Back has been patted :D
Published on May 3 2006
Ya know, I'll take whatever little pats on the back I can get. This was the "final" posting in discussion in the Lit class I'm taking. There's lots of boring analysis of two works; one a short story, the other a poem. And this was the professor who scared the dickens out of me and made me want to work even harder, just so I wouldn't be too embarassed when our discussions were critiqued. You know the type. I'm doing a little--very little--happy dance. I still have the big paper due for this class. And I still don't want to be embarassed, lol.
Hi Laurie, From your in-depth comments and the eloquence of your interpretation of the two works, I think the "old dog" sure leaned how to analyze literature effectively. You really captured the human and emotional level of the works; it is a good picture of trivialized, impotent, and broken Native American men with few options to express the anger except through violence, alcohol, isolation, and self-destructive gestures. Your addition of the current statistics and the historical references does attest to the reasons for the situations. . I find these works incredibly sad in the portrayals of broken people and families. "Spitting" in tourist hamburgers is such a trivial and impotent gesture to gain some fragment of identity and power. As Smith concluded, "the trail of tears goes on". Good conclusion to your participation in the course. M < << Replied to message below >>> Subject: Last lesson! "Red Deer" and "Red Anger" Part One: The theme of these two pieces is anger submerged until explosion. There is such anger shown in these two works, anger at society and anger of a more personal level, culminating in a lashing out at the perceived sources of this anger. In Red Deer's case, the direct source anger seems to be a result of family problems. Although not completely explained, there is guilt over Osada's (Red Deer's father) role in the death of Litani, who was the younger brother of Red Deer's step-father. Was the family history that Joe Big Otter "stole" Osada's wife first? Did this happen before or after Litani's death? We are not sure from the story. The result of the convoluted family dynamic is that Joe Big Otter in some ways "steals" not only Red Deer's relationship with his mother, but also the relationship with a beloved younger stepbrother, Bear, in retaliation for Litani's loss at the hands of Red Deer's father. For Red Deer, anger at this loss is only exacerbated by the discrimination he faces when he leaves the reservation life to play minor league baseball. The anger and guilt that simmers in him finally boils over at the racism he encounters during a game in which he has finally "hit the big time", pitching an exhibition game against a major league team, a game at which his entire extended family and other men from the reservation are present. I don't think it is a coincidence that he becomes violent in a situation where he is facing his anger at both the society level and the family level at the same time. Red Deer has spent years burying his rage, using it as a tool to improve his pitching, or releasing it in alcohol use. Buried anger and hurt will not just "go away", however; it will eventually overpower all the controls a person uses on it, coming out in the inward violence of addictions or an outward violence in some form. This is also the case with Smith's narrator, although his anger manifests itself in contamination of the food of those he believes oppress him, instead of the more violent expression of Red Deer's hurled ball. One thing both violent actions had in common was that they were not directly aimed at the sources of the anger. Red Deer did not take out his anger at his family on them, nor did he attack the drunken fans who were taunting him; he aimed his imagined "rock" of a ball at a batter instead. Smith's narrator does not express his anger at the teachers in the Indian school or his alcoholic father; he takes it out on tourists stopping at the food stand where he works. Both works speak of anger "nursed like a seed", or in Red Deer's case: "He got to love it, and it was precious. He found it had all kinds of uses." The image of Red Deer hurling a ball at a batter brings to mind countless images of young men, powerless and hopeless, with no weapon other than the rocks they throw at the symbols of their oppression. Stereotypes present in both works are those of the reservation. These include poverty, young men working in low-paying jobs, broken families, violent death, and alcoholism. Red Deer's friend Freddie leaves the team to take a low-pay job in a grocery store, Red Deer himself works the off-season in a meatpacking plant butchering pigs, and Smith's narrator works at a tourist food stand. Most of us would consider these jobs to be somewhat of a dead end, but they are all that is available to these young men. According to this site: "According to the 2000 Census, the average unemployment rate for Indians and Native Americans was 12.4%, compared to 5.8% for the general population." There is also the stereotype of the family broken by violent death; Litani's shooting in the Red Deer story, and the suicide of the narrator's sister in "Red Anger". Both stories describe the image of failure in, and of, schools. Smith's narrator describes the dirty, neglected reservation school where "the stink of stale piss haunts the walls". Red Deer's school may not have been a reservation school, since he speaks of the "boys who didn't like losing to an Indian". After the incident of Osada and the shooting, Red Deer was encouraged to leave school to play baseball; arrangements made by the principal to end Red Deer's education. In many ways, school failed both of these young men. According to some studies I've read, the Native American school dropout rate rises as high as 76% in some areas. According to the same site as above, the percentage of American Indians and Alaskan Natives ages 16 to 19 that had not received a high school diploma was 16.1%, compared to 9.8% for the general population; and 24.4% of the general population age 25 and over had a bachelor's or higher degree, compared to only 11.5% for Native American and Alaskan Natives." This failure in school can only feed the cycle of low-paying jobs or unemployment, and the despair of a lack of choice. One thing I found very striking was the contrast between these works and the essay from last week written by Leonard Begay. In "Red Anger", the narrator lists the names of three tribes, the Tuscarora, Choctaw, and the Cherokee. All three tribes were uprooted from their original homelands, the Tuscarora from the Carolinas to New York; the Choctaw from Louisiana and the Cherokee from Georgia to the "Indian Territories" of Oklahoma. Begay's Navajo people were able to maintain their hold on their ancestral lands, while the three tribes mentioned above were forced from theirs by the westward movement of whites. This forced exodus haunts these tribes even today, as the narrator says "the trail of tears never ends". I wonder if there isn't a correlation between the forced removal of a people from their homeland and a subsequent loss of their culture as a result. Part Two: Truthfully, in looking at the influences I wrote about in the beginning of the course, I am not sure that much has changed. I will always, to a certain point, be defined by those influences of race, gender, and class. After 45 years, I am who I am because of, and in spite of, those definitions. This is not to say old dogs can't learn new tricks, though. If we didn't want to learn new perspectives, none of us would be in this class. I maintain a weblog as a hobby, and I have noticed that many more of the articles I clip for further reading involve issues of immigration and race in America. I hope the readings from this class have given me a better understanding of the background of some of these issues. Professor W*****, you said last week "… our FIRST OBLIGATION as readers is to listen to the writer's voice and to see what the writer is saying....to offer the experiences and ideas he or she wants to convey to us. AFTER THAT, we can relate it to our own experiences and add out knowledge to make an interpretation." I hope that, after this class, I'm better able to do just that.