such a Thomas’ that are so far removed from the dire straits of reservation life when that is all you are exposed to day in and day out.

Reflection 3: “Lone Ranger and Tanto Fist-Fight in Heaven”

          Consequences of forced intervention and assimilation can be seen throughout history in many examples, ranging from captured foreigners, to previously native people. One of the most dramatic illustrations of this can be seen during the 18th and 19th centuries, right here in the United States. Previously spanning over three million acres from Washington to Idaho, the Spokane Indian territory used to be home to 2,500 of its people, providing them with bountiful resources and general peace of mind.However, throughout history much of what was once previously belonging to the Spokane Indians was seized, including its culture.  Exposure to exploring populations in the early 1800’s introduced the tribe to copious amounts of alcohol, and left their population combating new and foreign diseases. In 1881 legislation was passed dividing the territory into much smaller reservations, without the consent of the native inhabitants. This new sector was labeled as the Spokane Reservation. English was now mandated to be the exclusive language on all American Indian Reservations. The natives were treated as if they were beasts rather than human, being stripped of much of their culture and ancestral way of life, and being forced into boarding schools at an attempt to “civilize” them. It wasn’t until 1990 that the Native American Languages Act allowed the regular practice of Native American languages. The 20th century aftermath of such involuntary transitions towards the white man’s liking is described in Sherman Alexie’s The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, which depicts the upbringing of a Spokane Indian named Victor. In this collection of interrelated short stories, Alexie describes many of the struggles of reservation life. In these, he applied what he personally saw and experienced as a Spokane Indian on the reservation.

          In many of the stories, Alexie’s portrayal of Native American life is filled with poverty and loss. Victor’s interactions with other members of his reservation paint a picture of destitution. An example of this is present in the story “This is what it means to Say Phoenix, Arizona”. Here, Victor is informed his father has died and he struggles with raising enough money to travel to bring his possessions home. A friend of his, Thomas Builds-The-Fire pays for the plane ticket but also travels with him. Upon reaching his late father’s house, a rechid odor greets them. Because of his father’s social class, he was not connected with many people, and seen as an outcast. His body was therefore left for days without anyone noticing. The loss of Victor’s father goes beyond his own sadness, as it displays the social view that others have towards Native Americans. His disconnection to the ‘white’ world underlines the lack of empathy that non-Native Americans have toward them. Taking a step back from the story, the differences between whites and Native Americans access to health care are somewhat alluded to. A major problem of the overall health of Native Americans is the lack of resources on their reservations. Throughout the past, groups were migrated and placed into areas in which the government officials thought would be least beneficial for them to lose; in other words, the more desolate lands were given to them while their fruitful territories were seized.  In a 2004 report by the University of Maryland, Native American Health Care Disparities Briefing, the physical inaccessibility of health facilities are touched on. For the majority, Native Americans living on reservations and other inhospitable climates “the roads are often impassable, and where transportation is scarce, health care facilities are far from accessible.” Almost 80 percent of the roads are unpaved, leaving its residents stuck in the reservation.

          A central and reoccuring theme displayed throughout the stories was alcoholism and its devastating impact on those living on the reservation. Not excluded from the influence of alcohol himself, Alexie dealt with an alcoholic father and hardworking mother who worked multiple jobs in an attempt to support her six children. Victor provides the readers with numerous examples of how alcohol has ruined the lives of his people and cast a shadow of depression over the morose group. It is illustrated as being the downfall of any promising possibility. Specifically, Victor’s acquaintance had the opportunity to use basketball as his ticket to leaving the reservation, but fell victim to the bottle. From stories like this, one can easily apply the common stigma of which many Native Americans are depressed and alcoholics. However, the health initiative organization Recovery states that the issue goes beyond simply drinking in excess. In an article written by Recovery author Emily Guarnotta, Native Americans and Alcoholism, the high rates of alcoholism can be attributed to a range of factors. Stemming from a history of abuse, many Native Americans had lost most of their original culture and traditions. Because of their past, they were labeled as inferior to whites, Guarnotta explains, which besmirched the view of Native Americans. On top of this severely depressing environment, they have much higher rates of unemployment, which can be attributed to fact that most had a degrading mentality towards them. Consequently, Native Americans faced harsh, unwelcoming environments where their values were cast aside and there was little, if any, opportunity for employment. Alexie speaks about this insufficient availability of work, saying that the major occupations on the reservation were involved with cigarettes and fireworks.

          The compilation of interconnected short stories written by Sherman Alexie includes numerous examples of the struggles and oppression that Native Americans have had, and continue, to deal with. Inequalities resulting in massive poverty and a descending spiral of depression leading into alcoholism is a major influencer of the stories in his work. The vast majority, if not all, of the problems that Native Americans currently face can be attributed to their persistent history of unjust treatment.


Native Americans and Alcoholism

A Debt Unpaid



Lucas B Short Reflection 3

ENGL 129 Reflection 3 FINAL


Lucas Baldridge
1 April 2018
ENGL 129
Professor Boyd

The Role of James in The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven

James’s role in Sherman Alexie’s The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven is critical in the shaping of how Victor changes as a character. From the start of the novel, we see that Victor’s life is shaped by alcohol, drugs, divorce, and fighting. Sadly, this type of lifestyle is common for most who live on a Native American reservation. However, as soon as James is brought into Victor’s life, Victor’s morals and lifestyle begin to change in order to satisfy the needs of James, who becomes his child through Native American tradition. Victor’s life shifts from that of an alcoholic to a lifestyle shaped by fatherhood and responsibility.

The transitional period of Victor’s life can be outlined from the visit to the hospital after the fire to the time when he enters an AA group. Whenever Victor goes to visit James, Frank, and Rosemary at the reservation hospital, he admits that he “got drunk just before” his arrival in order to cope with his strange fear of hospitals. At this time period in the novel, it is more than obvious that Victor is struggling with alcoholism. It is running his life no matter the occasion. Despite the underlining of Victor’s alcoholism, this part of the novel becomes important because it is when Victor decides to take in James. Soon after Victor’s decision to take in James, the transition of Victor’s lifestyle becomes more clear to us. Victor begins to narrate his fatherly duties as he describes his daily devotion to change, wash, and feed James. Victor states that James has become “his religion.” This statement is largely important since he has been the caretaker of James for no more than a few months at this time in the novel.

Even though we can start to see Victor develop responsibility, the state of living that he has James in is still not suitable. Cockroaches continue to reside in Victor’s home and holes become the only source of decoration for the walls. With such imagery, it is apparent that Victor still does not have his life in order completely. However, despite the treacherous living conditions for a child, Victor does continuously take James to the doctor because he has yet to cry. Victor becomes worried that James is not fully developing and shows glimpses of responsibility as he continuously schedules check-ups for James. Although the doctors claim this to be normal for Native American children, Victor’s worry does not reside.

The next transitional stage of Victor’s lifestyle comes with the aid of Suzy Song, who becomes a mother figure for James as the novel progresses. Instead of putting James on the sideline as Victor plays basketball, Victor hands James over to Suzy. By doing so, James is kept in good hands and out of harms way, as we know basketball players spontaneously dive around the edges of the court where James was previously stationed.

Even though Victor is starting to detach from the traditional Native American lifestyle, he still can’t “remember nothing except the last drink” he had. He even gets so drunk that he leaves James at a random house party. Victor is still constrained by alcohol, but eventually the companionship of James overthrows such a lifestyle. As time progresses and Victor realizes the destruction of his alcoholism, he decides to join Alcoholics Anonymous, a group designed to stop those struggling with alcoholism. This was the final transition that Victor needed to complete in order to live out a better lifestyle.

The implication of Victor’s more humane lifestyle is linked to the bringing in of James. The presence of James motivated Victor to change from his stereotypical Native American lifestyle to that of a more suitable lifestyle for those with children. From this point in the novel and onward, Victor became more responsible and coherent to James’s needs. Also, this transformation led Victor to an alcohol-free life, which as we understand, plays a huge role in the Native American reservation community. Therefore, we can label James’s role in the novel as the force that drove Victor from a destructive lifestyle to one containing fatherhood and hope.


Alexie, Sherman.  The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven.  Distributed by Grove Press New York, 1993.

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.

Jared Floyd – post 3 The Struggles of the American Indian Culture

Why is it so easy to explain the flaws of others while being blind to your own shameful actions? Growing up, history books adequately explain racist Nazi Germany or the gruesome colonization of the Congo by Belgium; however, the mistreatment of American Indians by the American government and society is rarely discussed. Throughout American history, the American Indians who originally occupied the land we call our own, have been disgustingly marginalized through the implementation of programs that eliminate American Indian culture or that force tribes out of their land. In 2013, PBS released a short documentary film called “Worlds Apart” which walks through the life of Rose Vasquez and the hardships she faces as she bridges the gap between her life on the reservation and her life at college. Within Sherman Alexie’s collection of short stories called The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven, Alexie exposes many of the everyday struggles of the American Indian people especially in the chapters “The Only Traffic Signal on the Reservation Doesn’t Flash Red Anymore” and “Indian education.”

Throughout the chapter “The Only Traffic Signal on the Reservation Doesn’t Flash Red Anymore,” Adrian and Victor sit on a porch watching the lives of others flash bye in a continual cycle of depression and alcoholism. On this reservation, the people place their hope in a boy named Julius who was a basketball superstar; however, due to the influences of alcohol and the lack of motivation, he drifts into history. Similarly, Rose Vasquez in “Worlds Apart,” discusses the temptations to merely fall into the cycle of her ancestors whom have no major life accomplishments. In order to counter the cycle of past generations, Rose “wanted to move off of reservation for opportunities that [she] didn’t see others going for” by pursuing a college degree. Even today, it is difficult for people on American Indian reservations to break the cycle of poverty and alcoholism due to a deep desire to preserve their culture which is a reason that many have no aspiration to leave the reservation in search of other opportunities.

Within “Indian Education” in Alexie’s The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven, Victor gives insight into his education which consists of being educated off of the reservation in a white majority school. Being educated out of the reservations causes many different struggles between the identify and acceptance of Victor which is similar to the struggles of Rose Vasquez. Even though Victor becomes valedictorian of his class, “back home on the reservation, [his] former classmates graduate: a few can’t read, one or two are just given attendance diplomas, most look forward to the parties (179).” This quote demonstrates how the surrounding culture impacts motivation of the children; however, Rose claims “growing up without culture is the same as growing up without identity, we need it.” The only reason that the people on the reservations are able to survive surrounded by the current American culture that encourages material success and fame, is their dependence on each other and their unique culture. Even though many people on reservations may fall into the cycle of alcoholism and poverty, everyone relies on each other for survival. Because Rose is engulfed by two contrasting cultures, one of the American dream, and one of Indian cultural preservation, “every day is a struggle to bridge the gap of two worlds.” For many American Indians that venture beyond the confines of the reservations, it becomes very difficult for them to balance their innate identity with the identity that the American society forces down their throat.

Us Americans have wronged the American Indian culture by not admitting to the hardships we have caused in the past and present; however, in order to create a society of inclusiveness of all differences, it is necessary for us to recognize our faults and strive to promote and support cultural diversity.