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Indian Killer

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Emily Dillon

on 18 March 2014

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Transcript of Indian Killer

Assimilation & Acculturation
Sherman Alexie Biography
Indian Killer is about an Indian man named John Smith who is adopted by white parents at birth. John, not knowing what tribe he belonged to before being adopted, suffers mental turmoil as he struggles to find his Indian identity. His turmoil leads him to think that he must kill a white man in order to get revenge for whoever was responsible for his invisibility to the world. The author then proceeds to make it look like John is a supposedly a murder suspect for a white man dying shortly after, but because there is some ambiguity, that conclusion can't be met. Marie Polatkin, John's Indian friend, says that perhaps it could even be a white man that is trying to incite a race war by killing victims and leaving feathers on them to make it look like an Indian did it. Regardless, the story moves on with a white man named Aaron Rogers retaliating in response to his brother dying to the supposed "Indian Killer." He goes around killing homeless Indians. Skip forward a bit to where John Smith has hold of a man named Wilson who he believes is the white man he must kill. Though Wilson doesn't hate Indians, he writes about them in a way that is false and highly fabricated which damages the Indian identity to the ignorant world who reads his writings. John kills the man and then kills himself by jumping off the building he held him hostage on.
Socio-Historical Context
Green Questions
Indian Killer
Sherman Alexie
Literary Criticisms
First Criticism
Second Criticism
Original Criticism
Maggie Jensen, Austin Wang, Emily Dillon, and Justin Kuykendall
The main character John was born to a young Native American girl of 14 years. He was given up for adoption to white suburban parents Olivia and Daniel.
He was assimilated as he was adopted into the majority white society and was the only Native American student at his school.
John's parents sought to incorporate Native American ideals in his life and acculturation is portrayed through their efforts in taking him to Native American pow wows and the all-Indian basketball league games.
What happens when an individual goes against the majority culture?
The socio-historical conditions of the novel “Indian Killer” revolve around the time period in the 90’s when the book was written.
The time the book was written was during the time of civil rights movement for Indians as well as a number of important court cases revolving around discriminatory practices against Indians during the Clinton administration. Furthermore, the conflict first arose back when Andrew Jackson established the “Trail of Tears” for Native Americans that were to be relocated just because he wanted the land they were currently settled on.
The context of the novel is therefore centered on strong cultural differences between regular citizens and Native Americans. This can be seen through John Smith’s struggle to achieve cultural identity as he feels unwanted in white society but has no knowledge of his true Indian culture. Because he is unable to find this identity, he in essence walks a similar trail of tears as he murders white men to try and discover who he is and prove to himself his Indian heritage.
What are the socio-historical conditions of the text?
Civilization Fund Act of 1819 allowed Euro-American schools to rehabilitate Native American children to follow "white societal rules"
Wasn't until 1974 when Native Americans began to achieve self social and economic development, and still took almost two decades for the Native Americans to be taken seriously
The Native American Languages Act of 1990 allowed the N.A's to "preserve, promote, and protect their rights and freedoms"
Native American Languages Act was a counterattack against the "English Only Movement of 1907" and the dismissal of Native American history taught in American education
Our novel "Indian Killer" written in 1996 by a Indian with Spokane descent
In our Novel, the main character John Smith, does not fit in normally with the Native Americans or the White Americans
He does things his own way which people find very odd because of his schizophrenia
John does not know the traditional Native American dances but understands westernized culture but chooses not to partake in either culture and just do what he wants to do
He becomes an outsider, never ridiculed but never treated equally either
He is an easier target for suspect and stereotyping
Indian Killer portrays both assimilation and acculturation.
He was assimilated into a new culture from birth, being one of the sole Native Americans in his community.
Raised by white parents in a white community, John was assimilated into the majority culture.
Acculturation is portrayed through Olivia and Daniel's efforts to incorporate Native American culture into their son's life. They introduced him to Father Duncan, a Native American minister who grew very close to John.
John's parents took him to all-Indian basketball games where he felt one with the other players. Acculturation is portrayed in his parents efforts to take him to pow wows and read him Native American literature.
Does the literary text portray assimilation, acculturation or both?
was born October 7, 1966
was born on a Spokane reservation in Wellpinit, Washington
He is one of six children
is a spokane indian on hos mother's side and a Coeur d'Alene indian on his father's side
the reservation he grew up on was full of poverty, disease, and alcoholism
his own father was an alcoholic who would disappear for days at a time
his mother worked at the trading post in order to support Alexie and his siblings
when he was born he was diagnosed with hydrocephalus which is when there is an abnormal amount of cerebrospinal fluid in the cranial cavity
this is a life threatening disease and he had to be operated on when he was only six months old
he was not expected to survive but if he did to be severely mentally handicapped
he survived however the effects of the diseased caused him to have seizures as a child
He learned to read from the young age of three
he loved reading so much that by the time he was twelve he had read every book in his reservation's library
he decided to attend high school off of the reservation were most of the students were white
he did extremely well in high school earning good grades, being team captain of the basketball team, class president, and a member of the champion debate team
he easily earned admission and a scholarship into Gonzaga University
things went south from there and he began to drink which led to him dropping out and moving to Seattle
On his twenty-first birthday he was drunk and robbed at gun point
he realized then how low he had sunk and gave up drinking for good
he signed up for a poetry class just for fun and it changed his life
Works by Alexie
he took off with writing and one year after graduating from college he published two books of poetry called "I Would Steal Horses" and "The Business of Fancydancing"
then he wrote a short story collection with "The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist-Fight in Heaven" in 1993
He published his first novel "Reservation Blues" in 1995
His second novel was called "Indian Killer" and was published in 1996
he then invested his time in screenplays and short films which were successful
he switched back to writing poetry for awhile
he has been on several tv interviews to talk about race issues but has not written much since
Awards For His Literature
For his short story collection he received a PEN/Hemingway Award for Best First Book of Fiction and a Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Award
His first novel earned him a spot on the Granta's Best of Young American Novelists, a Before Columbus Foundation's American Book Award, and won the Murray Morgan Prize
His second novel caused him to be named People's Bestof Pages and New York Times Notable Book
After he switched back to poetry he won his first World Heavyweight Poetry Bout competition in June 1998
Over the next three years he won three more consecutive times becoming the only poet to hold the title for four consecutive years
Is social cohesion ever achieved?
in our novel social cohesion was never achieved for the main characters
John committed suicide because he felt extremely lost in his society
he distanced himself from his family as well as his coworkers
when he attempted to interact with other indians he felt a distance because he was raised by a white family
he felt he had no real place in society and this caused him to take his own life
Marie is not able to completely fit in with this society either, though she does better than John
She still has a hatred for the professor and the white author
however she has a purpose in society of feeding the homeless indians
overall there is no social cohesion in this novel, though that is not always true for every situation
Key Quotes From Critique
"...which may be pessimistic and vilify white society but it also vilifies aspects of indian culture and attitudes" (page 105)
"While it is clear that Alexie's sympathies lie more with indians, he does not excuse or endorse their actions and attitudes" (page 105)
"For Alexie, a good deal of the novel's tragedy stems from the adoption of John by his white foster parents, Daniel and Olivia" (page 105)
"The social problems and dysfunctions of these Indians adopted are tremendous. Their suicide rates are off the chart, their drug and alcohol abuse rates are also off the chart" (page 106)
"In that, the title manifests a veritable circle of violence, which the novel itself plays out" (page 107"
Opinion on Critique
"It's a rich, panoramic portrayal of contemporary Seattle that uses the form of the mystery to tell some uncomfortable home truths about Indian-white relations, and indeed racism in all its forms."
"Alexie succeeds brilliantly at suggesting the time- bombticking character of John Smith's ravaged psyche.."
"Is John Smith the "Indian killer'' who stalks and murders white men?"
"...Alexie teases us with that possibility right up to the last page.."
Key Quotes
Opinion On Critique
We agreed that this novel was very interesting to read because it was a constant mystery to find out about who really killed all those white men, and if they were interconnected or not
The grand irony, which kept the whole story moving forward was the his name being John Smith, instead of white men killing indians, it was an indian killing white men
One the last page of the novel, Marie, an outspoken Indian who defends John Smith and the killings by saying, "..And if some Indian is killing white guys, then it's a credit to us that it took over five hundred years for it to happen.." and "..Indians are dancing now, and I don't think they're going to stop" (Alexie 333).
I agreed overall with this critique because it brought up the negative and positive aspects of the novel. I agreed that the novel vilified white society. This is shown when John talks about his dating life saying "the girls' fathers were always uncomfortable when they first met me, and grew more irritated as I continued to date their daughters" (Alexie, page 17). In this novel though Alexie does point out the flaws within the indian culture. The adoption does cause a difficult situation for John and leads to his suicide at the end of the book.
Taking a cultural perspective on this novel allows the reader to gather more from the novel. The host culture is white American in Seattle, Washington. John has no idea what his culture is because he was born into this host culture but identifies himself with his indian heritage. This is especially difficult because he is unable to connect to his indian heritage because he has no knowledge of his biological family or even what tribe he comes from. In order to balance these two ideas he "tells white people he is Spokane indian because that is what they want to hear and tells indians he is Najovo because that is what he wants to be" (Alexie, page 243). This clearly shows the divide within John because of these two cultures. He then loses his self worth because "each society or culture contains within itself a dominant cultural group who determines... its sense of personal self-worth" (Cultural Studies, page 264). With no self worth and no culture to fall back on John feels extremely lost and decides to take his own life. Being unable to assimilate or acculturate to either culture led to his death. This causes the reader to think about the difficulties of moving into a new host culture when you don't identify yourself with that culture.
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