Saturday, February 27, 2010

Sherman Alexie & Adrian Louis

The strong contrasts in Louis’ and Alexie’s portrayals of Native Americans are striking. Louis’ poetry focuses on the bleakness and degradation that have been inflicted on the Native American people, yet he does not reflect on the origins of the problem. Louis rather approaches the difficult condition of Native Americans in a contemporary manner in order to address the problems at hand. In doing so, his poetry maintains a bleak atmosphere of hopelessness and forgetfulness. Instead of trying to accomplish things in their lives, the Native Americans in Louis’ poetry are listless and lost in the American experience.
The Native Americans in Alexie’s poems are lost as well, but not listless. Rather than looking at the contemporary Native American experience, Alexie examines the way that Native American culture has been amalgamated into white culture and stolen from the Native Americans. In his excellent poem, “How to write the great American Indian Novel,” he accomplishes this expertly. Throughout the poem, he exposes the American myth of the Indian as hollow yet powerful, and ultimately leads to the culture being entirely absorbed into white culture.
I enjoyed contrasting these poets very much in their drastically different approaches to examining the Native American experience. Louis’ poetry is a call to arms for Native Americans to stand up to their lost culture displayed through his presentation of an abandoned and careless people. Alexie, on the other hand, presents the theft of Native American culture by the white race through humor. Both poets seem to be asking Native Americans to stand up for their own culture, though they also portray that culture as lost or stolen.

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