By Xiomara Colon
Arguably, the most important movement currently is #BlackLivesMatter. The main idea being that the black-skinned individuals in this country are as valuable as any other individual. Although the movement has made its way across the world, it is most prominent in America. This movement was born after some events occurred involving individuals of color being mistreated by police because of the color of their skin. Among the important issues of the #BlackLivesMatter movement are situations involving racial profiling and the stereotypes that exist within our community. Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Sandra Bland and countless others have been victims associated with these issues and their injustices have been the fire fueling the movement. The #BlackLivesMatter movement and the story “The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven” written by Sherman Alexie have the themes of racism and stereotyping in common. Although not as extreme as the cases involving those victims associated with the #BlackLivesMatter movement, the main character experiences some injustices himself as a result of racial profiling and stereotypes. The themes of racial profiling and stereotyping are highlighted by the author using the literary elements of character and writing in the first person. The themes in Alexie’s short story are reflective of the themes represented in the #BlackLivesMatter movement and provide another perspective in which to view the effects of stereotyping and racism today.
In Sherman Alexie’s story “The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven,” the main character narrates the story and tells us about his life in Seattle while telling us about his relationship with his girlfriend/ex-girlfriend and his thoughts and his feelings about his place in the community where he resides. He tells the reader about leaving his white girlfriend and moving back home to the Spokane Reservation where he finds a job and reconnects with her later over a phone conversation. Throughout the story the reader is exposed to the themes of racism and stereotyping.
The author quickly brings attention to the idea of racism and stereotypes with the use of the literary element of character in the story. We first experience stereotyping in the beginning of the story during the main character’s description of the graveyard-shift cashier which helps us to figure out what kinds of biases the main character has. The author uses the main character to narrate the story allowing the description of the graveyard-shift cashier to come from the character’s point of view. The main character starts his description of the cashier by saying that he “looked like they all do” and proceeded to describe him as having “Acne scars and a bad haircut, work pants that showed off his white socks, and those cheap black shoes that have no support” (Alexie 402). Through this description we are made aware that the main character’s perceptions of others are based off of the stereotypes he believes to be true. This is also evident when the main character later manipulates the situation between him and the cashier causing the cashier to become uncomfortable by his actions and says, “He swallowed hard like a white man does in those situations” (Alexie 403), suggesting that all white men would be intimidated by him in the situation he created and would have had the same reaction.
The author adds the theme of racial profiling in the story when the main character experiences it firsthand. The main character tells us that he is in what he describes as a nice neighborhood when he is stopped by a police officer. The officer tells him “You’re making people nervous. You don’t fit the profile of the neighborhood” to which he responds mentally with “I wanted to tell him that I didn’t really fit the profile of the country but I knew it would just get me into trouble” (Alexie 403). The author shows us that in addition to the main character possessing his own stereotypes he is also aware that people may have stereotypes against him.
The most impressionable way the author enforces the theme of stereotyping and racism is the way the author uses the story to reveal the stereotypes that I had myself. While reading the story I assumed the main character was black because of the biases the main character held and the injustices he experienced being identical to some of the ones my African-American and dark-skinned Latino friends have experienced. However, the main character reveals that he is in fact Native American and describes himself as having dark skin with long black hair. Although the description isn’t necessarily enough information to draw a conclusion about his race, the main character tells us that he goes back home to the Spokane Indian Reservation and then later tells us “I was one of those Indians who was supposed to make it, rise above the rest of the reservation like a fucking eagle or something. I was the new kind of warrior” (Alexie 405) when he talks about how he feels being back home.
While the author uses character to effectively portray the themes of racism and stereotyping, Alexie also does something very important: writing in the first person perspective. Had the author written the story from a third person perspective, the story would not have had the same impact. As a reader I was able to empathize more with the main character because I was able to see how he felt about what was happening to him rather than just be on the outside looking in and being left to interpret the situations using my own biases instead of the character’s. For example, if the story had been written from the third person perspective, the part of the story where he is walking back from the gas station and allowing the ice cream to drip all over his hand would have had no meaning to me as the reader. However, reading in the first person perspective, I was able to read his thoughts in that moment and see that he was not only aware that the ice cream was dripping from his hand, but was in fact embracing it as an act of carelessness because at that hour in the night there would be no one to judge him and tell him to grow up. He felt free to do as he pleased which was important to him. As the reader the first person perspective was essential in the presenting of the themes in the story.
Alexie’s story provided an interesting perspective into the idea of racism and stereotyping. Today, with the presence of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, we are exposed to the effects that racism and stereotyping have in the community as it pertains to the African-American and dark-skinned citizens in the country. The author provided us with a different perspective from which to view the themes surrounding the #BlackLivesMatter movement by presenting it to us from the perspective of a Native American character that is experiencing the same trouble. I was able to see the themes from a perspective that I am not likely to be exposed to in the mainstream media. However, I was provided with a deeper understanding of the themes now that I was able to see it from another minority group. The author successfully translated the themes of racism and stereotyping in the story with the use of character and writing style and provided an interesting platform from which to view the themes.
Alexie, Sherman. “The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven.” Literature: A Portable Anthology. Ed. Janet E. Gardner et al. 3rd ed. Boston: Bedford, 2013. 402-407. Print.
Submitted for ENG 102 Literature and Composition, Fall 2016. Assignment: Interpretation
Instructor: Kevin Lamkins, Associate Professor of English
Instructor comments: Not only is the interpretation diverse, using narration and character, I also love the multiple angles of stereotyping presented here: the narrator’s own biases and the judgment of him by others. Further, the connection to #BlackLivesMatter puts the analysis in a fresh and current context.