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Hero and Anti-hero: Alexie's Mystery

Page history last edited by Abigail Heiniger 8 years ago

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  • Good job at the guest lecture on Monday.


Hero and Anti-Hero in Indian Killer


Sherman Alexie's Indian Killer  is a hard-boiled detective thriller that focuses on the mind and thoughts of the serial killer.


While Seattle is troubled by the Indian Killer, a serial murderer who kills and scalps white people, several people struggle with ideas of "authentic" Indian-ness. One possible suspect is John Smith, a Native American who was adopted by white people as a baby. John doesn't know which tribe he is descended from, and feels alienated from both cultures. He is a construction worker on a skyscraper project, thinking this connects him with the Mohawk iron workers who helped construct the Empire State Building. John suffers from terrible dreams and violent hallucinations, often hearing drums and music when there is no source. 

Meanwhile, the killer stalks his prey, using Native American spells to stay invisible. He kills a white man and cuts off his scalp, drenching himself in blood. But he decides that more white people need to die, and sets off to kill again. 

John meets a young Native American activist named Marie, who is leading a protest at the university. He is attracted to her, but struggles with his fractured understanding of his heritage, and his mental troubles. At work, he imagines himself killing the foreman on the skyscraper project by summoning the wind -- like a "real Indian" would be able to do -- to blow him off the scaffolding. John decides he needs to kill a white man to cure himself. 

Marie chafes in her college anthropology class, which is taught by Mather, a white professor who believes he understands what Native Americans have gone through. As the killer continues his rampage, kidnapping a white boy, conservative talk radio host Truck Schultz flames hatred from white people who feel they are unfairly under attack. When the boy is set free, he is unable to tell the police who had kidnapped him, describing the Indian Killer in terms that make it seem more like a spirit than a human. 

John focuses his attention on Jack Wilson, a writer of Indian-themed mystery novels who claims to be part Native American through a distant ancestor. Though he is, by all appearances, white, Wilson believes he understands and speaks for Indians through his writing. John attacks Wilson, slashing his face with a knife. He then hallucinates and flees, eventually falling to his death from the fortieth floor of the skyscraper he was working on. 

The police declare that John was the Indian Killer and the case is now closed. In the final scene, Native American gods and spirits gather and dance, then disappear, implying that the spirit that animated the Indian Killer is gone, but only for now.


Summary retrieved from: http://allreaders.com/book-review-summary/indian-killer-39757


Formalist Reading of Lit


Notice the word choice and sentence structure in the first chapter of Indian Killer


"The sheets are dirty. An Indian Health Service hospital in the late sixties. On this reservation or that reservation. Any reservation, a particular reservation. Antiseptic, cinnamon, and danker odors. Anonymous cries up and down the hallways." 


What do you notice? The observations and word choice flow from concrete and specific to ambiguous. The sentences are short and occasionally incomplete. 


Close Reading:


Sherman Alexie's word choice and sentence structure at the beginning of Indian Killer create the distracted mindset of his serial killer anti-hero: John. The choppy sentences reflect disjointed thoughts. The shift from concrete sensory details to vague ambiguities demonstrates the ways that John constructs an imagined origin story that seems real to him but it always a step away from being tied to an actual reality. 


Group Work: Close Reading of Alexie's Style and Sound


We're going to continue the close reading work we were doing on Wednesday. Break into groups and write a topic sentence for a body paragraph on Alexie's use of SOUND in the first three chapters of Indian Killer. And make three points that you would use as evidence in the body of the paragraph. Remember, this is a BODY paragraph (not an introduction to the paper).  


Questions to jumpstart your thinking:

  • What sounds appear in the first three chapters.
  • When do sounds appear?
  • What do the sounds mean?


Jara Armstrong Guest Lecture


Constructing and Deconstructing American Identities


Alexie does an amazing job of constructing and deconstructing assumptions about American identities in this novel. 


Group Work:

Break into groups and identify passages where racial or ethnic identity is constructed for  


  • Group One: Olivia and Daniel Smith
  • Group Two: David
  • Group Three: Marie
  • Group Four: John

 The Anti-hero and the Ambiguous Ending


At the conclusion of the novel the characters disperse. Their different endings deliberately challenge our ability to wrap up the narrative with any sense of finality. How does this create a sense of protest in the novel? How does this characterize the novel as modern fiction? 


Break into FOUR groups and do a close reading of the last four chapters of the novel.


  1. Group One: Chapter 27 "Decisions" and Chapter 29 "Flying"
    1. What happens to John?
    2. How do his actions relate to those of the Indian Killer? How do they create ambiguity? 
  2. Group Two: Chapter 28 "Leaving"
    1. What happens to Reggie?
    2. How do his words create ambiguity? 
  3. Group Three: Chapter 30 "Testimony"
    1. What happens to Marie?
    2. How does her interview work to obscure our understanding of the Indian Killer's identity? 
  4. Group Four: Chapter 31 "A Creation Story" 
    1. What happens to the Indian Killer in the final chapter?
    2. Is this real (physical)? Is he a spirit?
    3. How does this chapter challenge our expectations in a detective narrative?  


Creating a Thesis and Outline 


What should we see in a thesis for this project? 


What should we see in an outline?



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