An Analysis of Native American Societal Struggles Through “Wind River”

Sherman Alexie’s The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven(1994) is a collection of short stories that explore the grim nature of Native American reservations. Through tales of tradition and spirituality, readers gain a glimpse of the harsh realities that have plagued Native Americans for centuries. Likewise, Wind River(Sheridan 2017) details the horrifying events that unfold on a reservation in Wyoming due to the lack of law enforcement and prevalence of drug abuse, alcoholism, and violence. By analyzing the narrative and plot in each respective work, both readers and viewers can witness a violent cycle that plagues Native American reservations to this day.

Over the past several centuries, Native Americans have faced disease, genocide, forced relocation, and countless other atrocities at the hands of the U.S. government, who decimated their population by over 99%. Thus, there is a tangible tension between U.S. officials and reservation residents. This dynamic is clearly expressed in the initial meeting between Wind River Indian Reservation officials and the FBI. Such visible distrust of police is not unique to this film; It is commonplace in Native American society. The conservative rationale behind such a phenomenon is that Native Americans hate authorities because of the rampant crime that occurs in their communities. However, their behavior reflects a consistent trend of betrayal on behalf of foreign occupiers. For example, in 1763 Lord Jeffrey Amherst, Commander-in-Chief of British forces in America, wrote about the distribution of smallpox-infected blankets and handkerchiefs to surrounding Native American tribes.[1]Next, in the early 1830’s, the federal government forced over 100,000 of Natives to leave the southern states of Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, and North Carolina to relocate to “Indian Territory”, thousands of miles away.[2]Moreover, the U.S. government also conducted the forced removal of children from reservations, as they were taken to “boarding schools” which were truly constructed to “civilize” the next generation of Native Americans. A common punishment in these schools was cutting a child’s hair. At the surface, this seems like a strict way of disciplining and taming the children, however at a deeper level it can be compared to the Nazi tactic of shaving heads, which stripped an individual of a sense of identity. This cruelty towards children must be noted to truly understand the level at which these peoples have been legally oppressed by the U.S. government, but also to fully comprehend the levels at which such a cycle of violence was implemented in U.S. society.  In Wind River, the reservation police are hesitant to turn jurisdiction of the case over to the FBI because they are rightfully concerned that it will become another cold case. After all, what is another “dead injun” to the government? American history has been cruel and wicked to the first inhabitants of this land, and to cope with such a horrible fate, and incredibly high number of Native Americans turn to drugs and alcohol.

In The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, alcoholism and drug abuse can be seen everywhere throughout the collection, as Victor constantly struggles with his own inclination towards drinking. Furthermore, as an adolescent, Victor experimented with drugs like mushrooms to bring about spiritual flashes. These stories point to the possibility that drugs and alcohol have become so engrained into Native American society that they have tragically become part of the religion and culture as well. Additionally, in Wind Riverone of the first suspects in the murder of a reservation resident is a well-known drug abuser and troubled youth. A congruency between Wind Riverand Sherman Alexie’s works develops here, as the youth in both novels, including the basketball players in “The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven”, follow a dark path laid by their predecessors. Although Sheridan is white, his narrative rings true to the Native American struggle, as he highlights statistics that point towards a wilfull negligence on behalf of the government: The Wind River Reservation is Wyoming’s only Native American Reservation where the averagelife expectancy is 49 years, the unemployment rate is higher than 80%, and the high school dropout rate is 40% higher than the rest of Wyoming. Overall, the gripping cycles of violence, alcoholism, and poverty continue to grip the core of Native American society, and will further exist as long as there is no retribution for these people.




A Critical Analysis of Jonathan Yi’s “Shift”

            “Shift” (Yi 2006) uses a variety of cinematic techniques to generate tension that grips the audience from start to finish. Several editing tricks created shots that left the audience expecting a quarrel, but at the very climax of action, Yi would defuse the situation. Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” (1954) used similar strategies to increase the audience’s anxiety, which cab mainly be seen in several specific shots.

            In “Shift”, Yi used the monotonous nature of a mailing center to highlight the underlying stress in the lives of its workers. For example, the viewers are exposed to the same sights and sounds that the workers have to experience every time they come to work. Such shots were the lengthy clips of the countless envelopes being mechanically sorted.

We heard and saw paper after paper drumming through the office, and while this may not seem like a strenuous scene, it was well-timed after some heated exchanges and pivotal plot points such as the cutting of all employees’ working hours. In “Rear Window”, Hitchcock would pan over the entire set in a relatively calm manner, but the audience possessed information that made these scenes overly suspenseful.

For example, when the audience watches one of these action-less shots, at surface level it appears to be a calm environment, but the audience knows that it is only calm because the murderer, Lars Thorwald (Raymond Burr), is out burying his dead wife’s body. This strategy makes the film exponentially more suspenseful as it forces the audience to be involved, rather than creating a passive and one-sided engagement.

The next source of tension in “Shift” is its mis-en-scene, or the specific arrangement of the set in a scene. The quintessential example can be seen in the various pizza scenes, where the workers were greeted by free warm pizzas, but the audience knew they represented something much darker, wage cuts and eventually a mass layoff.

In this scene, the pizzas were laid out on the table and the workers gathered around them, looking down at them. By making the pizzas the center of the workers’ attention it became the center of the viewers’ attention as well, which generates a greater sense of significance. Again, similar techniques can be seen in “Rear Window”, where a neighbor’s dog becomes fixated on Lars Thorwald’s flower garden.

This tips off both the protagonist and the audience that there might be clues regarding the disappearance of Lars’ wife. These uses of mis-en-scene capitalize on the intuition and cognizance of film viewers to gather information without it being explicitly stated, and therefore it is extremely useful in a film like “Shift” where there is very little dialogue.

While these films differ in just about every category, including plot length and depth, they both use similar strategies to engage the audience by creating tension. Jonathan Yi has a long road before he can be compared to Hitchcock, but his cinematic style absolutely deserves to be recognized as a successful implementation of Hitchcock’s techniques.


Noah Somaratne “The Year 4000” and its implications

In William J. Wilson’s “The Afric-American Picture Gallery” (1859), we are introduced to a fictional piece of work titled “Year 4,000. The Amecans, or Milk White Race” which graphically details the “de-evolution” of the white race over the course of several millennia. Primarily, it can be seen as a distant and radical utopia for African Americans where they no longer face the cruel reality of slavery, or even whites for that matter. Additionally, this piece also provides a sense of premature justice for the African Americans, as the descriptions of the white race’s biological developments can be inferred as graphic illustrations of karma. Ethiop, the narrator, describes such physical characteristics in a series of paragraphs where he details their “sharp white teeth” and other animalistic traits. Ironically, however, the majority of Ethiop’s narration was centered around qualities that weren’t so animalistic. For example, he states,

“Their faces were long and narrow, and their noses sharp and angular, and their nostrils thin; so also were the lips of their sunken mouths.” (pg. 175)

While this may seem like an ominous description of some ghastly animal, it is simply a description of the average European facial structure. While hyperbolic and exaggerated, this depiction mainly highlights the physical differences between Europeans and Africans. An article highlights such differences and how each racial group has varying physical traits including skin color, head form, stature, hair, eyes, nose, etc… So, this description of the white race from the year 4,000 uses basic “white” physical features to portray a vile animal that would terrify readers. This was a huge blow to the household white supremacy of the 19th century, as the qualities white Americans held so tightly as their key to superiority was now being described as monstrosity. In addition to attacking the biology of Caucasians, Wilson’s literature acted as a double-edged sword by insinuating that black qualities should be sought after instead. In a world where skin-bleaching has been commonplace for many ethnicities, it is imperative for works like this to be circulated as they’re one of the best practices in preventing “white-washing.”

Another interesting point made in this passage was the hypocrisy of Christian slaveholders. Ethiop notes that white slaveholders will build massive temples to worship God and all his laws, but will not allow blacks to. Furthermore, he points out that whites claim loyalty to God and his words but simultaneously abuse black men, women, and children on a daily basis. This selective following of religion has persisted to the modern era where we see bigotry, racism, and other forms of hatred take precedence over morality and other spiritual values.

I believe that the most impressive point of this excerpt was Wilson’s depiction of a world where the power dynamic between blacks and whites was reversed. To say that America will belong to the blacks one day and that the whites, like their barbaric practice of slavery, will wither away is beyond courageous and it is one of the ultimate examples of how literature can inspire hope for a better future. As a Jew, I compare it to the creation of Israel by Holocaust survivors. Except African Americans experienced an institution that systematically dealt with them like material objects and officially degraded their existence to that of animals for hundreds of years. It makes sense that, in their ideal world, the group of people who subjected an entire race to such a fate faces a similarly agonizing destiny.