The Voices of Sherman Alexie

What I found to be particularly compelling about Sherman Alexie’s personal essay “The Unauthorized Autobiography of Me” is his use of multiple voices within the text, allowing him to use tone to reflect on his various identities throughout his life, while also complicating and commenting on Native American stereotypes.

If we agree with Smith and Watson’s idea that the identity is intersectional, it is only right that we give these multiple voices a chance to speak or at least acknowledge their existence through their inflections, and Alexie does exactly this only in a way that is subtle and remarkably poetic.  For instance, when Alexie tells an interviewer that the word Indian “belongs to us. We own it and we are not going to give it back,” his voice is strong, proud, and determined, but in the sentence following the quote, Alexie’s voice softens as he says, “So much has been taken from us that we hold onto the smallest things with all the strength we have left” (4).  There is so much pain and personal strife within that line and within the voice that speaks that it becomes almost obvious there are two voices present within one narrator.  Often when Alexie is commenting on the stereotypes or misconceptions about Native Americans, his voice becomes sarcastic and witty, easing the tension between assumption and truth, like when he replies to the critic asking him about the oral tradition of his poetry and says, “it doesn’t apply at all because I type this. And I’m really, really quiet when I typing it” (6).

When the narrator is speaking about a youthful Alexie, the tone seems to be a blend of exhilaration and sadness, then shifts as the narrator tells of older, more experienced Alexie with a voice that becomes more aware of the outside world and the “sea of white faces” that seem to be constantly surrounding him (12).  There are also moments of silence within the text between the gaps in time and Alexie’s movements from one story to the next.  He seems to accomplish this by ending a passage with a line that is short, blunt and often times extremely riveting, which causes the reader to stop and consider the line “It’s just a sliver of stone” or “That is the most revolutionary act possible” and how it is significant (7).  And it is in these moments of silence, the blank spaces between paragraphs, that the reader engages emotionally with Alexie and what is withheld by the poet/narrator is fulfilled with the reader’s own thoughts and reflections.

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One Response to The Voices of Sherman Alexie

  1. Anton Vander Zee says:

    I like anatomy of voices here as well as the attention to silence, and how that silence might serve as a kind of open space, caesura, or pause allowing room for intersubjective response. One small thing — I noted a typo in one your Alexie quotes (about quietness while typing). Great post!

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