Essay on Sherman Alexie and Joy Harjo

2018 Words 9 Pages
It is well known that Native American cultures have been rich in oral traditions. Storytelling is but one aspect of that. Yet amongst the Native American poets covered in class there seem to be differing views of storytelling. Sherman Alexie looks at storytelling in "How To Write the Great American Novel" as that which has been stereotyped and mainstreamed into the dominant culture, while Joy Harjo seems to view storytelling in "Deer Dancer" as vital to the survival of culture. This essay will examine the storytelling aspects of both works.

Alexie's poem "How To Write the Great American Indian Novel" blends several dilemmas at once. Underlying to the poem and the act of writing the `Great American Indian Novel' is the awareness in
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Miscegenation, if anything only contributes further to the difficulties of a mixed race Native American, or any Colored person, trying to construct his/her own positive self image without having to rely on stereotypes and degrees of race which have been created by the dominating White culture.

Throughout the poem the dominating pop culture stereotype is presented in the anaphora of the phrases `horse culture' and `half breed'. One of several specific stereotypes is presented in the first four lines of the poem, and refers to the `Noble Savage'<em>stoic stereotype, the "tragic features" (line 1) and the "horse culture" (line 4) that has been popularized by Hollywood. The repetition of the word `tragic` emphasizes the idea of the `Noble Savage` and lends to the image in line four of the compulsorily weeping hero. "He should often weep alone" (line 4) is a powerful and specific image which recalls the weeping Native American man in the Public Service Announcement commercials circa the 1970's.

The next figure presented in lines five through sixteen alludes to the `Indian Princess' stereotype, that is, that all Native women are either exotically beautiful, mystical, and mysterious (ex. Pocahontas) or haggish, nagging 'squaws'. "She is beautiful. She must be slender" (line 5). Alexie uses dropped line to highlight the in-depth list of physical requirements for
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