The “You” of Sherman Alexie’s “The Unauthorized Autobiography of Me”

Sherman Alexie’s “The Unauthorized Autobiography of Me” is indeed the perfect essay for this point in the semester. We could take any of the terminology from the Tool Kit in Smith and Watson’s Reading Autobiography and apply it to Alexie’s essay.

Alexie’s essay begins with a scene that is very important to him: Indian boys playing basketball on a Reservation. We’ve seen this scene before in Alexie’s “Defending Walt Whitman”. At the end of this scene Alexie addresses his audience with “Sometimes, I think this is all you need to know about Native American literature” (Alexie 4). The “you” in this sense seems to be a universal audience, both an accused you and an embedded you. A you that is somehow both excluded and included.

As the essay moves on Alexie addresses other Native Americans stating, “We are Indians… It belongs to us. We own it and we’re not going to give it back” (Alexie 4). This statement is in quotes as Alexie writes it; this is his response to a questioning woman. The next paragraph down, Alexie does not use quotes and addresses a different audience writing, “So much has been taken from us that we hold on to the smallest things with all the strength we have left” (Alexie 4).

Alexie is consistently giving his audience something and then taking it away. Later in his essay, Alexie describes his mother singing as she sews a quilt and addresses a non-Native American audience with “You might assume she is singing a highly traditional Spokane Indian song. She is singing Donna Fargo’s…” (Alexie 5).

As he moves through different vignettes, it seems that Alexie is always addressing a different audience. The tool kit in “Reading Autobiography” explains that autobiography may address multiple audiences and this can be seen throughout Alexie’s “The Unauthorized Autobiography of Me”.

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One Response to The “You” of Sherman Alexie’s “The Unauthorized Autobiography of Me”

  1. Anton Vander Zee says:

    I think I read the two sections in quotes and out of quotes differently. You note that Alexie is addressing other native americans–but he is explicitly addressing the woman in the audience. I think he switches to a more private address outside of quotes to address the “we” of his own cohort of “indians.”

    Also, I hope you don’t mind, but I added a colon right in the sentence under that handsome picture (you needed something heftier than a comma) and linked “Defending Walt Whitman.” Might as well connect the dots–this is, after all, the magnificent inter-web!

    I’ve said this in another comment, but I’d love to hear Smith and Watson here as well. What is it specifically that they say about audience that spurred this response?

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