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Sherman Alexie on Alcoholism

Essay by hoewisch  •  September 30, 2018  •  Essay  •  757 Words (4 Pages)  •  64 Views

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The poet, Sherman Alexie, draws on his own experience with alcoholism to document the treatment of his people and exploitation of their culture and traditions for gain by the American government (Wild Bill). In the poem Alexie is using symbology to represent the treatment and suppression of Native Americans, how they are viewed as an “other” and not deserving of the same treatment that would be provided to a white man. That their identity is taken from them in the form of their things and eventually themselves.

Sherman Alexie is a Native American that was raised on an Indian Reservation in Spokane, Washington. While attending college to suppress his feelings of alienation due to his ethnicity he fell into alcoholism which ultimately became the focus of much of his poetry. The documentation of his people and culture are very prominent.

In “Evolution” he is using the character of Wild Bill to symbolize the American government and how they made the conscious decision to suppress and exploit the Native American culture for their own gain. Upon taking a closer look at the poem we can see this from the first stanza. The fact that the pawn shop was opened across the “border” from the reservation is showing that the reservation is seen as another country rather than part of the United States and that by “Wild Bill” having it to stay open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week” is representative of the relentless ostracization of these people by the American government. The treatment of Native Americans by the American Government is well documented throughout history. That their land was taken from them, they were sent to “white” schools, so they could be “civilized” while their traditions and culture were suppressed so they could assimilate to the ways of the white people (the colonizers).

Buffalo Bill opens a pawn shop on the reservation
right across the border from the liquor store
and he stays open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week” (Alexie, 1993)

By looking at the last word in each line of the poem the intent of the poem can be gained; that these people are being subjugated and exploited. That their culture, and them, are expendable and they’re there for the amusement and use by the government. The fact that Alexie dictates that the natives’ pawn all their things that signify them letting go of their culture, beliefs, and themselves signifies their surrender to become what the government expects them to be; on display for the profitability of the government. We can see this through reading;

 “The Indians
pawn their hands, saving the thumbs for last, they pawn

their skeletons, falling endlessly from the skin
and when the last Indian has pawned everything 
but his heart, Buffalo Bill takes that for twenty bucks” (Alexie, 1993)

We see that the exploitation of Native Americans continues today through Native American Culture events that most believe are created to honor the culture and heritage of this race, but is really there for profit; considering most of these events are run by companies or people (Buffalo Bill) other than Native Americans.

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