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.” Poets.org, Academy of American Poets, 7 June 2017, www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/whose-mouth-do-i-speak.
“Spruce Gum Juice.” Trailer 605, 23 June 2015, trailer605.wordpress.com/2015/06/22/spruce-gum-juice/.
Nightwood, by Djuna Barnes, narrates the story of Robin Vote, along with her struggles and relationships, on her journey to happiness. Throughout the novel, characters from multiple backgrounds are introduced with the common denominator of knowing Dr. Matthew O’Connor. Dr. Matthew O’Connor pretends to be a real doctor, which leads characters to trust him and consult him for advice in their times of struggle. Dr. Matthew O’Connor is revealed as transgender to the readers when Nora walks in on the doctor wearing a “woman’s flannel nightgown,” “a wig with long pendent curls that touched his shoulders,” and saw “laces, ribands, stockings, and ladies’ underclothing” hanging out of his drawers.”(85) In the fourth season of Glee, a popular television show about a group of high school singers and dancers, a new character is introduced named Wade, or Unique. Wade chooses to wear men’s clothing to school to avoid harassment by his fellow classmates, but identifies as a woman named Unique when he performs. Both Wade and Dr. O’Connor come from unsupportive backgrounds involving a lack of acceptance and ultimately compromise their true identities in order to satisfy society’s standards. Including transgender characters in literature and media can be controversial, but addresses important challenges and threats these individuals face everyday.
When Dr. Matthew O’Connor’s family discovered his identity, they responded by sending him off to join the military, where served “in a little town where the bombs began tearing the heart out of you.”(25) As a punishment for being transgender, Dr. O’Connor was forced to witness and endure the gruesome sights, such as the guillotine, from World War I. Towards the end of the novel, Dr. O’Connor rants about the different situations the characters have spoke to him about when he is drunk in a bar. At this point, Dr. O’Connor can no longer deal with the other characters problems, along with the challenge of hiding his true identity. He claims he “lived his life for nothing” and “the end” is “now nothing, but wrath and weeping.” (175) His years of having to cope with others problems, while secretly dealing with his own, ultimately led to his degradation. Similarly, Wade from Glee struggled to reveal Unique to his friends and family. Wade joined Glee Club because he “wanted to be somewhere where different was celebrated.” Although Glee Club was traditionally known for their acceptance, Wade comes to a meeting dressed as Unique and is ridiculed by his peers. The other members question Wade by stating “I thought you said you would only wear that for performances.” Wade was initially shocked by their responses, but agreed to change per their requests.
In the 1920s, legislature in the United States and other parts of the world targeted LGBTQ members of the community, forcing individuals to hide their identities in order to avoid punishments from the law and rejection by other community members. Despite the changes made to legislature, LGBTQ individuals still face discrimination and harassment everyday and are often the victims of hate crimes. Given the setting of Nightwood, Dr. O’Connor had no choice but to hide his identity from the public and could only dress how he truly desired within the confinement of his house. In Glee, Wade wore men’s clothes, accompanied by mascara and eyeshadow. After seeing his makeup during lunch one day, other members of the club recommended he “save his makeup for performances to avoid complicating their fragile relationship with the football and cheer teams.” In the episode, a cheerleader proceeds to call Wade cruel names and throws a slushie in his face. Barnes inclusion of a transgender character is believed to be one of the first known accounts in literature, and Wade was the first openly transgender character on Glee. In addition, there still remains a lack of representation of transgender characters in television and movies today. It is important to continue increasing the presence of LGBTQ actors and actresses to promote acceptance and diversity, as well as bring attention to the struggles still apparent today.
In the narrative, Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom; or, the Escape of William and Ellen Craft from Slavery, William Craft describes his and his wife’s miraculous escape from slavery to freedom. Throughout the narrative, Craft mentions common beliefs and practices of white Christians towards slavery in the 1800s and exemplifies how these individuals use their religion to support their decisions regarding slavery. Craft’s use of irony to demonstrate how white Christians manipulate and twist the words from religious texts, such as the Bible, to justify the mistreatment and ownership of their slaves. Christians in positions of power had the ability to initiate legislature and dominate all aspects of politics during this period. Although white Christians used religious texts to support their lifestyle, many slaves ironically turned to Christianity for hope and comfort regarding their situations. Craft’s narrative highlights the cultural differences in religion between white Christians and slaves.
One of Craft’s first perceptions of a “white Christian” developed from observing the actions of his former owner, who “thought nothing of selling my poor old father, and dear aged mother, at separate times, to different persons, to be dragged off never to behold each other again,”(9) despite his reputation of “being a very humane and Christian man.” After he plunged “the poisonous dagger of separation” into the hearts of his parents, Craft could not fathom how such a devoted Christian could be capable of such an evil action. In addition, Ellen strikes up a conversation with woman on a train about her son, a Christian minister. The woman states that her son advised her to move to New York and bring her slaves along to live with her, and Ellen questions why the son did not advise her to emancipate the slaves so they may move up north and be free. The woman quickly retaliates, claiming her son knows best and states “the niggers will make me lose all my religion!” (66) Craft exposes the irony behind the slaveholders referring to themselves as “true Christians,” yet continue to act in ways that contrast Christian ideals.
On pages 94-95, Craft names several Reverends that came forward to express their opinions on the passing of the Fugitive Slave Bill. Rev. Dr. Spencer published a sermon titled “Religious Duty of Obedience to the Laws,” Rev. W. M. Rogers preached “if ordered to take human life, in the name of God to take it,” and Rev. Bishop Hopkins stated “every Christian is authorised by the Divine Law to own slaves, provided they were not treated with unnecessary cruelty.” When Reverends, highly regarded members of the Christian clergy, make these sort of statements, those who look up to the Reverends will inherit and implement these beliefs into their daily lives. These men used their positions of power to create and support legislature that favored their lifestyles, rather than being concerned with the well-being of African-Americans.
Although Craft never elaborates on the role of religion in his life, many African Americans, especially slaves, turned to Christianity as a way to cope with the cruelty and injustice so apparent in their lives. While many white Christians use the principles and words of the Bible to promote and defend slavery, the victims of slavery are using the same principles and words to persevere through this horrendous time. The variation among the ways the two races interpret the same text demonstrates the cultural differences surrounding religion and values during this period.
The irony of a “white Christian” treating other with such brutality and inhumanity is apparent not only in Craft’s narrative, but throughout American history. Craft finds their behavior incomprensible and validates the role of these individual’s understanding of the Bible in composing legislature and everyday treatment of slaves.