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Contrast to Show Understanding in Sherman Alexie’s "class"

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The short story “Class” by Sherman Alexie tells of the struggles of an American Indian man and tries to demonstrate how he reacts to his contrasted feelings and diverse world around him. The central theme of Alexie’s short story is contrast, and this theme is evident throughout the story, even in the smallest of details. The actions, emotions and even the language of the characters contrast and these contrasts clearly illustrate the difference the characters have in class.

Marriage, the central part of the lives of the main characters, is viewed in opposing ways through their actions. Susan’s, Edgar’s wife, description of what Edgar’s love did for her involves the contrasting natural elements of snow and heat, also the elements of being lost and found. These contrasting elements mirror the way the characters look at marriage and how they respond to emotional events of their marriage. At first, Susan looks at marriage like the beginning of the happiest time of her life, but a year into her marriage it is clear that she is no longer shares the same outlook as she begins an affair. Edgar describes the first two years of his marriage as “…thirty-seven cocktail parties, eighteen weddings, one divorce, seven Christmas parties, two New Year’s Eve parties, three New Year’s Day parties, nine birthday parties…six opera performances, nine literary readings, twelve museum openings, one museum closing, three ballets, … and thirty-two films (588),” showing his lack of passion. Edgar’s list of social events is quite contrary to Susan’s imagery of snow, heat, and being found.

It is quite possible that the biggest contrast manifest’s itself in the inner most thoughts and feelings of Edgar, the main character. Edgar is a modern middle-class American Indian man who struggles with his heritage. There are times within the story where Edgar is pleased with his heritage, yet and still there are other times his feelings are contrasted. Edgar marries Susan, a white woman, per his mother’s advice so that the Indian can eventually be erased from the future generations. The times it appears that he is proud of his heritage, it is for the decietful, self-gratifying reasons. For example, he frequently tells women that he is part Aztec because: “Strangely enough, there were aphrodisiacal benefits to claiming to be descended from ritual cannibals. In any event, pretending to be an Aztec warrior was a lot more impressive than revealing I was just some bright kid who’d fought his way off the Spokane Indian Reservation…(587).” Even when he is claiming his roots, he is secretly ashamed of them.

Despite his mixed feelings about being Indian, Edgar tries to perpetuate a positive image of the modern American Indian man. He wears his hair in long, black braids as a symbol of his heritage, and tells people that his name is Edgar Eagle Runner, instead of Edgar Joseph like his license says. Edgar also refrains from drinking massive amounts of alcohol because he does not want to “maintain and confirm any of my ethnic stereotypes, let alone the most prevalent one… (591).” However, after realizing that his wife has been faking her orgasms for at least a year, Edgar abruptly leaves his marriage bed and goes to a local Indian bar to have a drink. It is at this bar that the contrast in class is made, as the title of the story suggests.

Edgar chooses to go to an Indian owned bar Chuck’s to have his drink. As he sits at the bar and orders his glass of water, the bartender asks him “What

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