Throughout Sherman Alexie’s Ten Little Indians, there are numerous characters and numerous situations, but all of the characters and situations guide the overall theme and reader to a larger conception within and about American society. Within The Search Engine, Lawyer’s League, and Can I get a Witness?, all of the characters experience stereotypes, interestingly enough each main character also has issues with being a cultural hybrid. This common thread of being a cultural hybrid helps bring the stories together and helps to convey the sociological theme that things are not what they seem, and sometimes just as art imitates life, sometimes life begins to imitate art.
The most identifiable recurring characters are the protagonists of the stories. Each main character is a hybrid of cultures, the cultural conflicts that each main character must face are similar yet different. Corliss, for an example, is a pure bred Spokane Indian but must face her family and community to pursue her degree as an English major. Corliss’s family and community have strong feelings regarding whites. These feelings have stemmed from years of abuse from the whites dating back to the bloody history that surrounds the two cultures. Her uncle sums up the families feelings about whites very well with the statement, “White people were killing Indians in the nineteenth century” (Alexie 13). Corliss having grown up in the Indian reservation culture is not without her judgments either. Corliss lives alone simply because she assumes another Indian would not contribute towards rent (10). Corliss also does not want to room with a white because she believes that he/she would be able to see past the stereotypical Indian mysticism (11). Corliss also finds some conclusiveness in talking with Harlan Atwater who although is genetically a Spokane Indian was raised white. For Harlan the cultural divide was to be not fully accepted by the whites and not fully accepted by the Spokane Indians, Harlan feels trapped in his poetry between the two cultures (41). Just as Corliss tries to break the cultural cycle with her family, she oddly enough will take the occasional free coffee when she can get it (11).
Richard from Lawyer’s League is not only Indian but also half African-American. This makes his cultural divide a little more interesting since he must endure the African American stereotypes along with the Indian stereotypes. Richard’s parents were also stereotypically uncommon in that his father was a “giant who played defensive football” but spent his time reading while his mother was a ballerina who played barnstorming basketball (53). Richard’s upbringing was as he stated, “biracial revolutionary leftist magician with a twenty foot jumper encoded in my DNA” (53).
The one thing Richard always has kept on his mind is his political career. Richard must be aware at all times of his political career because with the stereotypes about his multicultural origins. Because of his genetic origins he has a more limited range of movement politically (68). Richard himself even admits to his moral dilemma between a multi racial relationship and his political career (61).
Richard is also exceptionally smart and athletic, which becomes an issue when confronted by Big Bill, who feels threatened by Richard’s mere presence on the basketball court; Big Bill had been the “alpha-male hoopster for a decade” (64). While Richard constantly thinks about his political career he is still human, when he lashes out at Big Bill he ponders the legal ramifications. This incident between Big Bill and Richard shows a small sample of the social problems in America because Big Bill wins the lawsuit for the punch to the face. It is pointed out that Richard being multicultural has a “limited range of motion” more so than Big Bill ever will (68). This common cultural divide between Richard and his political career and Corliss’s cultural issues from her family show that when breaking the cultural molds, there are many double standards that must be overcome.
The woman in Can I Get a Witness? remains unnamed though out the story This lends itself to give a more universal feeling to the story. The woman is faced with a cultural divide even within her family, each day she is confronted by American flags and mounted animal heads at home (92). On top of that her sons also want to join the U.S. Military, which she sees as a “toxic irony”(91). Given the horrible past of Indians versus the American Army, this irony can easily be seen. Just as Corliss must deal with her family this woman must deal with her origins and her present families cultural differences, and Richard must deal with the cultural divides that stand in his way politically and in his life.
Each main character has a cultural problem. They have two cultures meeting face to face that historically, stereotypically, or presently do not get along with each other. Corliss is a pure Spokane Indian stuck in between learning English poetry and her Indian family on the reservation. Richard is multicultural being half Indian and half African American, and trying to balance a political career as well. Meanwhile the unnamed woman clearly has Indian origins but her family is more aligned with white family customs.
Corliss, Richard, and the unnamed woman, all share a very common balancing act, the balancing of stereotypes and cultures and trying to break the social normalities. These three characters are a great cross section of the newer lifestyle and genetics of the American landscape. No longer can people assume, or stereotype the dark skinned girl with cowboy boots on. In dealing with these cultural divides each character also shows that even though they should be the last person being stereotypical, they seem to be stereotypical anyways. Corliss does not want an Indian or a white roommate (9). Richard assumes that Big Bill is a racist even though it is never plainly said. Before the unfortunate proximity of Richard’s fist to Big Bill’s Nose, Richard had already “pegged” Big Bill as the “alpha-dog Hoopster” (64). The unnamed woman succumbs to the stereotype of “toxic irony” that her children want to join the U.S. Military (91). The unnamed woman also points out many flaws in stereotypes about how we make martyrs of the victims of terrorism (89). She breaks the cycle of stereotypes by bringing to light the fact that possibly not all of the victims were innocent. Once again the issues of stereotypes and how they change people’s perceptions on a daily basis.
While art sometimes imitates life in showing daily life and sometimes portraying stereotypes from pictures of the old west Indian carnivals to the Feather clad Indians. Sometimes after enough time life can start to imitate art, in that stereotypes begin to arise from these sources of media that still influence society. After enough time living with these stereotypes even the target of the stereotypes can become believers of the stereotypes. Corliss provides a great example of this in how she chooses to live alone (10). And Richard shows the same cross over of stereotypes when he chooses to not pursue Teresa, because of the racial difference. Politically it would not be easy. (61). These stereotypical points are not as point blank as the woman in Can I Get a Witness?, where she points out the fact that not all victims are martyrs (Alexie 89). These stereotypes bind each character through out, while also proving that stereotypes are not only on one side of the fence, once again another stereotype.
Alexie, Sherman. Ten Little Indians. Grove Press. New York, 2003.