Ten Little Indians is a collection of short stories by Sherman Alexie. Native American Literature is a popular form of literature. Alexie is one of the native Indian American writers who wrote a lot about the contemporary lives of native Indians. His works are comprised of native Indians and he tries to trace their roots to their ancestors and their relationship with White Americans.
Ten Little Indians comprises nine short stories but here we are discussing some of these short stories. The importance of relationships, rituals, values and traditions can be seen in this Short Story collection by Sherman Alexie. Ten Little Indians is more about those Native Americans who have left their ancestors’ houses and living among the White Americans.
Here is the summary and analysis of Ten Little Indians short stories.
1: THE SEARCH ENGINE:
The Search Engine is a story about a girl Corliss. Almost every work of Alexie constitutes characters that surround themselves with books. The girl Corliss wants to become a poet. At the beginning of the story, Corliss witnesses a couple at a café and she starts noticing their behaviour, in fact eavesdropping on them.
The man has the typical hair as every Red Indian suppose to be. There is a detailed description of the physical appearance of every character that Alexie presents before us other characters. There is a hybrid identity for every Red Indian as they are called by white Americans. They have their roots in their ancient culture but they are surviving with white Americans by maintaining a relationship with them.
Corliss has a great interest in books and has a strong relationship with libraries that she often visits. Her interest in books can be seen as
“ she hungrily wanted to read every book on every shelf.”Ten Little Indians, Sherman Alexie
“ Corliss wanted to read herself to death. She wanted to be buried in a coffin filled with used paperbacks.”Ten Little Indians , Sherman Alexie
The story depicts how Spokane Indian writers have been forgotten by the world and White Americans have taken their place. In libraries, their books are placed, but on the front row, there are always white Americans. Most people have no idea that Red Indians have written any book.
The story consists of a Spokane Indian poet, Harlan Atwater. Corliss has no idea about this poet, instead of the fact that she and her ancestors belong to the Spokane Indian reservation. The librarian tells Corliss that she is the first person who has issued the Atwater book instead of the fact that they had this book since 1972.
Corliss gets worried knowing the fact that most of the books in the library are unread. The reference to the unread books also depicts the modern life people’s preferences as the librarian tells Corliss not only that 60 per cent out of the two million, one hundred thousand and eleven books in this library are unread. Also, the eighteen million books from other libraries are also unread. This shows that modern people have no interest to go to libraries and reading books.
The appearance of both books shows the difference between people’s priorities. One is of the W.H. Auden’s book that seems to be well-read by someone because it was not in good condition with notes written down on almost every page. The other book by Native American (Harlan Atwater ) seems to be untouched. Corliss thinks this is the plan of God who wants her to read the book of this Red Indian poet.
Corliss lives alone because she does not like the idea of living with another Indian. The reason is she knows that she has to pay the rent all by herself, and she has to tolerate lots of visitors because of the same tribal thing. Because all the Native Americans think that they are like family and Corliss does not like this idea.
Instead of living with so many people that are in her family, Corliss prefers solitude which other Indians are afraid of. Corliss keeps the book close to her but she feels shame in it to show it to the world. She tries to hide the world as she is reading “porn”. Finally, one day in her alone time, she opens the book and reads the poems. They are mostly about the Indian reservation. She wonders why no one ever suggests her this book or ever mentions its name.
Corliss hides her interest in poetry from her family because for them it is not a good habit to adopt. But now she thinks if she would have known this before, she would show her family that poetry is not something that is done by White Americans, even if there is a poet from Spokane Reservation.
Her family forbids her to read the poetry of the White Americans because they killed thousands of Indians. So they mention their killings and their brutal actions against them. She has grown up taught by her elders that White people are bad ad she should hate them. But she prefers to hate on the basis of their behaviour and not because they are White.
Talking about the men of her family, Corliss mentions that men of her family appreciate her talent and talk about her intellect but hate poetry. Corliss gives the reason of it that these men were raised in a matriarchal culture but now they are living in a patriarchal country. As we know, women played a great role in Native American clans.
They take care of their families and mostly earn more than their husbands as Corliss mentions her family men. Instead of feeling ashamed they feel proud that their women are earning more than others and even more than them. For them, their women can save the tribes as Corliss’s father has hope that she would do it after returning back to the reservation.
There is a detailed description of native American culture. There is mention of Harlan Atwater’s interview in which he talks about his culture. Oral traditions and storytelling were part of this culture. As Alexie mostly mentions those incidents that actually happened to him.
In the same way, Alexie characters in the stories describe those incidents in their work that actually happened to them. Such as Atwater tells his interviewer that in his writings there are autobiographical elements. They also try to make people understand Indians better in the same way Alexie does in his work. Respecting the elders is another quality of being an Indian.
Corliss gets confused with the interview of Harlan Atwater in which he shows how much he is close to and cherishes his tribe but his tribe does not know about him. Corliss finds her phone number and contacted him. After a long argument, he hangs up the phone. However, Corliss finds his address by asking a homeless person on the street and finally finds him. She feels disheartened by looking at him personally because he is totally the opposite of she thought he would be. However, they soon depart on his promise that he will meet her at some bookstore.
After their meeting at the book store, Atwater tells Corliss that he was born as a Spokane Indian but raised by a white family. Atwater clears to her that although he has written poems about Spokane Indians he does not know them very well.
“They were n’t statements of fact. They were more like questions”. (Alexie)Ten Little Indians , Sherman Alexie
According to Atwater, White poetry considered his poetry a real depiction of his Indian life and they loved him for that. Corliss and Atwater talk about poetry. There is a detailed description of Atwater’s past life, especially his brief love story, but it was more about a confused Atwater who was in search of his lost identity.
There are mentions of how some white couple adopted him when his own mother left him. So now he is taking care of them instead of the fact they are white. He tells her the reason for hiding his true identity and that is to love his white parents. Loving white people is something that an Indian can never expect to do.
At the end of the story, Corliss tries to know out his real name but he walks away. Corliss at the end put Atwater book “by placing it with its front cover facing outward” so all the world would see it. And she leaves the bookstore and moves toward her house.
The name of the story “Search Engine” suggests it is about search, it can be the search for an identity that Corliss is confused about along with her search for poet Atwater. It seems to me that this story is about the struggle of Corliss to search for her identity and she tries to do it by searching for Atwater. After meeting him, she comes to know that he is similar to her in the terms that he also feels unfit in the Indian tribal system like her.
This story is replete with the mention of love for books.
“Maybe every book in every library is patiently waiting for its savior” (Alexie, p.9).Ten Little Indians, Sherman Alexie, p.9
Corliss is a lover of books in the way that she can see books as some physical entity.
“She wanted to read herself to death. She wanted to be buried in a coffin filled with used paperbacks” (Alexie, p.5).Ten Little Indians (Sherman Alexie, p.5)
There is a detailed description of the Indian family system that Corliss does not seem to be fond of and the same for Atwater. Corliss realizes the importance of the family but she also does not like the stereotyping of white people. She thinks Indians are born to hate White people without looking at them in person. They judge them on the basis of violence and injustice that White people did many years ago.
Read More: Charlotte Perkins Gilman Short Stories
2) LAWYER LEAGUE:
This is another story from Ten Little Indians by Sherman Alexie. The narrator’s father is an African American and his mother is a Spokane Indian. The narrator is
“Locke’s executive liaison to Washington State’s twenty-nine Indian tribes, which are growing in political power due to casino revenues and he manages the Native Voices”.Ten Little Indians , Sherman Alexie
He tells us that it is really a difficult job. The reason is, that it is difficult to gain the trust of Indians regarding any politician. We can get an idea from Native Americans’ past where they were betrayed regarding their lands.
Then he tells that the people who are mayors are not the best or brightest and it is the same in the case of Indians and Americans. He says that he wants the best and he is tired of being average and he wants to be a great politician. He wants to become a half-black half-Indian United States senator.
He got into a fight during a basketball match with lawyers. One of the lawyers Steve invited him to play basketball. The narrator says that he takes basketball as a game while most of these play by
“hiding a pathologically violent core beneath a handsome white-collar exterior.”Ten Little Indians , Sherman Alexie (p.62)
He says to Steve that he is not interested in beating up but Steve says it is a friendly match but the narrator has doubt about it.
They gather at St. Joseph’s Elementary School, which lawyers rented once a week. Big Bill was a prosecutor who can play well. The basketball game goes on with the heat and with every passing minute, every lawyer was getting angrier, especially Bill. The narrator thinks Bill was cheating as he wanted to win by hook or by crook. He could not take it anymore and they had an argument at the end, the narrator punches Bill in the face. He punches a lawyer in the company of other lawyers and hurts his hand too.
At the end of the short story, he says he never hit anyone but Bill was a racist. If people would elect him “next senator from Washington State, he’ll punch every racist in the nose”.
“This country would be a better place if ever U.S president had punched racists in the face. But according to him, that would mean U.S presidents would have spent a lot of time punching themselves in the face.”Ten Little Indians ,Sherman Alexie, p.68)
In the end, he gives us hints that although he promised to fight against racism now he is amid all white men and now it is hard for him to use his powers against it. He is hurt but he has a limited range of motion.
Read More: If I were a Man,Short Story by Gilman
3: CAN I GET A WITNESS?
This is the third short story from Ten Little Indians. The narrator is a wife and the mother of two teenage sons. She used to enjoy her childhood years more because of the solitude and silence on the Spokane Indian Reservation. The narrator is sitting at a restaurant and enjoying her food. She is waiting for the waiter to come and return her card and meanwhile, a man enters in, shouts in a foreign language and a bomb explodes.
Three people get killed outside of the restaurant and many others inside the restaurant. The suicide bomber was identified as a
“Syrian American born in Seattle and raised in upper-class comfort by his Muslims father and a Catholic mother.”Ten Little Indians , Sherman Alexie, p.72).
He was a PhD holder and no one could find any anti-American sentiments from his side in the past.
After the explosion, the narrator finds herself under the pile of dead bodies. After regaining consciousness, she finds that she is not seriously hurt as compared to other people. While coming out, she notices a white woman that was filming from a sixth-floor window with a video camera.
She meets a man outside of the restaurant and after some questions, she asks him to help her to get out of that place. On inquiring about her house, she asks him to take her to his home. At first, he hesitates. She can sense that they would have sex as people become more close to each other during earthquakes, tornados, hurricanes and wars. The man looks at her closely and thinks that maybe she is a Muslim terrorist who exploded the restaurant and she is using him to escape.
After a while, the man takes her to his apartment, she minutely observes his apartment. The man asks about her life and she tells him that she is unhappily married and has two sons. The man suggests her to take a bath as she is covered with blood and dirt. The man tries to call an ambulance but the phone lines were busy.
The man tells the woman that he was also married but due to his sense of humour, his marriage was destroyed. He could not understand that his jokes are hurting his wife. They both talk about their lives, jobs and problems.
The woman tells her when her kids were little, she never even bought them toy guns but now her husband takes them out. Her husband put U.S flags in every window of their house. She asks him
“what kind of Indians put twenty-two flags in their windows”?Ten Little Indians , Sherman Alexie, p.91)
The woman talks about the attack on the World Trade Center and tries to justify it because there were many sinners among the innocents. She tells him many people would be happy because they were facing violence and abuse from their fathers and husbands and after their deaths in that blast, they would be happy.
The man carries her in his arms and moves out of the apartment to take her to the hospital and on his way, he starts noticing all the injured people. He starts thinking that they would be culprits too at some point and they all are not innocent. He also asks God to forgive him because he has also hurt his wife who used to love him the most.
At the end of the story, the woman walks away from him,
“He wanted to stop her but she looked back once, he thought to chase after her, but she shook her head and again walked away from him. And he watched her until he couldn’t see her anymore”Ten Little Indians , Sherman Alexie, p.95
4) DO YOU KNOW WHERE I AM?
This is the last Short Story from Ten Little Indians that we are discussing today. The narrator and Sharon are college sweethearts and they first met at the first mixer dance of freshman year. The narrator tells us that they both were the only Native American Roman Catholics. So they slept together for three years.
The narrator was Spokane and his lover Sharon was Apache. His mother was white and his father was Indian. He used to spend his vacations with his grandparents. His mother wanted him to keep in touch with his tribal heritage. He tells that for many Indians, garage sales and trashy novels are highly traditional as well as ceremonies. (Alexie, p.151)
Sharon’s parents were rich and they built a big blue house. The narrator tells their great love story of how they were always together and so happy. Once they were kissing that Sharon heard a cat meowing. They saw a cat trapped in branches. Sharon gets really worried and asks the narrator to save the cat.
The narrator only wanted to save the cat to be a hero in his girlfriend’s eyes. After saving the cat, they both reached an address that was mentioned regarding a lost cat to hand over the cat. The narrator took all the credit for bravery and did not even mention Sharon’s empathy and this hurt her a lot. He even accepted the money and this even makes her angrier. The narrator thinks perhaps his lie had ended their relationship but Sharon comes back and they both married.
But Sharon could never forget it, she always mentions the incident of a lost cat and calls him “my husband, the liar”. They never talked about this incident in private and he never asked her forgiveness and it became their “public secret”.
However one day, Sharon threw a bomb on him by disclosing the secret that she was having an extramarital affair but it has ended now. She tells him that he can only ask her three questions about this. The narrator wanted to punch his wife during the questions. They went through painful moments and finally tried to rebuild their marriage. Then the narrator tells us about their 40 years anniversary, their children, their 60 years anniversary and then about his wife on the deathbed.
Perhaps she wanted to take revenge for a small lie that her lover told and she cheated on him after marriage because of that lie. This short story shed light on love and relationship, betrayal and reconciliation.
(Source: Ten Little Indians Stories by Sherman Alexie)
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