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The Struggle To Maintain Cultural Identity English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1501 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Sherman Alexie’s award winning novel, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time deals with the story of a young Native American, Junior or Arnold Spirit that deals with the issues within his own Native Americans society and also the issues within the white Americans. Native Americans were always associated with bad impressions or unproductiveness economically in their surrounding society. Their generalisation and history of the Native Americans were something to be looked at before to trace the sources or the causes such bad impression of the Native Americans as a whole. Through time and changes in the Native American society, their society as one, struggled with challenges to maintain their culture but despite all their resistance they do lost their cultural identity gradually because of the way their opportunities for having a better life have been ‘blocked’ by their oppressor directly and indirectly.

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When we look at the history of the Native Indians moving to the poor reservation, according to William T. Hagan in his case study, Kiowas, Comancheasnd, Cattlemen, 1867-1906 : A Case Study of the Failure of U.s Reservation Policy, Native Americans were moved to reservations as the States’ government that has been led by the whites had unanimously agreed that for the survival of the Native Americans, they need to moved them ( Native Americans) to reservations. Truth is told, recently as we can see in Native Americans still living in a non-productive society where they are still bound with social problems like lack of education, alcoholism and abusive act in their own community and Sherman Alexie reflected these problems in his novel, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian(2007). Sherman Alexie’s reflection, in a way, proved that what was done for the Native American to be moved from their own place to reservations for survival is not a ‘genius’ idea after all.

In The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (TATDOAPTI), when we look at the chapter ‘because a geometry is not a country somewhere near France’, the introducing of a sloppy teacher, Mr. P that was so forgetful and even at one time wore pyjamas to teach reflected the un-seriousness attention or concern that the community had given for youngsters education and in this story, Arnold Spirit, Rowdy, and the rest of the youngsters at the reservation. The text book that he had thrown to Mr. P is his mother’s old text book. What can Arnold learn through his mother’s old text book when the world outside his reservation which is the white kids’ school, have newest, revised, and improved text book? Arnold and the rest of the youngster that is still studying old text book would only be left behind and their competence level are just not enough to match the world or the society outside the reservation.

The question of how Native Americans cultural identity be sustained if they are facing with major problems like poverty? The very best way to describe why they are living in a poor lifestyle is because of they are moved into reservations with no opportunities. In Robin M. Leichenko’s writing, Does Place Still Matter? Accounting For Income Variation across American Indian Tribal Area, high rate of poverty were scored by the Native American tribes as the land that their being moved to, the reservations, were located in remotely rural regions that gives us the idea on how low their per capita income. Native Americans society that lives in the reservations has limited access to resources like markets, good infrastructure and has to live in a lower cost of living thus, when poverty becomes a problem of a society, poverty creates social problems such as violence, alcoholism and lack of education. In TATDOAPTI it is obvious that Arnold’s community is in the state of a low cost living or poor life style. Poverty plays its’ ‘role’ in Arnold’s way of getting to school where he had to use several ways just to get to his school like hitchhiking, and walking 22 miles to get to school when his father cannot afford to buy gas money for his car or when there is no one to give him a ride.

Education in Native Americans plays important roles in whether to sustain their cultural identity or to lose their own Native Americans cultural identity. The form of education will affect ones’ society whether to embrace and keeping their cultural identity alive or to erase their memory of their own cultural background. Sheman Alexie’s novel reflects how the Native Amerrican oppressor, which is the white Americans, would try to erase them in schools form their cultural backgrounds or identity through teachers like Mr. P himself. Mr. P role’s as a teacher turns out to become a culture ‘eraser’ in school where he taught the Native American with ‘expired’ knowledge which makes the Indian becomes incompetence and the way he tried to deplete Arnold’s Native American culture by making them give up being Indians and to leave their culture heritage such as their myths, songs and dance. In Indian Removal: Manifest Destiny or Hypocrisy by David L. Ghere, he stated on how Native Americans were removed and what did the white Americans did to keep them stay in reservations.

Secretary of War John C. Calhoun in 1818 justifies the Indian Removal policy by stating that, the Native Americans are not to be considered as independent and with a good combination of force, punishment and rewards, they will obey to the law and civilization. He also stated that if the native Indian were left to take care of them they will never have a better life. His statement cannot be true as Native Americans were the ones who survived themselves, even before the imperialist comes to their place and took everything. We can see that the white Americans tried to manipulate the Native American ways of living to their advantage. One way of taming Native Americans is to ‘introduced’ then to Christianity so they would be bound by rules and would be easy to manipulate Native American once they are devoted Christians. According to a member of a tribe Speckled Snake, a Creek elder aged 100+ in 1829 said that when the white American came with no survival skills, the Native American helped them to survive but when the white American become stronger society, they betray the native American and became their ‘Great Father’ and said ‘Get a little further form me, you are too near…’ In The Absolutely True Diary Of A Part Time Indian, Arnold is a Christian and when her sister died, her mother keeps on going to church to pray while his father keeps on drinking. When we see this situation, the Native Americans had been assimilated and gradually their cultural background flies away.

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Native American also struggled to preserve their cultural background though they are losing them gradually. According to Bruce Ballenger, in his article Methods of Memory: On Native American Storytelling, Native American spreads their culture through stories whether they are in myths, songs and even dance. In Native American storytelling, personal memory is not important as the racial memory is more important so that they can preserve their cultural values. Remoulding the past into their present is the purpose of the stories. In TATDOAPTI we can see that how Arnold’s society handed down stories like the story about the scary lake that was told by his father, the powwow celebration that has last for more than 100 years and when his grandmother died, Arnold can recall what his grandmother was like in her younger days, even though he did was not born. People in the reservation have ‘shared’ stories to handed down to one generation to another generation. When talking about maintaining their culture, the society was against Arnold’s decision to go to Rearden as what Arnold is doing is never been done by other people in their society and his decision is against the way their culture works. After that Arnold was despised and out casted by his own society like when he came to play at Wellpinit high school, he was called by bad names.

The Absolutely True Diary of A Part-Time Indian really has shown us the reality of the harsh life of the Arnold’s Native American society where they had problem with lack of education, less resource of economy and were living in a rural area which makes it harder to live. The government should play major roles in helping the Native Americans as they were the one who help them to survive their lives in the first place way back ago. Native Americans need to do something to maintain and not losing their cultural identity by going outside of their community and start a better life outside of the reservations but still living in their beliefs and customs of who they are as Native Americans.


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