Staying True To Self: Examining The Elements Which Hinder Assimilation In Sherman Alexie’s Reservation Blues And Tyehimba Jess’ Leadbelly

2546 words - 10 pages

Assimilation by any standard is conversion. A type of conversion into another’s culture with new beliefs, morals, and traditions that changes an individual. Forced or willingly done, this act of assimilation is a loss of a person’s identity within his/or her own culture, whether he/or she is African, Native American, Chinese or Latino. However, who says that one must fully assimilate into another culture, taking on another’s entire way of living and committing to those beliefs, ridding oneself of one’s own heritage? In Lee Schweninger’s essay, “Back when I used to be Indian: Native American Authenticity and Postcolonial Discourse,” he acknowledges “the importance of tribal identity, an identity maintained despite and separate from those dominate impositions” (77). Therefore, while an individual might seek to become a part of another society, transforming his/her life to fit the mold of another’s, s/he always continues to hold elements of his/her own cultural and historical identity. Gloria Anzaldua, in her postcolonial text, Borderlands/ La Frontera: The New Mestiza, explores the idea that, “Because the future depends on the breaking down of two paradigms, it depends on the straddling of two or more cultures” (1852). Completely conforming to one culture and its dominating morals, beliefs, and traditions is not easily done by those of different nationalities and heritage. Like Anzaldua writes, the “straddling of two or more cultures” is the reality of many situations (1852). Therefore living between the two, accepting some aspects but holding on to others, brings balance in the lives of those caught in the middle. Anzaldua argues that if an individual changes the way they view their reality then they create a new consciousness, moreover understanding that one does not fully have to assimilate into another culture but rather can coexist, still hanging close to their true heritage (1852). Never can one fully escape the captivity of their heritage. But rather they hold onto pieces of their culture through daily activities, hobbies, or simple interactions, restraining them from ever completely adapting into another’s culture. With the use of critical arguments from Frederic Nietzsche, Deborah L. Madsen, and Gloria Anzaldua, this thesis will prove that the characters within the works of Sherman Alexie’s Reservation Blues and Tyehimba Jess’ Leadbelly can never fully assimilate into the dominate culture due to driving elements such as storytelling and dreaming which heavily impact their individual lives, promoting acceptance of their own heritage and cultural identity over that of the oppressive dominating society.
Frederic Nietzsche’s ideas of the Apollonian and Dionysus helps explore the power of dreaming and the reality it forces one to confront within them as they battle with the thought of assimilation. The existence of the two ideas is contrasting in characteristic, but they don’t merely fight each other; they need each other to exist. The...

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