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20090424 Alexie and Harjo

Page history last edited by Jordan Greenwald 11 years, 9 months ago


Sherman Alexie is a Native American writer who weaves the Native American experience into his writing.  He critiques the interactions of the Native Americans and white people while maintaining a certain element of humor in order to keep his readers from tuning out of his message. As shown in an interview with Stephen Colbert, Alexie is very forthcoming with racial issues, but is still able to adress the situation with humor. He comments on the nature of the Native American, their will to fight and to confront issues face-on.  "Exaggeration of Despair" iterates this concept when the speaker invites the wind, which delivers the tragic stories of his ancestors and his fellow Indians into his home. The poem's explicit, shocking manner is reminiscient of Ginsberg's "Howl", which is a series of grievances against American culture that has perverted members of society into insanity.  He details incidents of despair, rape, suicide, homelessness, and Indian-on-Indian offenses, all things which Alexie belives Indians have borrowed from white society.

     Sherman Alexie also fits into Post-Modernism with his use of pastiche and making visible cultures that have not previously been recognized. In "The Crow Testament," Alexie borrows from Judeo-Christian culture in referencing Cain and Abel, the battle of Jericho, and the book of Revelations, all intertwined with the typical Native American trickster figure, Crow.



"In the photograph, my father is dressed in bell-bottoms and flowered shirt, his hair in braids, with red peace symbols splashed across his face like war paint."     

-"Because My Father Always Said He Was The Only Indian Who Saw Jimi Hendrix Play 'The Star-Spangled Banner' At Woodstock" - Sherman Alexie 1993


This quote embodies the incorrect stereotype of the hippies that all Indians are peaceful nature-lovers.  In the scene, Victor's father is at a war protest when he assaults a National Guard private.  The hippies who are trying to emulate Indians have a romanticized misconception of their nature.  Alexie comments on this nature throughout the story.  Indians are "born soldiers," not "perfect hippies."


Key Terms


Communication: Not exactly a term that needs to be defined, but it is a concept that is vital in "Because My Father Always Said He Was The Only Indian Who Saw Jimi Hendrix Play 'The Star-Spangled Banner' At Woodstock." Many of the cultural issues and conflicts that are brough up relate to communication. Music is also directly related to communication, especially emotional expression.


Cultural Hybrid - Though it isn't quite a term, the blending of cultures present in Victor's family, especially his father is an important aspect of the story.  All the characters display common aspects of American culture while simultaneously maintaining their connection to their Native American heritage.


Violence, Patriotism, Freedom - These are important themes relating for Victor and his father because of their prevalence in both the American and Indian cultures.  All these things are brought together in the "Star Spangles Banner" itself.  The song describes a violent scene of battle while acting as a beacon tune of American pride and praising the vast freedom of the American country. When Victor's father says that the song captured exactly "how he felt" it depicts his connection to theses themes.  He had witnessed yet avoided tremendous violence during his stay in prison and had only recently become a free man when he heard the song.  Furthermore he identifies as both a proud American and a proud Indian displaying elements of both cultures in his character.


Outside Links



The Colbert Report Mon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Sherman Alexie
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor Gay Marriage Commercial


Comments (1)

Brian Croxall said

at 1:06 pm on Apr 28, 2009

Your notes for Alexie and Harjo have some good points and some weak points. In general, I think your summary captures a lot of what we discussed about Alexie’s work. Your passages, however, are surprisingly slim. I would have expected to find a discussion (either in the quotations or in the summary) of how Victor’s father moves toward a broader American culture while his mother moves toward a traditional native culture. This cultural hybridity is what Victor (and Alexie) have to navigate as Native Americans living at the end of the twentieth century. You perhaps get closest to talking about this in the definitions, but don’t really. The other definitions are all important themes within the short story, but (a) you don’t provide actual definitions and (b) themes aren’t what is supposed to be here.

While my section only discussed Alexie, I know that Amy’s section discussed Harjo’s poems, and it would have been nice to get some of that discussion included here. What’s more, I know that Amy discussed different Alexie poems than I did. You have 81 more words that you could have used in the summary for this, to say nothing of 2 more passages that could have been included.

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