LiteraryAllusions of the Lost Bird and American Indianess in “The SearchEngine”
Alexie`sliterary works evaluate the themes of poverty, despondency,alcoholism, belonging, identity, and violence and the way theseelements influence the lives of Native American Indian inreservations, as well as, in other regions. Alexie’s works exploithumor and wit extensively, which helps in appealing to the readersespecially in regards to the treatment of the Indians. “The SearchEngine,” a short story by Sherman Alexie is a contemporary literarypiece, which looks into issues affecting the Indians, for instance,the identity of a Native American Indian and what it means to liveliving in the reservation (Berglund and Roush 11). As such, the storyconcerns with how the Native American Indian is powerless andhelpless in the present day American society. The story developsaround Corliss, a nineteen-year old second-year at WashingtonUniversity. From the onset, Alexie generates a dichotomy between themodest but serious bookworm, Corliss (an Indian) and the whitebookish poser who restate renowned writers to seduce women. ForCorliss, literature is a powerful tool, for example, Alexie writes,“The huge number of books confirmed how much magic she had beendenied for most of her life, and now she hungrily wanted to readevery book on the self,” (2). On the other hand, Corliss judgespeople based on their physical appearance and uses her ethnicity as away to attain favors, support, and scholarship. Alexie depicts her as“a resourceful thief, a narcissistic Robin Hood who stole a richeducation from white people,” but supports her actions. Thus, it isimperative to unpack and critically address two literary allusions,the lost bird and American Indianess to describe how they contributeto the progress of Corliss’ character.
Primaryto any Native Indian community is the issue of belonging. However,the novel regime of legislations endorsed by the federal governmentobligates Indian tribes to codify community affiliation requirementssuch that the society transforms the Native community into apolitical embodiment or tribe that is in essence foreign to theperceptions of the Indian community. As a result, the societyrelegates the Native American Indians who before such legislationdetermined communal membership via informal community norms and rulesto abiding by rigid and formal, citizenship or membershipstipulations decided by lineage, blood quantum and a legaldocumentation processes (Dix 63). Hence, they have steadilyacknowledged their loss of self-sufficiency, as Corliss implicationof Indians as complicit in their personal and economic penurydepicts. In the short story, the society excludes people without asense of communal affiliation. Contemporary American legislationabounds with anecdotes concerning full blood American Native Indianswith grandparents from four unlike tribes who happen not to meet themembership criteria of any of the four tribes. The story revolvesaround Indian’s societies eviscerated or terminated by the Americanhistory, part of a homeless or absent ancestral community or Indianstaken up out of the communities in reservations into far-flungnon-Indian family units and forever kept away from their originalcommunities.
“TheSearch Engine” is in essence describing the latter, a “lostindividual,” as Corliss Joseph exhibits. Harlan Atwater, who Alexiedescribes as the poet-writing hero of Corliss, authored poetry duringthe 1970s as a way to reach out to his Native American Indians. Assuch, this aspect of searching for one’s Indianess resonates widelyin the allusions used in the narrative. The short story’s maincharacter and narrator use numerous allusions relative torediscovering what it entails to be a Native American Indian. “Istarted writing poems to feel like I belonged,” Harlan said, “tofeel more Indian. And I started imagining what it felt like to growup on the reservation, to grow up like an Indian is supposed to growup.,” (Berglund and Roush 22).” Nevertheless, as an Indianadopted out of his tribe and placed with a white family in an urbanarea, he would never know. For Harlan, “The two finest, the twomost loyal and honorable individuals in life are his EuropeanAmerican mother and father,” (Berglund and Roush 24).” In thenarrative, Harlan provides that he stopped writing poetry because,“No matter what I write, a bunch of other Indians will hate itbecause it isn’t Indian enough, and a bunch of white people willlike it because it’s Indian (Alexie 41).” In the closing scene,he asks, “what kind of Indian does that make me?” On thecontrary, the main character, Corliss, grew up in the reservation andas such is part of the Indian community, but does not overly align tothe Indian identity. She is in a position to regularly speak andvisit her residence in the reservation. “She knew the name of hertribe and the name of her archaic clan, and her public Indian name,and her secret Indian name,” (Berglund & Roush 26).” Corlissknows that authenticity and justification have infatuated the Indiansas they form their individuality by inquiring about the identities ofother Indians.
Shehas a sense of belonging and understanding of who she is to theNative American people and identity (Fletcher 1). However, she has astrong feeling of being outof place not only as a poet, but also as a student studying in anoutsider school, reading foreign literature and more so, learning themannerisms of outsiders. Alexie illustrates objectively Corliss’lack of obsession with authenticity like other Indians. Stories ofhow the priests abused her relativesinflame her uncles’criticisms of her indulgence in reading books by priests of theCatholic Church(Berglund and Roush 31).A narrative based on the history of the Michigan Anishinaabe peopleconcerning Leopold Pokagon illustrates extensively the life ofCorliss. Leopold grew up among Northern Lower Michigan Ottawacommunities and upon moving to another similar Michigan Anishinaabecommunity, which was normal during those times, went to reside withhis spouse(Berglund and Roush 19).Looking at it from a political perspective and the issue of bloodlineage, Leopold was in essence an Ottawa Indian and as such,southwestern Michigan community of the Potawatomi and northern Indianaccepted him, even accepted him. Leopold grew to become a formidableleader and played the role of head negotiator at the time of the 1833Treaty of Chicago(Berglund and Roush 20).These negotiations were significant to the Pokagon Band of PotawatomiIndians.
Indiancommunity association practices permitted foreigners to becomemembers, presumptuous that they knew their relatives’ lineage andmet the prescribed social criteria. The community could embrace andaccept these foreigners, who were in most instances blood relatives.In comparison to previous political associations such as Leopold’sto contemporary tribal citizenship practices and law, this was adifferent case. The US government, as a common matter, forced,codified, and formalized citizenship criteria like blood lineage,along some rather arbitrary boundaries(Fletcher 1).Leopold, an Ottawa or Chippewa Indian had a 100% non-Potawatomi blood(Berglund and Roush 32).Therefore, he could never become a part of the Pokagon Bandconcerning its present constitutional criteria for membership. Theconventional means for belonging and citizenship led to the novel,arbitrary and formal applications laws.
HarlanAtwater’s narrative as a lost bird and Corliss Joseph’s narrativeas a student studying with non-Indians, regards queries of tribalcommunity associations in the present era as an intricate questionthan tribal citizenship laws allow. It is clear that the characterHarlan would have the ability to re-establish his politicalconnection with the contemporary Spokane Tribe, though this is alimited perception of the entire story. Harlan’s expulsion from thereservation is absolute as he cannot grow up there and he cannot everlearn to comprehend what it entails to be a reservation raisedSpokane Indian (Fletcher 1). He attempts to comprehend thisparticular meaning through poetry, but he happens to stop when hecomprehends that this is an impossible quest. Even in the case wherehe has the opportunity to move back into the community, he cannotcompare the situation to the experiences he could have had whilegrowing up there. On the other hand, Corliss spent her childhoodyears in the reservation and will always retain that foundation ofexperience and inner knowledge regardless of the years spent awayfrom her Indian community (Berglund and Roush 19). Alexie’snarrative underscores this distinction and as such, points out abasic disconnect between tribal laws of political association, tribalcustoms and the traditions of political/family/community affiliation.The American Indian laws identify belonging and identity as elementsof basic and innate power of tribal associations (Fletcher 1).However, the American Indian policy develops in a way that tribeshave yet to respond to detachments between the communities and theimposed codifications of what belonging entails (Berglund &Roush, 2011). It is important to point out that tribal laws have thepotential to address this issue.
Inthe narrative “The Search Engine,” Alexie provides that, “peopleneed to answer ancient questions with ancient ceremonies.” Theso-called ancient questions concern with political relationships,leadership, religion, government, and punishment. The oldnarratives, considering that the Indian people and tribaladministrations pay attention, can play a significant role inanswering the questions challenging Corliss. As such, the maincharacter’s quest to find a sense of belonging and regain back herIndianess comes out as the main allusions of the narrative.
Alexie,Sherman. The Search Engine. In TenLittle Indians: Stories.Grove Press, 2004. Print.
Berglund,Jeff, and Jan Roush, eds. ShermanAlexie: A collection of critical essays.University of Utah Press, 2011. Print.
Dix,Andrew. "Racial exchanges in fiction by Sherman." AmericanFiction of the 1990s: Reflections of History and Culture (2016):63. Print.
Fletcher,Matthew LM. "Looking to the east: The stories of modern Indianpeople and the development of tribal law." SeattleJournal of Social Justice. 5(2006): 1. Print.