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Conflict Within

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Conflict Within

In his novel “Indian Killer”, Sherman Alexie presents the fictional story of an American Indian man, John Smith, who was born Indian but raised White. It is also a novel about a madman who is murdering white men in Seattle. Though the story line is fiction, the truth of the treatment and struggles of the Indians is very clear. “Indian Killer” revolves around the interaction between whites and Indians. Alexie addresses many issues in the novel, including racism. The novel examines racial conflicts between the Indians and the whites. Racial division increases when a serial killer begins kidnapping, murdering, and scalping white victims in a manner that leads the community to believe the killer is an American Indian. The tension between Indians and whites explodes as both sides attack each other verbally and physically. The problems that the novel’s three young Indian characters, John Smith, Marie Polatkin, and her cousin Reggie Polatkin, face in Seattle are intensified by the actions of an “Indian Killer.” The plot is filled with twists and turns that kept me guessing till the last chapter.

The main character in the story is John Smith. John is raised by Olivia and Daniel Smith, who try to do everything in their power to make sure that John learns about his heritage. Alexie shows us the great impact adoption by white parents has on John’s life. John continues to search for his lost identity and constantly imagines how his life would have been, had be been raised Indian by his biological mother. John continually dreams and imagines how life would have been had he remained with his birth family on the reservation. The Indian life John dreams about shows him as a happy normal young man who is kind and helpful to everyone he meets. John imaginations about his life on the reservation are so clear and detailed, I can almost taste his longing. The line “Her own mother had died while giving birth to her, and her father had been killed in Korea.” (287) and the line, “When John was born, the result of a random powwow encounter…” show us the depth of his imaginations and the longing for his lost identity. John does not just imagine part of his life with his biological mother; he imagines his whole life from birth. John yearns for his lost heritage and in his dreams of being raised Indian, he is a good son any mother would be proud of. Since John is increasingly brooding about his lost heritage and constantly dreams about life on the reservation, he seems to gradually go insane. In his search for a connection to his people, he seems to want to right all the wrongs white people have ever inflicted on Indians. Consequently rage continues to build slowly in the heart of John Smith. After years of brooding about his lost heritage, he decides that he has to randomly kill a white man.

In John’s search for his identity he meets Marie, a Spokane Indian whose parents refused to teach their daughter to speak Spokane, because, Alexie writes, “they felt it would be of no use to her in the world outside the reservation.” (33) Marie Polatkin is an outspoken young student at the local university who feels isolated from her tribe. She grew up on the Spokane reservation, attending the reservation school and watching as one by one her friends ''lost interest, were intimidated into silence by cruel, white teachers or simply had no energy for school because of hunger.'' (33) Marie also has a firm grip on her identity. She organizes the Indian students on campus. Marie is very angry with people such as Jack Wilson, a local ex-cop and now a popular mystery writer who passes himself off as part Indian in a desperate attempt at acceptance. Marie supports her views with her actions. She repeatedly challenges Dr. Mather’s (a white professor teaching Native American studies) reading list for an Indian studies course. She suggests that he's frightened of her because ''I'm not some demure little Indian woman healer talking spider this, spider that.'' (232) Marie sees him as a “wannabe Indian.”

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