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The Evolution of Divergent Forms of Oppression in Sherman Alexi's Novel

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Words: 2355 |

Pages: 5|

12 min read

Published: Dec 16, 2021

Words: 2355|Pages: 5|12 min read

Published: Dec 16, 2021

 While U.S. unemployment is the lowest since 2000, an even greater economic disparity is shown in Native American communities, where jobless rates continue to echo recession-era levels in the rest of the country. Of 27 counties with a majority Native American population, more than two-thirds had unemployment rates above the national level last year, with nine at 10 percent or higher. In comparison with the national jobless rate of 4.1 percent in February, the rate of unemployment is more than six percent higher for Native Americans (Austin). Many of these counties are geographically isolated, hundreds of miles away from metropolitan areas, with limited access to resources and no regular public services to mitigate crises. These destitutions pertain to the “...poor-a** Spokane Indian Reservation” which is home to Junior, the protagonist in Sherman Alexie’s realistic fiction novel “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian”. Despite his community’s envelopment in a turmoil of poverty and alcoholism, Junior seems engrossed in his “part-time jobs'. Junior grapples with his bicultural identity causing him to question his sense of belonging and instability. Through Junior’s journey of self-discovery, Sherman Alexie conveys that given a world where oppression takes many forms challenging an individual’s sense of identity and values, they will ultimately learn from these obstacles to find that not only are they unfettered from limitations but relieved of a piercing burden.

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As he struggles with the social assimilation of his reservation, Junior seeks a new start which is hindered by his lack of introspection through society’s perspective and the use of his conditions as a cover. Junior comes to the realization of the poor education he is being given because of his limited conditions, and out of rage, throws a book at his math teacher, Mr. P. After forgiving Junior, Mr. P attempts to explain his lack of motivation and links it to the education system, stating, it is intended “... to kill the Indian to save the child” (35). In this prevalent phrase, the verb “kill” suggests the extreme measures white Americans have taken to alienate Native Americans. The white teachers deprive the native children of their language and norms in an effort to belittle them from the white elite that dominates society. Junior, who is fully susceptible to these influences, is an easy victim for the government; he essentially volunteers to abandon his cultural identity, and along with it, pride in himself and his race. Entrenched in a predicament, social oppression influences Junior to perceive himself and his reservation through society’s lens: as a minority with futile talents unable to flourish. He adapts internalized racism, the personal conscious or subconscious acceptance of the dominant society’s racist views, stereotypes and biases of one’s ethnic group. Junior concedes to his reservation’s detrimental state as a cycle, sucking him back in every time he dares defy it. 

Oppressed by limitations the federal government has set since 1706, Junior’s feelings about the untenable nature of his position countered against a sense of responsibility to receive a better education creates a dissonance of society’s perspective grounded in his state-of-mind and his true inner thoughts. Even when Junior transitions to a new school, he is automatically in the mindset that he is inferior to white Americans. Conforming to the fact that he is an outsider at Reardan, Junior explains how he is treated unfairly by his classmates. He is seen as “...a reservation Indian, and no matter how geeky and weak [he appears] to be, [he is] still a potential serial killer” (63). “Killer” is one of the various pejorative stereotypes of Natives promulgated by white Americans. Most of what society classifies as success is built on outdated ideas such as foreign races being dangerous. For teenagers, the idea of success stems from their parents. In Junior’s case, their bleak outlook shrouds education from being an essential factor in a successful life. Junior has an inner conflict because he wants to chase his own version of success, an improved education, which contradicts his family’s values. Escaping the vicious cycle of poverty is out of reach for all on the reservation except Junior, so they look at a better education and leaving the reservation as a threat to be feared, rather than as a path to a prosperous future. Junior feels a sense of responsibility to his tribe and family, which causes him to fail to realize they are the ones holding him back, and instead, blames his setbacks on poverty. Even at Reardan where Junior has opportunities, he uses Native American stereotypes to hide his true self. His nescience of himself causes him to believe his superficial aspects define his identity instead of his talents. Junior’s flaw of accepting society’s stereotypes of himself impedes his path to success and self-discovery.

In the new community at Reardan where the hierarchy of social status correlates with white supremacy and wealth, Junior’s lack of confidence in his talents induces his one-sided materialistic perspective. At his new school, Junior struggles with his fear of not fitting in, caused by his insecurities and social pressure. He succumbs to the false judgments the students and parents at Reardan conjured, such as him being wealthy. Junior “...[figured] it wouldn’t do [him] any good if they knew [he] was dirt poor…[he] pretended [he]belonged” (119). Junior defines wealth and social status as the key factors in determining an individual’s abilities, qualities, and judgment. He presumes that in order to be accepted by the students attending Reardan, he must change himself into what society values. The article “More Similarities than Differences in contemporary Theories of social development?” by Campbell Leaper summarizes the main points of the relationship between social and personal identity. Whereas social identity refers to people's self-categorizations in relation to their group relationships, personal identity refers to the unique ways that people define themselves as individuals. When Junior interacts with Rowdy, his best friend on the reservation he considers to be family, his personal identity guides his behavior and Junior acknowledges his artistic talents. In contrast, when he is at Reardan, Junior’s need for validation from others allows himself to be molded into pursuing what society considers important, such as popularity. He becomes conscious of his superficial aspects which do not correspond with the social expectations of how he should be. Affiliation with the students at Reardan adds to Junior’s false identity by boosting his self-esteem, causing him to want to alter his interests and values. In addition to his social identity becoming salient at his new school, his fear of rejection by the community at Reardan modifies his prospects. He feels he is making the right decision to express his true self through the adoption of white culture

Junior’s avoidance of rejection is buried deep in his mind and becomes a goal in itself- one that causes his subconscious to work very hard to achieve; his long term goals become less important and instead, he focuses on being what is considered to be successful in his new society. His insecurities at Reardan undercut the stern disapproval of society’s elite towards Native American values, capturing the no-nonsense view of what amounted to good living and contentment. Junior’s lack of self-confidence and self-assurance makes him materialistic and adversely affects his efforts to achieve his goals. After a conversation with Roger about basketball tryouts, Junior mentions in his diary he almost did not try out. Believing he was undeserving, he did not want to suffer from the humiliation after he got cut from the team. Even “on the first day of practice, [he] stepped onto the court and felt short, skinny, and slow. All of the white boys were good” (136). More than the ‘white boys’ simply being skillful, “good” suggests an influential superiority. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines self-confidence as confidence in oneself and in one’s powers and abilities. Although Junior knows he is adept, he bases his worth on his level of success compared to others. Even when Junior thought of trying out for the reservation’s high school’s basketball team with Rowdy, he mentioned there would always be someone more powerful and better than him. Before changing schools, Junior did not have any superficial aspects to be proud of, but even now, with more self-confidence, he still does not value his talents. Furthermore, his willingness to assimilate into mainstream white culture loses him the support of his tribe causing him to have a negative perception of Native Americans. Through this perspective, he idealizes white Americans which sparks his intent to separate himself from his roots. He acclimates a toxic tribalism mindset, which causes him to lose appreciation of his past self before he transferred schools. Junior continues to be oppressed by the government, an irrevocable system, and indirectly causes his oppression of society, whose pressure increases his fear of rejection and internalizes negative messages of his identity and potential.

As the novel comes to an end, although Junior experiences an exhilarating revelation which eradicates his negative perceptions of himself through society’s perspective, he remains in a cycle of limitations and hardships. Before the basketball game that would determine his future and relationship with his tribe, Junior is interviewed by a local news crew. After failed attempts to express his feelings on live tv, he overcomes his aversion to reveal his identity and finally expresses his inner thoughts. Stressing the importance of the game on his life, Junior vents to the cameraman, saying “[he has] to prove that [he] will never give up. [he] will never quit playing hard... [he is] never going to quit living life this hard…[he is] never going to surrender to anybody” (186). More than the straightforward action of refusing to give up his efforts, “give up” suggests ceasing to do something, especially as an admission of defeat. He recognizes he has just passed a predicament in the cycle but he will continue to face more challenges, possibly harder than those existent. 

Basketball is a close match to the structure of ordinary Native Americans’ lives. For most living on the reservation, life is always a game and a victory not far short of an undefeated season. To be dribbling with the ball adequately at one moment was no guarantee for the next. Those who were scoring 45 points during a game could be derailed tomorrow, by hunger that would prevent them from going to school, by the regular drunkenness of their parents or their lack of education. Just as Junior’s dream was to gain a better education for himself, not for all of his reservation, his ambitions were not to radically reconfigure the social order but to find a place for himself near the top of the hierarchy of wealth. Even after Junior’s revelation, both those on the reservation and at Reardan could agree that to be rich was a desirable state, and poverty is to be avoided if possible. Apart from a few people in Junior’s society, no one else believes that poverty is honorable. Junior’s hero’s journey has just begun with his act to find a better education as the call; he is given the opportunity to augment his ambitions, pave new paths leading to new communities. 

Even as Junior has newfound hope to follow his dreams, he continues to face new predicaments forcing him to speculate his inner self. The considerable amount of deaths occurring back to back cause Junior to 'look inside' and reflect on his actions and inner thoughts. During deep consideration, “[he realizes] that, sure, [he] was a Spokane Indian. [He] belonged to that tribe. But [he] also belonged to the tribe of American immigrants. And to the tribe of basketball players. And to the tribe of bookworms” (217). “Sure” can signify two meanings: to be marked by feelings of confident certainty or to be careful to find out something. Typically, both definitions are not meant to be expressed through the same word, but in Junior's case, Alexie uses both. Even though Junior is part of a minority, he no longer mitigates his talents and believes he can have the same standards as white Americans. Junior realizes it would be implausible to assume all good basketball players had wealth. Basketball points to a shared frame of reference between the reservation and Reardan. Scratch the outer layer of the two communities and the outlook of the Natives is not always so drastically different from the outlook of the rich white kids. 

Reardan astounds Junior, pitting the small town of Reardan against the power of society, such as stereotypes and social power shows the inequities of the rich white school and the point of view from the bottom up. This revelation is a striking contrast with Junior’s optimistic prejudices of white people as ideal before his transformation. Despite the vast disparities of wealth, the disdain of the elite for the less fortunate, and the glaring double standards, there is a greater cultural overlap between Reardan than Junior imagined. Nonetheless, if all students living on the reservation transferred to Reardan, most would have resented the arrogance and disdain and the lifestyle of the rich students; receiving similar education may have made them more equal, but it also meant that the Native Americans would constantly have their noses rubbed in the privileges of others. Even though Junior no longer analyzes society through social inequalities and power differences within a group, and instead views individual personality characteristics, he will always remain in a laborious cycle.

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Through Junior’s journey of seeking a new beginning faced by a crisis of identity, Alexie conveys that, in a judgemental world, an individual in search of a better education faces many challenges that alter their perspective and values into newfound hope. Junior has fulfilled one of his longings to have a new beginning for he has improved himself as a person. He no longer suffers in between two worlds and acknowledges his talents as a career causing him to seek more ambitious dreams. However, no dreams are achieved without any obstacles in between one’s journey. There is no system for dealing effectively with the incorporation of outsiders without any sort of oppression. Individuals will always find themselves in a cycle, whether it is of poverty or stuck following a future chosen by society.   

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Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

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The Evolution Of Divergent Forms Of Oppression In Sherman Alexi’s Novel. (2021, December 16). GradesFixer. Retrieved May 18, 2024, from https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/the-evolution-of-divergent-forms-of-oppression-in-sherman-alexis-novel/
“The Evolution Of Divergent Forms Of Oppression In Sherman Alexi’s Novel.” GradesFixer, 16 Dec. 2021, gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/the-evolution-of-divergent-forms-of-oppression-in-sherman-alexis-novel/
The Evolution Of Divergent Forms Of Oppression In Sherman Alexi’s Novel. [online]. Available at: <https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/the-evolution-of-divergent-forms-of-oppression-in-sherman-alexis-novel/> [Accessed 18 May 2024].
The Evolution Of Divergent Forms Of Oppression In Sherman Alexi’s Novel [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2021 Dec 16 [cited 2024 May 18]. Available from: https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/the-evolution-of-divergent-forms-of-oppression-in-sherman-alexis-novel/
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