A lot of people are always in the struggle to find identity in life. The process of searching for identity takes many forms. One has to be very careful not to make a mistake when looking for identity in life as this may affect one’s prosperity in the future. Identity is important for a person as it builds his/ her self esteem. It is one of the psychological needs of belonging somewhere. Without identity, one is never complete therefore, one has to struggle in order at least to look for good identity in life. Search for identity takes the forms of searching for cultural identity, family identity and class identity (Pippin and Robert 220).
In his novel Indian Killer, Sherman Alexis addresses the issue of search for identity in life. He uses two characters to bring out the theme of searching for identity, namely John Smith and Marie. The two are biologically Indians, but they do not regard themselves as real Indians. This is the case because they do not know much about the Indian culture. Therefore, deep in their hearts, they are struggling to find identity. This paper discusses the novel in detail. It analyzes how the two tried to look for identity in their lives. Based on the case of John Smith and Marie, the essay also touches the question of advantages and disadvantages of the reservation as well as that of changing culture.
Indian Killer tells the reader the story of John. He is a twenty-seven-year-old Indian man born to white parents. John is constantly suffering from a mental illness. The author gives this character a sense of justice through imagined brutal kidnapping, immediately after his birth. This kidnapping is shown as a form of military precision. This is the myth with which Smith tends to torment himself from his early childhood. He uses this as a way to explain how he did end up being with his white parents.
Although John’s parents, Olivia and Daniel Smith, are kind, their efforts to build a good Indian identity in their son finished with adding more torments to John’s life. The man struggles in his attempt to identify himself with a given tribe. Nevertheless, he does not know which tribe is his and this provides the character with unclear mix of various cultural influences. Olivia and Daniel Smith have to read different storybooks related to Indian cultures; they teach son Indian words in various languages which are spoken in India and which they can find in books, documentaries and western movies. Moreover, the parents take John to various Indian sports competitions in order to give him identity. They make a further step and ensure John that being a baby, he was baptized by an Indian Jesuit priest known as Spokane, and this man is supposed to influence the hero in a great way. This makes John develop a sort of confusion in relation to the idea of being an Indian. From a very tender age, John gets the sense that he belongs neither to the world of his white parent who adopted him nor the other world - of his birth mother who is not known to him (Sartre 46).
At different points in the book, John tends to imagine what type of life he would have if he lived in reservations, where he would have an Indian family which is loving and caring. This is a clear indication that John has an idealized mental picture of a strong, vibrant and supportive cultural community in which everyone is happy, healthy and valued.
His struggle to find identity among various groups of people makes him develop some sort of affiliation to one of them with which he can identify himself at different occasions. When he is with white people, he call himself a Sioux Indian, which is a representation of the image that white people have in their mind when they imagine Indian cultures. On the other hand, he calls himself a Navajo Indian when he is with other Indians, as this group of Indians tends to be viewed with much respect. His attempts to be associated with Indians are seen when he tries to be close to the student activist Marie Polatkin. Nevertheless, his weak and untrue identity prevents them from being very close to each other. The hero’s search for identity leads to him being disconnected from his adopted family as well as from those people he works with in the construction site.
Marie is another character who struggles in her search for identity. She is an undergraduate student who challenges her professor because of the choices she makes in relation to various novels. Marie tries to find her identity because after growing in one of the Indian reservations known as Spokane, at a tender age, she was isolated from her peers. In her childhood, Marie was a bright girl since at the age of three she could already read. The girl is hard-working and she has achieved a lot in her study, but this denied an opportunity of learning her tribal traditional culture as other children did (Owens 45). She does not speak her mother tongue. She can not keep easy banter and does not know the customs of her Indian community. Being at university, Marie perceives herself as an outcast of her tribe.
Marie is in the struggle for her identity in life. The girl lost her identity when she was separated from her tribe’s traditions by education. This makes her have low self esteem. The heroine feels that she has no connection with her Indian community that is why she undergoes the same struggle of searching for an identity as John.
A reservation is a place where Indians used to live during the colonial era. John clearly shows the reader the use some of the advantages of a reservation as well as its disadvantages. One of the great things about a reservation is that there is love in the people who live there. John imagines that if he was in a reservation he would live in a loving family. This is a clear sign that John admires the type of love that those in the reservation have for each other (Spanos 34). Secondly, people in the reservation live a healthy life and support each other.
Thirdly, it seems that happiness reigns in the reservation since everyone is valued. The last factor is very important to John; he admires the life in the reservation and longs to be a part of it. People in the reservation tend to support and help each other, thus making every member of the community feel that he/ she is important. Finally, a person in the reservation has identity. When speaking about the reservation, John imagines a strong and lively cultural context.
On the other hand, Marie brings to the reader the picture of changing a culture. As it was mentioned above, her education makes the girl get engrossed in another culture. Although, along with disadvantages of this changing a culture, there are some pluses. One of them is a possibility to access formal education. Marie is able to receive education after being alienated from her Indian traditions. Secondly, one gets a chance to interact with people from different parts of the world and learn about new cultures. Studying at university is very important to Marie and the girl can be proud of her academic achievements. She also meets a lot of new people at university with whom she exchanges ideas relating to the issues that affect their societies (Silko 234).
At the same time, changing one’s culture has some disadvantages. One of them is that a person becomes an outcast in his or her community. Marie is an outcast of her tribe, and this disturbs her very much while she is at university. Secondly, one lacks identity in life. Marie has to struggle in her search for identity as she was alienated from the native culture at a very tender age. Finally, a change of culture makes one a slave of the foreign culture. A person loses his/ her self esteem due to a change of culture, as it is the case of Marie.
In conclusion, identity is an important part of a person’s life. Through the two characters John and Marie, the author of the book Indian Killer has shown what a vital role having a sense of identity plays in life. It is not easy to find one’s identity since a person has to undergo various pains and struggles on this way. Nevertheless, it is a personal matter of an individual to ensure he or she has identity. On the other hand, to build one’s self esteem is impossible without the sense of identity. One should expect a tough journey in the quest for identity, but if a person has a deep desire to understand himself or herself as a part of some community, this journey has all chances to be a happy one.