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Is Identity Manipulative? Analysis Of Corliss And Harlan In Alexie Sherman's Search Engine

1572 words - 7 pages

Can identity be a sharp weapon to overcome restrictions and oppression. Jose Munoz, a former perfomance studies professor at NYU argued in his article "The White to Be Angry" that identity is manipulative. According to Munoz, the manipulation of identity is called disidenticaction. Instead of rejecting society or a group whole sale, someone who disidentifies accepts some aspects of that society or group without assimilating to the dominant ideals. People, especially in minority groups, developed disdentifciation as an offensive mechanism because it allowed them to function within that group or society without becoming trapped. Munoz's theory provides a powerful analytical lens which I will use to evaluate the characters Corliss and Harlan in Alexie Sherman's Search Engine. Sherman's short story is a rich minefield to study disidentification. Corliss fights her scripted, poor life as an Indian woman because of poetry, which leads her to manipulate her identity around unusual figures such as Homer, Odyesseus and a white Jesuit priest. Harlan, on the other hand, manipulates finds his identity as Indian thorough his poetry. Books and poetry allow Corliss and Harlan to disidentify with their societal norms, and as a result, they are more aware of their and other's humanity.
1. Corliss sees herself as a white Jesuit priest because through poetry, she discovered he was a lonely old man who calls out to God for help. She feels the same loneliness because she questions white authority which says the best Indians are capable of are blue collar jobs. Her family accepts white authority and does not understand her love for poetry. Corliss alone wants to improve, which alienates her from her family and race. Poetry displayed to Corliss her connection to the white Jesuit priest Hopkins. It showed her the emotions plaguing Hopkins, and emotions which are universal. Through books and poetry, she learns everyone has their positive and negative qualities, and race was not a factor in that decision.
"Maybe Hopkins had been an Indian killer, or a supporter of Indian killers, but he'd also been a sad and lonely and lovely man who screamed to God for comfort, answers, sleep and peace. Since Corliss rarely found comfort from her family and friends, and never found it in God, but continued to want it and never stopped asking for it, then maybe she was also a Jesuit priest who found it in poetry." (pg. 14)
"How could she tell the family that she didn't belong with them, that she was destined for something larger, that she believed she was supposed to be eccentric and powerful and all alone in the world?" (pg. 14-15)
2. Corliss rejects assimilation into the Indian culture because they have assimilated into white society. She portrays Indians as helpless when they stand in line and allow the government to document their entire lives. The Indians behavior is what Munoz would call identification because the Indians are under the state's control and ideal. Nor does Corliss...

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