Native American Culture and Identity in Sherman Alexie's "Smoke Signals" and "The Business of Fancydancing"

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2010

15 Pages, Grade: 2,3


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Post-colonial Concepts
2.1 Hybridity
2.2 History
2.3 The Other

3. Smoke Signals
3.1 Geronimo
3.2 Retelling History
3.3 Religion

4. The Business of Fancydancing
4.1 Giving Blood
4.2 Polatkin
4.3 High School Test

5. Conclusion

Works Cited

1. Introduction

Post-colonial literature is still present nowadays. Native Americans are living in the modern America but also in their own culture. Sherman Alexie has made notable movies about Native Americans living in modern North America. As a Native American by himself these movies might offer a new perspective on colonized people. Obviously, the field of post-colonialism is closely connected to his movies as the Native Americans have to deal with their history. There is no doubt that Native Americans possess an own identity and an own culture which is mixed up on their native and the non-native identity – a hybrid identity. In the following I will firstly introduce an election of important theorists of post-colonial studies and explain the key concepts that are vital for the upcoming analysis of the movies Smoke Signals and The Business of Fancydancing. After this I will have a closer look to selected scenes of both movies in order to detect indications of hybridity. To what extend are Native Americans coined by the Americanization and to what extent are the Native Americans keeping their own and independent culture or is it indistinguishable from the culture of their colonizers? I will try to expose the different cultural characteristics of indigenous identity, how these cultural traits are presented and if they give indication for their cultural identity. Is the primeval culture of the constellation of generation declined? In this paper I will give an answer to the question in what way this hybridity is reflected. What effect has hybridity on the perception of history?

Beside the literature that was helpful for my paper there exist far more authors dealing with post-colonial studies that should be taken into account. The following excerpt does not claim to be exhaustive but serves to give an overview about the current state of research. A notable work is that of Frantz Fanon (“Black Skin, White Masks”, 1967) dealing with the identity of black people. His main focus lies on the search for black identity, the struggle against colonialism and the process of decolonization. Fanon states that “[t]he fantasy of the native is precisely to occupy the master's place while keeping his place in the slave's avenging anger” (Childs, Weber, Williams 74). Fanon analyzed the development and effect of an alienated self-perception of the colonized people and in what way colonized people react on oppression and racism and how they can resist. As the culture of the colonizers is to be considered as generally valid, he states that the black people have to wear a “white mask” to get accepted in the world of the colonizers. This leads to a divided sense of the self-identity (Ashcroft, Griffith, Tiffin 2000, 91).

With his work Orientalism (1978) Edward Said published an analysis of stereotypes and colonial assumptions that are belonging to western representations of the Orient. He states that the Orient has been, and still is, a construct of the European thinking. The Orient is to be seen as the occident's other (Bhabha 87f). Orientalism is a western imagination made by Europeans of the East (Döring 54)

Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak asks in her most famous essay 'Can the Subaltern Speak?' (1988) whether post-colonial studies can help to give a voice to oppressed people (Wisker 206). The term 'subaltern' is used by Antonio Gramsci, an Italian philosopher and thinker within the Marxist tradition, and describes groups in a society that are “subject[ed] to the control of ruling classes” (Wisker 206), e.g. oppressed people. In view of the superior system of power the subaltern are speechless, their attempts to give a voice to their wants and needs remain unheard. Furthermore, she points out that everyone who has reached an adequate education and literacy is exactly for this reason unsuitable for speaking for the people he wants to represent (Wisker 206f).

Another important theorist is Homi K. Bhabha whose important work “The location of Culture” (1994) introduces and treats the terms 'hybridity', 'mimicry' and 'Third Space'. As Edward Said and Gayathri Spivak, Bhabha does not understand the “post” as an end of colonization, but as it continues to have an effect on identity and cultures of the present.

2. Post-colonial Concepts

In the following I will give explanations for some key concepts of post-colonial theory in order to use them as a basis for the subsequent film analysis.

2.1 Hybridity

One of the most recurring models in post-colonial theory is that of Hybridity. The term hybrid means “something heterogeneous in origin or composition”, “something that has two different types of components performing essentially the same function” or “a person whose background is a blend of two diverse cultures or traditions” (

In the context of Post-Colonialism, hybridity means the creation of new transcultural forms produced by the colonization. These forms not only occur in the field of culture, but also in a linguistic, political or racial frame . The mixture of two cultures leads to a blend. A mixture of two languages for example is called a pidgin or creole language. This process in which colonized people imitate the culture of their colonizers is called mimicry and is connected to hybridity. According to Homi K. Bhabha, “Mimicry reveals something in so far as it is distinct from what might be called an itself that is behind. The effect of mimicry is camouflage” (121).

Bhabha is one of the most significant theorist for this concept. For him, hybridity is not only a mixture of two forms leading to a third and new form, but this construction of cultural systems and statements is creating a Third Space in which completely other positions are able to come up. The identity of colonized people has been shaped not only by their own culture, history and community, but also by that of the colonizers. “It is the 'in-between' space that carries the burden and meaning of culture, and this is what makes the notion of hybridity so important.” (Ashcroft, Griffith, Tiffin 2000, 109).


Excerpt out of 15 pages


Native American Culture and Identity in Sherman Alexie's "Smoke Signals" and "The Business of Fancydancing"
University of Münster
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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Film, Sherman Alexie, Native Americans, Smoke SIgnals, The Business of FancyDancing, Culture, Identity, Kultur, Identität, Said, Bhabha, Hybridity
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Kerstin Schulze (Author), 2010, Native American Culture and Identity in Sherman Alexie's "Smoke Signals" and "The Business of Fancydancing", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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