America truly is the salad bowl of cultures from around the whole world. However, there is often times a dominating cultural structure that makes it difficult to attain peace among the diverse cultural groups of America. Sherman Alexie’s short story, Because my Father Always Said He Was the Only Indian Who Saw Jimi Hendrix Play ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ at Woodstock, displays the difficulty of the Native American people having to cope with the dominating culture that they are inevitably being shoved into.
The main character Victor, a young boy who reflects much of Alexie’s personal traits, tells the story and struggle of his people through the life of his father. His father was a Native American man, troubled by the hardships of life on the reservation, who sought to escape his troubles by immersing himself into drinking, music and riding his motor cycle. The story is centered on one event in which Victor’s Father, after being released from prison for beating a National Guard Private, hitchhikes to Woodstock where he sees Jimi Hendrix play the Star Spangled Banner.
Jimi Hendrix’s rendition of the Star Spangled Banner becomes a key reference in the short story, addressing the relationship of Victor and his father, the hardship of living in a society hostile to the Native American heritage, and war. In his short story, Alexie utilizes comparison and contrast between the young and old generations displayed in the relationship between Victor and his father in order to show the lack of understanding and relatablility between the different generations.
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Alexie also uses personification of music and alcoholism as generators of freedom, in order to communicate to the American and Native American people, the lingering damage of Native American people assimilating into a hostile and foreign, dominant culture, and how to cope with the clashing of two cultures. It is important to note that Alexie’s short story not only communicates the damage done by the assimilation of the Native American culture, but suggests that there be a conclusion to it- a form of coping with it- a solution.
This essay will explore how and why Alexie uses such textual strategies in order to communicate his message to his audience, and how successful he was in doing all of this. This Paragraph will explore Alexie’s comparison and contrast between the younger and older generation of Native Americans displayed in Victor and his father’s relationship. This comparison highlights the pain of the older generation and the ease of the younger generation in the process of assimilating into a predominately white culture, which effectively damages the Native American people as a whole.
Alexie used Victor as the narrating voice in the short story. His account of his childhood was the most accurate and credible of all the characters in the short story because of his innocence and unbiased nature. Through this, Alexie already distinguishes Victor (the younger generation), from his parents, specifically his father, (the older generation).
Victor’s generation was born into a time period that already had undergone the process of assimilation into American culture.
It was already an accepted, normal part of life, because that’s all he knew. So it wasn’t hard for him to accept the way his people were treated, because he was not personally afflicted with the pain in dealing with the horrible treatment of his people. In contrast, his father was a wounded soul, searching for ways to escape from his anger and pain. The first information that we receive about Victor’s father is that he’s a fighter.
He makes a social statement against the injustice of his people and the hypocrisy of Americans fighting for peace in Vietnam, while oppressing the Native American people within their own country by beating the National Guard Private at a peace rally. He fought reality and the difficulty of living in a culture that inevitably didn’t accept him. His father said, “What’s real? I ain’t interested in what’s real. I’m interested in how things should be. ” He refused to accept the injustice that he lived in, so he fought.
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His father’s fighting spirit never rested; according to him, “Indians are pretty much born soldiers…. ” There was a distinguishable difference between how Victor and his father thought. As Victor dreamt about his father’s experience at Woodstock and tried to gain some sort of commonality and understanding with his father he said, “But as much as I dream about it, I don’t have any clue about what it meant to my father to be the only Indian who saw Jimi Hendrix play at Woodstock. ” He realized that he had no idea how to relate to his father.
His generation had no idea how to relate to the wounded generation of his father’s. The assimilation of the Native American people into the unaccepting American culture caused an un-relatable, un-mendable, and incomprehensible separation of thought and relationship between the young and old generations. There was a chasm created by the breaking of a culture. Alexie showed the brokenness of the Native American people through the personification of Jimi Hendrix’s music and alcoholism in Victor’s Father. His father was constantly in a state of medicating his anger.
Alcohol and Jimi Hendrix both offered his father a source of freedom. Jimi Hendrix was similar to Victor’s father in that he was known as an angry and rebellious man. He lived a dangerous life of drug addiction and violence and died at the young age of 28. His Star Spangled Banner in particular was a cluttered and emotional story of war and the fight for freedom in America. The way Hendrix took the time in between the traditional melody to display the roaring and confusion and violence of “the rocket’s red glare” and “the bombs bursting in air” showed the emotion that Hendrix felt while playing it.
He played as if he were fighting in that war. Victor’s father identified with that; he said, “After all the shit I’d been through, I figured Jimi must have known I was there in the crowd to play something like that. It was exactly how I felt. ” Music, became the bridge for Victor’s father to be able to relate to the common world and express his emotions. In the same way, alcohol was the only way his father was able to offer a relationship with Victor, or anyone for that matter. Victor recalled how his father “didn’t talk much when he was sober.
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” And any time his parents were making love it was described as ferocious, passionate, unpredictable, selfish, drunken and loud. They had to intoxicate themselves to the point of passing out in order to conjure up enough affection for each other to have sex. Alcoholism and music became characters of their own, apart from Victor’s parents. They were Victor’s relationship and understanding with his father. Victor had to grow up without the true presence of his father; and he had to deal with it. Just like Jimi Hendrix, his father couldn’t live in peace in a society that didn’t accept him.
The way that Alexie writes is compelling to say the least. The perversion of the Native American culture and the underlying tone of hatred toward the White American culture are obviously seen by the audience. The general American audience could easily read this piece and understand the frustration of the Native American people. Alexie was successful in subtly placing responsibility on the dominant American culture to be more accepting and to in the least seek to understand the Native American people. The Native American audience can read this piece and identify with the difficulties described in it.
The title of this short story itself is provocative and successful in drawing in both the American and Native American audience. The word “because” in the beginning of the title offers that Alexie has a point to prove to his audience, and also suggest that there ought to be a conclusion to his view. Alexie’s view of assimilating the Native American people into a hostile and dominating culture is that it is harmful to the Native American culture and creates hostility between the Americans and Native Americans. It also suggests that there should be a way to cope with this problem.
Though Alexie was successful in communicating to the American audience, their role in coping with the difficulties of assimilation, Alexie was less successful in communicating to his Native American audience. Alexie doesn’t offer much hope to the Native American people. He shows the brokenness of the culture through the alcoholism and violence and intolerance of Victor’s father. He shows the pacifism and possible weakness of those who tolerate the injustice and hold onto the old pieces of culture through Victor’s mother.
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And the only solution that Alexie leaves Victor with is to deal with the problems that he’s been given. Victor wishes and dreams about having a relationship with his father, while playing his videogames and accepting the culture in which he lives in. But how does that solve the gap in the two cultures, and the brokenness within the Native American culture? If Alexie’s goal was to offer some solution to this problem, he was unsuccessful in giving his people any kind of hope. The Native American people know the injustice and hardship that they were victims of.
The only options that Alexie offered were to be a rebellious and angry individual like Victor’s father, a compliant individual like Victor’s mother, or an individual that gives up the dreams of successfully merging these two cultures and lives life however it’s given, like Victor. Not every Native American is stuck within these three options. Alexie’s short story was over all compelling and decently successful, however would have been more powerful had he spoken to his people from a stance of hope, rather than defeat.