Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Smoke Signals

If you’re considering writing about Smoke Signals, you may want to think about some of the following and consider how you might put some of these ideas together to make a coherent argument about what the movie suggests about America, about fathers and sons, about friendship, about journeys, and so forth.  I’ve broadly grouped thoughts here, but you could easily link quotations from different groups.  For example, the thoughts on “Learning to be an Indian” might tie into the section on “Fathers/Fatherlessness.” 

              House fire—Fourth of July party (fireworks)
              Thomas Build-the-Fire
              Thomas’s opening voice over: “You know, there are some children who aren’t really children at all.  They’re just pillars of fire that burn everything that they touch.  And there are some children who are just pillars of ash that fall apart when you touch them.  Me and Victor, we were children born of flame and ash.”
              Pheonix (city, bird reborn in flame—on rising from dead, Thomas: “Victor, I’m going to travel to Spokane Falls one last time and toss the ashes into the water.  And your father will rise like a salmon”)

              Thomas and Suzi—Arnold like a father
              Generational—roots, ancestry
              Thomas’s final voice over: (“How do we forgive our fathers?  Maybe in a dream. Do we forgive our fathers for leaving too often or forever when we were little?  Maybe for scaring us with their unexpected rage or making us nervous because there never seemed to be any rage at all?  Do we forgive our fathers for marrying or not marrying our mothers?  For divorcing or not divorcing our mothers?  And shall we forgive them for their excesses of warmth or of coldness?  Shall we forgive them for pushing or leaning?  For shutting doors?  For speaking only through layers of cloth, or never speaking, or never being silent?  Do we forgive our fathers in our or in theirs?  Or in their deaths?  Saying it to them or not saying it?  If we forgive our fathers, what is left?”)
              Bequest, inheritance, what do our fathers leave/give us?  (things both unexpected and the expected)             

              Arnold Joseph on Fourth of July: “Happy Independence Day, Victor.  You feeling independent?  I’m feeling independent.  I’m feeling extra magical today, Victor.  Like I could make anything disappear.  Houdini with braids, you know?  Wave my hand and poof!  The white people are gone, sent back to where they belong.  Poof!  Paris, London, Moscow. […] Poof!  Poof!  Poof!  Wave my hand and the reservation is gone.  The trading post and the post office, the tribal schools and the pine trees, the dogs and the cats, the drunks and the Catholics and the drunk Catholics.  Poof!  And all the little Indian boys named Victor.  […]  I’m so good, I can make myself disappear.”
              Arlene Joseph: “Yeah, your father is magic, enit?  A real Houdini, huh?  He sawed us into pieces, didn’t he?  I feel like my head is in the kitchen, my belly’s in the bathroom, and my feet are in the bedroom.”
Young Thomas: “When Indians leave, they never come back: last of the Mohicans, last of the Winnebago…”
Arlene’s magic fry bread
              Thomas’s voice over: “I don’t remember that fire.  I only have the stories.  And in every one of those stories, I could fly.”

              Thomas’s continual story telling
              Trading stories (girls in backwards-driving car, Suzi Song and Thomas)
              Suzi: “You want me to tell you the truth? Or do you want lies?”  Thomas: “I want both” (this seems to tie in to ideas in The Things They Carried)
              Incorporating other stories (e.g. the Biblical story of the loaves and fishes à Arlene and fry bread feast)

              Victor (Thomas’s grandmother: “A good name.  It means he’s going to win, enit?”)
              Joseph (Biblical—father of Jesus, Chief Joseph)
              Thomas (Biblical—doubting, )

              Cultural pictures (Thomas: “The only thing more pathetic than Indians on TV is Indians watching Indians on TV.”
After accident: “It’s like you’re the Lone Ranger and Tonto.”  Thomas: “It’s more like we’re Tonto and Tonto.”
References to John Wayne, Custer, Geronimo, etc)
              Victor’s lesson to Thomas on bus after accusing Thomas of having watched Dances With Wolves two hundred times (Victor: “You got to look mean or people won’t respect you.  You got to look like a warrior.  You got to look like you just came back from killing a buffalo.”)

              What is Victor’s journey?
              What is Thomas’s journey?
              What is the function of each in the other’s journey?

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Sherman Alexie

So far, we've read one or two Alexie poems and an Alexie essay and we've watched an Alexie interview.  Tonight, you read an Alexie story and tomorrow, we'll begin watching an Alexie film.  Had enough yet?

I think this is a great opportunity to look at how one writer explores issues by using different genres.  Alexie's voice is much different in each piece.  The two we'll look at this one make this especially clear.  On the surface, each tells the same story...but that's ONLY on the surface.  You'll notice he makes different choices in each, starting with the title and going far deeper than that.

For instance, I love that we get to hear his dialogue with the Tribal Council in the story, even though it is shorter and would seem to have more time/space limitations.  I love, too, that almost every line spoken by the Council starts with, "Now, Victor..."  I imagine that every one of us, regardless of our cultural background, knows what it means when someone says, "Now, [insert your name here]..."  The subtext is universal: we, the wiser, will instruct you, the over-reaching, on how to get back in touch with reality as we see it...."

That said, I have to acknowledge how very different the story "This is What It Means to Say Pheonix, Arizona" and the film Smoke Signals are from one another.  Part of me wants to compare and contrast, and part of me wants to separate them entirely into two pieces that need to be treated as distinct bodies.  After all, though there names remain the same, even the characters seem different (notice how Victor treats the gymnast in the story vs. the film, for example).  Much of the film draws from other stories in the collection as well as this one, but even with that in mind, I'm not sure if I want to treat the film as an adaptation of the collection or as whole new material treating a similar topic.  I'm inclined toward the latter.  I'm interested to hear what you think.

Louise Erdrich

I'm so pleased by the class's positive response to Louise Erdrich!  I was especially pleased by the things you noticed about this story.  For instance, Caitlin mentioned that both the ice that kills the men trapped in the cooler and the rainstorm/tornado all involve danger via water, which seem appropriate for Fleur, with her history of drownings and her relationship with the river demon.  It was a clever thing to notice, and I have no doubt Erdrich was thinking along precisely these lines when she was thinking about the form Fleur's retribution might take.

I promised I would upload a few book recommendations and links for those of you interested in learning more about Louise Erdrich.

I've read nearly everything she's written, and I have loved every one of them.  My two favorites so far are probably The Master Butchers Singers Club and The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse, both of which came out in the last ten years or so.  Love Medecine is among her most famous works, and it's also excellent.

Faces of America Interview with Louis Gates (four parts--each connects you with the next in the series; about 20 minutes total)
2009 Commencement Address at Dartmouth (about 20 minutes)
Democracy Now! Interview talking about her newest novel Plague of Doves (about 9 minutes)
Democracy Now! Interview talking about Leonard Peltier's conviction (less than 5 minutes)

Of these, I highly recommend the Dartmouth Commencement address.  It shows her at her most relaxed and humorous of the three.  The Faces of America interview with Henry Louise Gates is also excellent.