Does the play suggest that Native people can’t escape the stereotypes constructed by the dominant culture? What aspects of the text suggest that there is no escape? Conversely, what aspects of the text suggest that there is an escape?
In Dead White Writer on the floor, the author’s perspective in presenting the indigenous characters suggests that Native people cannot escape the stereotypes constructed by a dominant culture. The dominant culture in this case is represented by the conventional European-American influence across continental American and implications of its permeation across a region formally occupied First Nation peoples. Precisely, the decision to begin Act One with six stereotypical “savages” locked in a room with the body of a dead white writer is a clear indication that none of them can escape their modern-day reality (Taylor). None of the subjects is certain of how to approach this contemporary challenge that seems to trail them on a continual basis, but seem aware it may be as a consequence of a changing environment, especially after losing control to an emerging dominant culture.
What, if any, agency do our characters have? You can consider any number of characters; you can also choose to focus on one act or on the play in its entirety.
The six Indian characters who initially find themselves locked in a room with the dead body of a white writer play a central role in driving the plot and its direction. After a short deliberation, a unanimous decision is made to hide the body in a closet to avoid detection or being accused of orchestrating the grievous murder of a white man (Taylor). What follows is an engaging discourse, exploring the character’s hopes and aspirations from a new angle of self-actualization. For instance, Billy Jack is preoccupied with the ever-present thought of how it would feel to spread healing rather than pain. This is an obvious sign of changing times and perspectives, where individuals formerly labeled “blood-thirsty savages” make every effort for reconciliation with former adversaries to improve affairs. Similarly, Injun Joe is desperate in his quest for an education. His agency is in the idea that Indians too long for self-improvement through modern-education, contrary to the prevailing stereotype of Indians as a non-cooperative folks who would rather stick to a traditional way of life rather than engage with other groups of people to adopt new perspectives in life.
Are the characters equal in their stereotyped identities? Or is one character’s image in the dominant culture more positive/negative/damaging/limiting than others’?
Although all six characters presented in the play represent stereotyped identities of Aboriginal Indians in the Americas, images of Billy Jack, Injun Joe, and Tonto stand out as more negative, damaging, and limiting in the face of a dominant culture. Billy Jack’s struggle for a sense identity as a “half breed” causes him great distress as he fights to fit in within a highly indifferent society. Although he displays a penchant for justice and is logical in his decision-making, he is stereotyped as a violent Indian who only aspires to find resolution to any issue of concern by exerting force and damaging to his reputation (Pizzato).
On the other hand, Injun Joe is presented as the archetypal representation of an alcoholic Indian who has all but given up on life and has no plan for the future. He fits the negative stereotype espoused by the dominant culture of Indians as perennial drinkers living in government-run reservations and dependent on a national welfare system. This stereotype is further instigated by his aggression, especially towards outsiders he doesn’t trust. Similarly, Tonto is viewed as the embodiment of the “noble savage” amongst members of the dominant culture. He represents the faithful companion who was is also highly motivated by the idea of succeeding in life and being equated to his contemporaries from the dominant culture. This presentation is damaging to Tonto’s true character since it presents a warped view of Native Americans and their sense of identity in a culture experiencing rapid societal change.
Consider the challenges faced in putting on this play, paying special attention to audience and the knowledge needed to recognize the play’s social critique.
The primary challenge in faced in putting on this play as a thought-provoking commentary on the depiction of Aboriginal peoples in North America was getting the audience to a point of reflection. This presentation prompts self-evaluation among readers with direct regard to their assumptions and bias about the nature and mannerisms of American Indians. The contemporary American Indian stereotypes introduced by six of the characters create an honest evaluation of typical prejudices prevalent today and how they are ultimately entrenched in our psyche (Cox, et al. 65). By so doing, the author challenges the preconception of Indians as alcoholics with troubled family relationships and only bickering about their situation but still being indecisive.
Dead White Writer’s author is Anishinaabe and the play is set in Canada, yet the play’s characters (at least 6 of them) are American. What do these facts suggest to us about North America’s understanding of Indians, Indian-ness, and their image in Anglo North Ameripean culture?
A notable fact about the play is that, although set in Canada, the characters are American and a reflection of warped North American views of Native Americans. The image of the American Indian as a noble warrior has all but disappeared in the collective consciousness of the Anglo North Ameripean culture. All that remains is a stereotypical view of First Nation peoples, today regarded by many as only a shadow of their former selves. For instance, Injun Joe is deeply frustrated with life in this new construct, especially as a former tribal warrior, and resorts to excessive drinking of alcohol. This is a reflection of a reality that many Native Americans still grapple with when trying to fit in contemporary society. According to the American Addiction Centers (AAC), 54.3% of Native Americans abuse alcohol and is significantly higher than the rate among other ethnic groups (American Addiction Centers). The facts presented in the play, therefore, suggest that North America still has a long way to go and needs to go beyond society’s stereotypical view of Amerindians.
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