Sherman Alexie’s The Toughest Indian In The World is a story discussing people’s identity recognition under the backdrop of modern times. This story is more straightforward and easier to read compared to Samuel Beckett’s play Endgame. However, you would notice the air of mystery lingering around the story after reading it. I would say it’s a bit more complicated than James Baldwin’s Sonny’s Blue, considering the various symbolic expression in this story. Overall, reading The Toughest Indian In The World feels like drinking a glass of fine wine. It would give you a dizzy feeling but won’t wallop you and let you suffer from severe hangovers as vodkas do.
The leading character in this story is an Indian from the Spokane tribe. Like the Native Americans, this story is shrouded in mystery. But don’t worry. It doesn’t require any further knowledge about Indian culture to understand and appreciate this piece of work. From my perspective, this is exactly why this short story can be widely recognized as a classic. Not only does this story evoke readers to pay more attention to the Native American groups, but it also asks everyone to review their positions and identities in this crowded world. In megacities like New York, we would encounter thousands of people every day. Chances are great that most of them come from other countries with distinctly different cultural backgrounds. How do they fit into this world? How do they recognize their identities and position themselves in their surroundings? Personally, I’m always nervous about how to join my classmates no matter its group discussion or regular chats. Usually, I find myself focusing on different kinds of stuffs from my peers, which makes it hard to maintain a long-lasting relationship. In most cases, I would simply follow the mainstream and make choices that preferred by the majority, which is similar to what the narrator in this story does, even though there are several divergences between me and the majority. Even if local Americans would sometimes feel the difficulty of joining or agreeing with their colleagues or classmates.
Sherman Alexie develops this story from the first-person perspective, which means readers are fully engaged in the plot. Instead of just being an outsider who is indifferently witnessing everything, readers can experience with the narrator instead of just being an outsider. In this particular novel, the use of the first-person perspective lays a solid foundation for the surprising ending. The first-person narration indeed increases the intimacy between readers and the narrator but also confines readers’ scopes. Readers’ minds are focused on the development of the story and follow the character as the plot proceeds without knowing where exactly is the story leading them. For me, it definitely surprised me when I read the ending part of this story. Even though there are several hints that, to some extent, implicate the outcome, it still caught me off guard. I don’t want to spoil anything here. You can find out the surprise by yourself.
Another noteworthy point about The Toughest Indian In The World is the symbols it has throughout the story. As I quote from the original text, “watched the ghosts of the salmon rise from the water to the sky and become constellations”. What is the “salmon”? What is the “constellations”? Although Sherman Alexie says that “salmon” is “hope”, it shouldn’t stop you from discovering your own version of “salmon,” and how does “salmon” become “constellations”? What does the “toughest Indian” stand for? Should any character mentioned in the story be deemed as “the toughest Indian in the world”? Are there any threads and hints that lead to the surprising ending?
As you can see, the exciting part of reading this piece of work lies in discovering all these mysteries. If you find out your answers to these mazes, please don’t hesitate to share it with your classmates. You may be amazed by how many different versions of interpretation you can find with your peers.