Posts Tagged ‘african american’

Sherman Alexie (via yareviews)

Although our immigration rich history has made us a proud “nation of foreigners”,  racism and Anglo-centrism persist in America.  These influences leave some minority Amercian cultures to self-destruct in poverty, addiction, and self-hatred.  Two authors who address modern-era struggles of racial minorities are Sherman Alexie (The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian) and Toni Morrison (The Bluest Eye).  Each author creates an adolescent protagonist who chooses to be an achiever despite the attitudes of his/her peers:  interestingly, these determined young characters are perfect examples of the Rebel archetype.

  The components of a Rebel archetype are defined by scholar Caroline Myss:

“Whether politically inclined like Martin Luther King, Jr., or…

 an artistic innovator such as Van Gogh, Joyce, or Coltrane,

the Rebel is a key component of all human growth and

development.  The Rebel … can be a powerful aid in helping 

(to) break out of old tribal patterns. It can also help you see

past tired preconceptions …  The Rebel can also lead you to …

seek out more appropriate paths.”

Breaking free of the cyclical disaster in their respective cultures requires both Junior and Claudia to be Rebels.   Like the Rebel archetype, each seeks to break out of old patterns; each sees past fatalistic preconceptions by choosing a more appropriate, self-actualizing path for personal growth and development.

Junior, Sherman Alexie’s hero of Diary, shows his Rebel characteristics early and often.  For example, on page six of Diary, Junior defines his drawing as “my only real chance to escape the reservation”, referring to his cartoons as “tiny little lifeboats”.  Word choice matters: by using “escape” and “life boats”, Junior announces that he chooses a future without the reservation.  As most Spokane Indians live their entire lives on “the rez”, this decision flouts established tribal patterns in clear Rebel style.  Junior’s mother even cautions him that “the Indians around here are going to be angry with you” (Alexie, 47).  Regardless of tribal disdain, Junior acts as a Rebel by enrolling at an all-white school.  He claims “we Indians were the worst of times and those Reardan kids were the best of times”, further describing the white Rearden kids as “beautiful and smart and… filled with hope” (Alexie, 50).  Because he discards the tribe’s sad traditions of accepting poverty and a substandard education, Junior confirms his Rebel persona.  Although he has some mixed feelings about his rejection of aspects of the Native American lifestyle, wondering “(if) they would someday forgive me for leaving them” (Alexie, 230), Junior moves toward the manifestation of his dreams.  Junior’s  unconventional choices toward a better life are textbook Rebel traits: progress toward self-actualization, finding a higher way at the cost of the status quo.

Similarly, Toni Morrison uses The Bluest Eye to create a young African-American girl who is a true Rebel. Claudia is a Rebel in that she ultimately loves and

Toni Morrison (via webjunction)

respects herself, choosing a view diametrically opposed to the “contempt for their own blackness… exquisitely learned self-hatred… elaborately designed hopelessness” (Morrison, 65) that her peers embrace.  Using the Rebel quality of rejecting tradition, Claudia fails to find “a blue-eyed, yellow-haired, pink-skinned doll” (Morrison, 20) the answer to her dreams; the child instead disassembles the doll, trying to solve the puzzle of its alleged beauty.   Though the adults in her circle fuss and cluck over the charm of little white girls, Claudia maintains that their allure “elude(s) me” (Morrison, 23).  This single-minded strength of character is a Rebel trait, the self-assurance to scrap the norm.  Claudia exhibits more Rebel-esque rejection of societal preconceptions when a light-skinned new girl, Maureen, enrolls at her school.   Others see Maureen as a “high yellow dream child” (Morrison, 62) with lovely clothes, pale skin, and green eyes; while her friends and the surrounding adults kowtow to Maureen, Claudia the Rebel wants to kick her, fantasizing about “accidental slammings of locker doors” (Morrison, 63) on Maureen’s exalted hand.  Finally, Claudia extends her own self-respect to the life of an unborn, unwanted baby: when the despotic Cholly Breedlove assaults his own daughter and impregnates her, Claudia wants “the black baby to live — just to counteract the universal love of white baby dolls, Shirley Temples, and Maureen Peals” (Morrison, 190).  If the sad, misbegotten black fetus is a metaphor for African American culture, then Claudia has stated her manifesto in that sentence.  She is a Rebel who honors her heritage, even when all others despise it.  Claudia adopts the qualities of the Rebel archetype to discard old patterns, seeking the path of self-love by rejecting her culture’s self-destructive stereotypes.

Clearly, Alexie and Morrison not only highlight the situation of minorities in American society, but also they create charismatic heroes of the Rebel archetype to inspire their readers.   Junior and Claudia must be Rebels to cast off the despair that pervades their cultures; each rejects stifling attitudes in order to grow and develop to his/her fullest potential.  By offering young main characters that have the willpower and self-awareness to excel when those around them succumb to the numbing status quo, Alexie and Morrison use the Rebel archetype to excellent effect.

You might also enjoy Archetypes: Surprising “Warrior”, The “What-If” Archetype: 2 True Post-Apocalyptic Heroes

Alexie, Sherman.  The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian.  New York:  Little,      Brown and Company, 2007.

Morrison, Toni.  The Bluest Eye.  New York: Plume, 1994.

Myss, Caroline.  “A Gallery of Archetypes.”  Myss Library., n.d.  Web. Feb. 20, 2012.





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