As we examine the American dream in literature and film for MET IS 360, we began the course with a look at Native American dreams.
We read Joy Harjo’s poem
Reconciliation – A Prayer, Sherman Alexie’s
The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven and viewed Pow Wow Highway
as our film. The themes that run throughout include religion, valuing the tribe over the individual, hope, despair, alcoholism, carrying on tradition, racism, and blending of cultures. Religion
The God of the Native Americans believes in respecting Mother Earth and religious practices aren’t as filled with as much hypocrisy as those of America’s European settlers. Important imagery in Pow Wow Highway to illustrate this was when Philbert bought his “pony” to begin his spiritual journey. He gets into the car and rips the Virgin Mary from the dashboard and throws her out the window. At that point, his true spiritual quest begins. Tribe
It was clear from the readings and the film that Native American dreams center around the tribe, which is given a higher regard than the individual. Whereas we are often caught up in the “it’s all about me” way of modern American society, the Native Americans think less about that and more about the good of the tribe. Hope
Everyone has hope of a better tomorrow in all cultures. For the Native Americans in Alexie’s stories, that hope is that the next hot basketball player each year will make it and leave the reservation as a college basketball star or professional athlete. The hope is always that the next generation will break the cycle. Despair
The despair comes from negative experiences on an economic and social level on the reservation. After encountering underemployment and watching their traditions suffer, a healthy dose of despair is warranted. Alcoholism
Drinking to forget is a theme in both Pow Wow Highway
and The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven
. Pow Wow Highway
reminded me a lot of Jack Kerouac's On The Road
mostly because of the diverse characters finding themselves in different scenes in a spontaneous fashion. Even the publishing of On The Road
was the realization of the American dream because it took Kerouac years to get it published. When it finally was, it met much success
The mute child, James, in Powwow Highway
is met with the stigma that Indian children are slow whenever Victor takes him to the doctor to find out why he hasn’t spoken yet. The police in Powwow Highway
are racist and corrupt. Blending of Cultures
The Native Americans in all the film and literature we covered were fighting to uphold their traditions while also carving out their place in life outside the reservation. At times the two cultures blended while other times they conflicted. Buddy Red Bow in Pow Wow Highway doesn’t think Indians should be moving away from the reservation. But at the same time, he’ll blend cultures when we see him wearing a traditional Cheyenne necklace with a U.S. military purple heart hanging off of it.
We saw the blending of culture once again during our study of Spanish-American dreams. I call it 'duality' because a person has to switch between cultures going back and forth between languages and between sets of traditions.