Your assignment is to prepare and submit a paper on otherness. The domination of Native Americans by European settlers, relegated them to no longer be masters of their identity. In films and books they were portrayed as savage and ignorant. They met the typical definition of the other in that in the eyes of the dominant group they lacked some “essential quality” (The Other, 2010). This othering of a group within society has very negative consequences. It is well illustrated in Sherman Alexie’s story “This Is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona.” This stpry shows readers about life on a reservation. Identity is at its heart. especially the tension between an identity you make for yourself and one that is given to you by someone more powerful. Alexie’s story tells the reader a great deal about what life can be like for Native Americans. It shows the serious social conditions on reservations and the breakdown of family relations due to substance abuse and other problems. The truth is that many Native Americans today live in the shadow of a trauma that was done to them many years ago. We have to have a sense of history if we are to understand people like Victor or Thomas Builds the Fire. These are men who are placed outside of society and whose sense of self is shaped not by their own dreams and ambitions but by a relentless effort to define them as others, as not full citizens. It is no wonder that faced with this kind of onslaught so many Native Americans struggle with substance abuse problems. The fact that much of the plot of this story takes place on a reservation is key. The Natives have been separated from the rest of society. They live on their small plots of lands with their own rules. They are not assimilated. In fact, few people know much about them. They are, in a sense, outside of history. History plays a major role in defining identities. What Alexie manages to show us, however, is how the characters in his story are more than blank canvasses or merely Other—they are real live human beings, facing their own struggles to shape their own place in the world. They are, for example, still able to forgive one another, as Thomas Builds the Fire is willing to forgive Victor. Thomas is passionate about storytelling—to him it is a ways to find his own place in the world and take some control over his circumstances. This is how a group defined as Others does its best to fight back—by telling its own stories about itself. In this story, it is Thomas who is ostracized on the reservation. Alexie represents otherness through the treatment of Thomas by the band. Anyone who is seen to have an imagination is considered to be different. Thomas tells the “same damn story over and over again” (Alexie, 62), and for this reason in part is seen to be different. When he breaks his leg, he is hated, for being imaginative enough to embrace his dream, even if only for a moment. This is how otherness is represented. Alexie’s perspective on otherness is surely a part of his own personal experiences growing up as an Indian in America. He grew up on a Washington reservation as part of a marginalized community. On top of that, he had a childhood disease which marked him out as different (Konigsberg). These things certainly shaped his relationships with others. He must have felt like an outsider looking in, a victim of other peoples’ preconceptions about him. It is useful to teach our children about these kinds of issues because they crop up everywhere in society. However, the discussion can be a little complex.


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