A Search for Justice
Zits’s many “awakenings” throughout Sherman Alexie’s Flight help him see the world through a new lens with each body and time he inhabits. In each of these bodies, he learns a little bit more about the way the world is unfair to everyone, rather than just him and the other homeless and drunk Indians. When Zits inhabits the mute Indian boy, he sees how justice often gets warped depending on the context, especially when he compares it to his previous awakenings as Hank Storm, the supposed poster-man for justice. Zits initially sees justice as revenge, but through each awakening, he quickly realizes that justice has a different definition from each perspective it is examined and is unsuccessful in his search because there is no clear meaning of justice or fine line between good and evil people.
Zits initially thinks the entire world is an injustice to him and his people and questions whether true justice even exists. However, when he meets Justice the character, Justice convinces him that by seeking revenge, he can bring justice to himself and his people. Zits’ initial understanding of justice is essentially that there is a set amount of it in the world and that perhaps by doing something evil to avenge the injustices brought upon him, he can balance out the justice that non-Indians get versus the lack of justice that Indians have. He believes that be creating violence and wreaking havoc, he can be successful in his search for justice. Zits fails to empathize with other people and sees them all as perfect beings with little to no problems. His understanding of justice at the beginning of the novel is very primitive: he believes that justice is completely black and white and that good people are only good and that evil people are only evil.
However, through each awakening, Zits realizes the danger of a single story and that nothing and nobody is as uncomplicated as he used to believe. When Zits becomes Hank, he originally sees Hank just as a cruel murderer. However, he realizes that Hank is also a father, a husband, a faithful friend, and probably a hundred other things. Similarly, he realizes when he becomes the Indian boy that they were not just an indigenous people being destroyed by the white people. He realized that Indians, too, were not only the good people being ravaged by the bad people. Zits realizes that each person is as complicated as he is, and with that, justice cannot be as simple as revenge. He realizes in Gus that what may seem evil to one body of people may seem like the most brave and awe-inspiring acts another body of people has ever seen. In his father, he realizes that his father was not just a traitor: his father was abused and worried and afraid of becoming like his own father. Through the awakenings, Zits understands that whether something can be considered a justice or an injustice changes with each story he looks through.
In the end, Zits understands the black versus white definition of justice does not exist. He does also realize that justice is not at all like his initial imagination of it was. He doesn’t fully understand justice other than the fact that shooting up all the innocent people in the bank will definitely not provide him with a sense of fulfillment, vengeance, or whatever other feelings he associates with justice. He gives up his guns because he knows that violence is not the answer, and even though good versus evil is a blurred line, that this act does not constitute a good act, no matter what perspective he or other people might try to empathize with. His search for justice isn’t completely successful because he still doesn’t seem to understand what it means. However, in his search, he learns how complex everything is, even things that seem very simple, like his father leaving him. His search helps him learn to empathize with other people and that everybody has many different stories and worries and pains and that the world is not just trying to tear him down.
Zits, just like Hank and the Indian boy and Gus and his father, is a hundred different people. Zits is not just an Indian experiencing perceived injustice; he is a son, a pimply teenager, a know-it-all, troubled, sassy, etc. However, Zits trapped himself initially in his hate for the world and how unfairly it treated him, resulting in him only being able to see through one perspective. By going through his awakenings, Zits realizes how many different people he is and how justice cannot be achieved simultaneously for every one of those 100 different people he is. Although Zits never seems to truly succeed in finding what justice is, he learns what justice is not, and he learns how complicated justice really gets, since each person is so unique and different.
Resurfacing in Sherman Alexie’s Flight
2007 American literature novel, Flight, is the story of a foster kid with zero hope, however Sherman Alexie’s (Spokane/Coeur d’Alene) unique approach makes it anything but an ordinary bildungsroman. Unlike in a conventional coming of age novel where readers witness the protagonist gaining maturity with difficulty, time traveling forces readers to question their own prejudices and fundamentals to realize what is important. First person protagonist narrator Zits was birthed as a half-breed Native American, yet believes he has no race, no home, no family, which he considers are the main components of someone’s identity. Zits is sent time traveling to learn of Indian settlements in contemporary America, historically reliable thanks to Alexie’s understanding of life on a reservation due to being raised on one (Spokane/ Coeur d’Alene). Zits fails to realize in the moment that his travel education will shape him into a new person, or for a matter of fact, the person who he was inside all along. Zits transforms not only externally by getting rid of his acne that gave him his name, but he also emerges from the time travels independent of who he was on page one. His time-treks bring Zits into contact with violence from people of mulitple skin colors, into how such anger is stemmed from misconceptions of people, and further into how Zits has been wrongly identifying the people around him, as well as himself. The ability to see conflicts from both sides- American and Indian- opens the door to the idea that no one is defined by their cultural identity, but moreover by their actions and behavior during their life. This shows that there is not such a big difference between Indians and Americans, which is crucial for Zits to determine what type of life he is going to live.
Flight is a narrative with a community of different voices, each of whom embodies a different representation of the past that Zits initially lacks accurate knowledge of. The first authentic account takes place in the mid- 1970s, where Zits is in the white body of a FBI agent on the Red River Indian Reservation. Since Alexie selectively chose historical occasions that would sound familiar to the reader, it would not be out of the ordinary for him or her to link the first encounter with the infamous battle between IRON, the Indigenous Rights Now! Movement, and HAMMER, the traitor tribal government officials who later teamed with the FBI. In this section, Zits acts as Hank Storm and witnesses his fellow agent’s racist attitude towards Indians: “I wish Custer would have killed a few more of these damn tepee creepers” (43). Zits is confused to see that his partners are friendly with Elk and Horse, two Indians supposedly part of IRON. These two pull an Indian named Junior out of the trunk of their car and long story short, Hank Storm’s partner shoots Junior without blinking when the captive refuses to speak. What is significant about this scene is that Zits does not witness the death of Junior without taking a hit himself. The white man wants to leave the dead body out to rot, while Elk advocates the morally right action that he was taught: “He’s a traditionalist… his soul won’t get to Heaven if we don’t bury him the Indian way” (52). Basically, Elk and Horse torture and kill Junior and then moments later give him a just burial. Zits learns how closely related violence and compassion are, but is bewildered by it. It is normal for the narrator to feel nauseous from watching someone die, yet it is a sign of maturation in his journey that he pinpoints how unnecessary violence is even though it is still carried out by many. It is interesting to see both Native and white sides shine through Zits in this scene, as he watches Native burial culture while feeling the guilt of a white man after a killing an Indian. Zits is the role of good and evil- of compassion and violence- attaining the guilt necessary for understanding where racial inconsistencies accrue from, and diminishing the gap of the us versus them scenario which has been restraining him form identifying himself.
Zits learns of the violence capable of all people, but time traveling dives deeper into this concept by suggesting that misconceptions are often the cause. To say that Zits is the average teenager would be unfair, given his divided struggle between Native ethnology and the unsympathetic white world. His Irish mother died when he was young, his Indian father left the son before they met, and as Zits became more aware of the atmosphere he lived in, he began to actively resent the whites that constantly stereotyped him. He was stereotyped for an Indian race that he did not even believe to be his, because he linked the abandonment of is father with the abandonment of Indian identity. Given his frustration derived from mislabeling, Zits’ anger stems from misconceptions in contemporary America about Native Americans technically like him, which are prevalent throughout history. By way of illustration, one of his body-migrations is into a thirteen-year old Indian boy, presumed to be amidst Custer’s Last Stand at the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876. At the end of the battle, the Indian boy’s dad pins down a young white soldier and insists that Zits wants revenge on him and must give the white soldier what he deserves; what he deserves for rough actions of a totally different white man on the Indian boy. Generalization comes into play here as the Indian boy’s dad associates all white people as enemies. The innocent young solider did nothing directly towards the Indian boy, yet the sight of his white face inflicts the desire for revenge in the dad, causing Zits to question, “Is revenge a circle inside of a circle inside of a circle?” (77) The pressure from the dad “to be a warrior” forces Zits to face his own sentiments about revenge (78). After the distress that whites caused on Indians historically, such as the theft of perfect lands and uncanny brutality on them, Zits virtually could have taken this as an opportunity to retaliate. But no. He hesitates and the scene ends with him at a cross roads about what to do, where he eventually closes his eyes and is transported out. Alexie suggests Zits does not kill this solider for the sake of the guilt he would have. Given his life-long hatred of whites and his destructive intentions early in the novel at the bank, readers initially would have predicted Zits to have no regrets killing this guy. However, the guilt Zits endures from simply considering the murder motivates him to measure the value of revenge when solving predicaments. In the end of the novel, Alexie reevaluates how the costs of revenge outweigh its benefits and now inclined to this analysis, Zits wants to live a life unmotivated by the resentments of people before and around him- a life renouncing violence.
The final person Zits embodies is his father, at the same time as when the novel started, and it is here that time traveling proves to Zits that everyone has their own inner conflicts- everyone is not so different after all. Through the eyes of Hank, Indian boy, Gus, and Jimmy, he gets a taste of being white and being red skin, but while he is in his father’s body, everything he has learned meshes together. A homeless, alcoholic man on the streets near Seattle, Zits knows that his man blames whites for his condition. This is exemplified when he grows angrier and angrier as a kind white woman offers help to him and again when he hates fellow homeless people who do not pay any attention to him. Zits does not know who the man is exactly until seeing what is in his pocket- a picture of five-year-old Zits. Given his lifelong disgust for the man who left his mom and him at birth, he has an urge to kill the body but decides to pry information from it instead. The memory is revealed of the hospital waiting room fifteen years prior. Nervous and upset while awaiting the birth of his son, Zits’s father had an anecdote of his own in mind: when he was a young boy he was unable to satisfy his dad and therefore forced to repeat, “I ain’t worth shit” (155). This was repeated so often that he was traumatized so badly that he believed it. All he wanted was to be loved and forgiven. This in mind, while pacing the halls of the hospital, he does not feel worthy of being a father so he runs away. All Zits’s life he thought that his dad was simply shallow and did not care about Zits or his mom. In reality, he cared too much to let them suffer with having a dad who “ain’t worth shit”. Serving as a resolution to his hatred for his dad, traveling in time to this point shows Zits the potential life he could have if he does not take responsibility for the resentments he has, such as to white society and for those who have a nicer complexion than him. Zits applies his newly obtained perspective in the concluding chapters of the novel.
This novel is a pleading model that we are all the same people- no matter what color skin, we are all capable of violence, we are all capable of forgiveness. Being able to understand his dad’s thoughts allows him to forgive and relate that everyone has resentments of their own, so the results of those should not be what defines a person. Instead, it should be how people handle those that determine the type of person someone is. Zits takes this to heart, as seen within the walls of his final foster house. The whole novel has the narrator identifying himself by the surface as “Zits,” a red face with much shame attached to it. In a smile-jerking scene, Zits’s newest foster mom, Officer Dave’s loving sister-in-law, teaches him about face-clearing products and when she promises that he will have clear skin, he cries. With this, he introduces his new desire to be called his real name, Michael. Having an acne-free face in the positive atmosphere of warm parents, a new beginning is underway, both literally and symbolically. Now able to look at people and not feeling the need to hold grudges for things out of his control, are weights off Michael’s shoulders.
Time traveling has forced Zits to confront his feelings of violence, anger, and identity and by determining that they are relatable for everyone, it is revealed that the difference between whiteness and Indianness is not as great as he- or most of contemporary America- has thought. Even after the resurfacing of a clear face, there will scars left behind, but that is okay, per Zits. Red scars represent the Indian culture from his father that he will always have and value. He is satisfied being in his white American home, but does not want to abandon his heritage, so Alexie uses Zits’s habit of thinking of his new foster mom as being Indian to reassure readers of this right away. No matter what, he is living a life of duality- he has a form of amalgamation of lessons learned from time-trekking in both white and Indian bodies. Time traveling achieves what no therapist and no single experience could. Zits, or Michael as a matter of fact, resurfaces in the end of Flight to acknowledge the people and struggles of everyone, especially his own.
Alexie, Sherman. Flight: a Novel. New York, Black Cat, 2007.
Above the Stereotypes
Sherman Alexie, author of Flight and a biracial Native American, is quoted as saying “don’t live up to your expectations.” The Native American story is one of genocide, violence, and a battle for equality that still stands in the way of many to this day. Past events in American history have shaped biases against American Indians, which continue to affect members of this ethnicity. In Sherman Alexie’s Flight, Zits uses stereotypes which have been formed by historical events and scenarios to understand and identify himself, to situate his own life within a larger history of strife.
When Europeans first began settling in the Americas, many Europeans were fearful of the darker skinned tribes, who were in turn angered by the reckless disrespect they had been shown; with attempts to lead them away from their land began “their perception of Native threat.” This expectation of violence and anger from Native Americans was “highly dependent on European perceptions of the origins and malleability of [their] presumed backwardness,” and is still present in modern society. Drawing on the perspective of Gus, an Indian hunter working with the US government, Zits remembers “When he, [Gus], came upon those slaughtered white settlers. Dead white bodies stripped naked and mutilated and ruined” (86). This gruesome imagery of violence and anger, though not fictitious, was not true of the entire Indian race, though it became a generalization expected of all. In colonial times, often “captivity narratives were offered as proof of the kind of Native barbarism that merited violence,” and white militias would go with Indian hunters, such as Gus, to search out and slaughter entire tribes.
Throughout the lifespan of the United States, many who feared Native Americans wanted to “wipe these untamed and untamable creatures from the face of the earth.” With such aggression in play, it is unsurprising that many American Indians fought against their oppressors in hopes of survival. When seeing a psychiatrist, Zits is told that he is merely “programmed for violence,” and accepts the diagnosis as merely a mark of his Native American heritage (27). In recent years, it has become common for many Native American families to be ‘broken’ or ‘damaged,’ and this misfortune has become a stereotype, even an expectation. Though “virtually nonexistent in traditional American Indian communities, today American Indian women and children experience family violence at rates similar to those” families of European, and Caucasian descent” (source a). This growth in Native American families who are affected by conflict has been attributed to a trait “learned from the white man” during such events as forced assimilation, which continue to plague the culture today. During his time in the foster system, Zits lives with “two Indian foster fathers, [but finds that] they were bigger jerks than any of [his] eighteen white foster fathers” (9). This mangled sense of family for many Native Americans has made a division between those who choose to live traditionally and those who choose to live as ‘Americans’. This conflict is similar to the past when “a permanent demarcation between the “good Indians” and the “bad Indians” [was formed], either as tribes or individuals,…based on their willingness to assimilate or cooperate.”
Historically, Native American cultures have taken pride in the tribe they come from, and fought for the sense of belonging which centers around their traditions and heritage. When forcibly assimilated into American culture “Federal agents…[used] non-tribal ideas about belonging” in order to place and classify Native American children. This rude objectification of the Native American culture has developed the importance of heritage in the Native American community and formed a stereotype of belonging to one tribe alone and being shunned from any other. Zits’ father “was never legally established as [his] father” and so Zits is left without a sense of belonging, his father being merely “from this or that tribe…, this or that reservation” (9, 4). Zits accepts as fact that the stereotypical Native American belongs to a tribe, and is a part of a family; he classifies himself as “not an official Indian,” different from the rest (9). When Zits is able to experience being a child on an Indian reservation, he is finally a member of a true Indian tribe. Zits is “happy for the first time in [his] life,” finally beyond loved and hugged by a father, though the father figure is not his own (65).
In colonial times, during battles and when ‘hunting’ Native Americans, many white accounts generalized entire tribes as wearing the long headdresses of chiefs and having war painted faces, evolving the ‘red-face’ stereotype which is seen today in the media and in mascots such as that of the Cleveland Indians baseball team. There may be real-life roots for some of these stereotypes, as indicated by the man Zits sees when he is a small child on the Indian camp, a man who is “war painted in ten different colors, he’s carrying this epic tomahawk.” Yet most Indians did not have these exact attributes (64). Zits gives a detailed description of Crazy Horse, an Indian leader famous for “kill[ing] hundreds of white people,” who was “pale, almost white-skinned, [with] hair that isn’t black at all” (67). Some of these discrepancies are from the inability of historians to access photographs of Native Americans; these historians relied on accounts of battles and travels from mostly white settlers.
In more modern times, the stereotypes behind the physical attributes of Native Americans have in part come from censuses which have taken place during the last few centuries, classifying many multi-racial citizens as Native American and merely basing distinctions for their race on the minority group they claim in their heritage. Censuses “which date back to the 1800s and were largely dictated by federal agents” were noticeably “flawed,” and though nothing was done about it at the time, it has become clear in recent years that many people were classified incorrectly. Though Zits is aware of his Indian heritage and that his “father was an Indian,” there are discrepancies in his classifications when it comes to foster care, being placed with non-Indian fathers and, because of his biracial background, believing himself not to be “the real deal” (4, 60). Zits struggles to understand himself and find his identity behind the clouding stereotypes that his society has placed on him. The stereotypes that Zits uses to identify himself exist because of different historical scenarios which have left an impression on society as a whole. The violent Indians, the savage Indians, Pocahontas; none of these things are true representations of an entire culture but have become a generation’s connection to a race. And while Zits is aware of his Native American heritage, he is unable to be a part of the traditions and culture, and finds his connection in the stereotypes which are prevalent in the present day.
The Function of Humor in Sherman Alexie’s Flight
Humor is a powerful tool: it can break barriers, create friendships, establish cultural unity, or undermine/destroy people or organizations. In ‘ethnic’ literature, humor is often used to create a shared space for readers to come together; “humor helps dispel animosity by bringing cultures together, using shared human failings as a common denominator” (Lowe 442). By poking fun at themselves or their traditions, minority authors are able to create a space that is ‘safe’ for discussion – “ethnic jokes delineate the social, geographic, and moral boundaries of a nation or ethnic group, simultaneously reducing ambiguities and clarifying boundaries” (Lowe 440); through humor, it becomes acceptable to ask uncomfortable questions or examine controversial topics. Using humor, minority writers can bring their own culture closer and at the same time, invite other cultures closer; conversely, humor can be used to threaten dominate social structures that are damaging – the way political cartoons or the Paul Ryan at the gym meme are used to discredit politicians, so too can it be used to further or halt any cause. “Call me Zits” (1) – so opens Sherman Alexie’s novel Flight about a boy, “half Indian, half Irish,” all the way orphaned/abandoned, growing up impoverished and unloved in Seattle. Alexie, who has been called a “mediagenic American Indian Superstar” by Men’s Journal, has come to be known for his themes of poverty, violence and alcoholism among the lives of Native American people, but also for his deft use of humor when telling stories that are tragic in their basis in reality. Humor in ‘ethnic literature’ is a valuable tool that “can lead to deeper understanding on the part of those hearing the joke and greater inclusion in the community for the joker” (Ward 272); this is certainly true for Alexie, and for protagonist Zits, who commonly falls to self-deprecating humor to deal with his depression, mockery to deal with his exclusion from ‘mainstream’ society, and acerbic wit to handle a society that seems structured to keep him from finding happiness or comfort. Using humor in these ways is perhaps universal, but it is that universality that makes it such an effective tool for ethnic, specifically Native American in this case, authors. By framing social and cultural criticisms humorously, they are able to achieve a broader and more receptive audience. In Flight, a novel that deals with issues like poverty, child molestation/abuse, murder, the violence of war, genocide of Native Americans, depression, and the general violence of humanity, the humor threaded throughout keeps the story accessible and allows the message, that these are real events, real tragedies, real social problems that should be dealt with, to come through in a way that is not heavy-handed or preachy. Alexie has said in an interview with NPR that “the two funniest groups of human beings I’ve ever been around are Indians and Jewish folks. So I guess that says something about the inherent humor of genocide.” While the genocide of his people may seem an odd thing to which to credit his humor, Alexie is not alone in seeing the way humor tends to spring from pain and oppression. Kenneth Lincoln writes: “Humor is the best and sharpest weapon we’ve always had against the ravages of conquest and assimilation” (7); for Zits in Flight, his sense of humor and ability to mock both himself and the sometimes desperate situations he finds himself in is a weapon. He preemptively mocks himself with the moniker ‘Zits’ so others can’t make fun of his complexion; he mocks happy families so he won’t have to feel bad for not having one; he mocks capitalist institutions (“Starbucks can kiss my shiny red ass” (16)) that he knows he doesn’t have the means to participate in – all his humor is designed to protect him from further harm. Lincoln writes that “The powers to heal and to hurt, to bond and to exorcise, to renew and to purge remain the contrary powers of Indian humor” (5). Zits’ humor is designed to do all of those things: to heal his own wounds and to inflict wounds on others, to bond with authority figures like Officer Dave, and to exorcise the demons of his foster families – to purge the past so he can move on, renewed, to a new and better future. After one of his many arrests, Zits meets a white boy named ‘Justice’ in jail who urges him to rediscover ‘Ghost Dance’ – a ceremonial dance created by a Paiute holy man that was intended to make “all the dead Indians return and the white people disappear” (Alexie, Flight 31). At first, Zits jokes about the Ghost Dance – perhaps the dancers were originally unsuccessful because they lacked the right music: “they should have had Metallica” (Alexie, Flight 31) – but his jokes hide a seriousness. Zits is a ‘scholar’ of Native American culture, at least as much as he can be using the tools at his disposal (generally television), joking about the Ghost Dance is his way of making it accessible, both to Justice and to himself: “for American Indian writers to mediate the reality of their culture, they must somehow discomfit their readers, throw them off balance. The humorous treatment of tradition, Native American and other, is an excellent means to this end” (Ward 278). Justice introduces Zits to guns and to the idea that he can somehow ‘fix’ all of his problems through violence, though he makes it seem like a game, using a paintball gun to terrify random people on the streets as an initiation to the later violence he will ask Zits to commit. Zits is initially excited by the game, “the notion of play, especially of tricky and deceptive play, describes much of American Indian humor” (Ward 270), he is amused by the way that people who think they are about to be shot, “people think they’re about to die, they all scream like nine-year-old girls” (Alexie, Flight 33). When Justice convinces Zits to go into a crowded public place with a real gun, to ‘Ghost Dance,’ to make people ‘disappear,’ it’s an easy transition for Zits from their ‘game’ with the paintball gun to actually shooting people because “play and danger, risk, chance, feat – it is all a single field of action where something is at stake” (Ward 270). The way that Justice is able to use play/humor to manipulate Zits into doing something that he finds abhorrent is indicative of the power of humor to create social change.After the shooting, in which Zits is shot and ‘dies,’ he ‘wakes up’ in the body of FBI agent Hank Storm in the year 1975. He handles his confusion and fear in this bizarre situation by making jokes. The use of humor to regularize an unconventional situation reflects “a staple of ethnic humor where unmet expectations create opportunities for the most basic kind of comedy, that of incongruity” (Lowe 446). Throughout most of the rest of the novel, Zits continues to ‘wake up’ in different bodies and time periods, always just in time to witness or participate in some act of violence – each ‘life’ that he experiences teaches him something. As the FBI agent, he learns that two Native men who have been venerated as heroes were actually double agents working with the FBI against their own cause; in different iterations of the battles during the American Indian Wars he sees atrocities and violence from both sides of the conflict. Despite the violence and horrors that he experiences, he holds on to his wits and his wit; “humor can be generative, causing the audience to reach new understanding. Humor can unmask the fact that any potential ordering of experience may be arbitrary” (Ward 272). After experiencing life as an Indian child at the Battle of Little Bighorn and seeing countless people slaughtered, maimed, and defiled, Zits wakes up as a soldier in the US Army; he still has the sense of humor to joke about being an “Old Fart Soldier” (Alexie, Flight 82). Zits is learning that his concept of reality, of war, may be an arbitrary construction; that all that knowledge he picked up from the Discovery Channel may have been a creative stretch; that there were horrors and heroes on each side of the conflict. By showing Zits both sides of the American Indian wars, Alexie allowed for interesting social commentary; while a reader might expect a Native American author to only sympathetically portray his own people, Alexie was careful to highlight good and bad on both sides of the conflict. Because Alexie, unlike most history books, is showing a more balanced portrayal rather than taking a side, it becomes clear that his commentary is meant to showcase the pointlessness of the violence portrayed within the novel. The critique is not of white oppression or Indian savagery – those worn out old stories – but instead is a critique of the human tendency towards violence as a solution. Alexie uses humor to great effect, whether describing Custer’s ridiculous arrogance at Little Bighorn, the interplay between FBI agents at IRON/HAMMER, the embarrassments of being a nude, elderly soldier in a crowded camp, his use of irony and wit is always deft. “Ethnic artists use this ploy to great advantage, mounting savage attacks on the central government and mainstream capitalist society in a curiously disarming manner” (Lowe 448); by couching his critique in humor, Alexie is able to say things that might otherwise create controversy. After all, “jokes succeed in liberating an otherwise suppressed or ‘censored’ thought via the disguise of humor” (Lowe 442). If the purpose of this story is as social critique, it is not meant strictly as a critique of past violence. The bits and pieces that make up the present day – Zits’ many letdowns and disappointments, his molestation and abandonment, his interaction with a “good” parent that turned sour due to ego/competition – these are ‘ongoing’ acts in a way that the Indian American War is not. While conflict may still exist between the Anglo world and the reservation, it is rarely physical. The need for a sense of humor in an ‘American’ youth that is at risk in ways that don’t perhaps mean throats will be slit is still vitally important. As Lincoln writes: “the need for a disunited people to create fresh bonds, a new unity, a semblance of society” (53) is vital to the formation of an ‘American’ identity. “Man is the only animal that laughs and weeps … for he is the only animal that is struck with the difference between what things are and what they might have been” (55). Zits can laugh when he finds himself arrested at fifteen, he can laugh when he’s holding court with homeless, drunk Indians, and he can even laugh when he finds himself time traveling between various violent pasts because he always seems to hold the knowledge that things could and have been worse. As Alexie himself said on NPR, “Often you’ll find that when a person is able to best deal with violence and pain and suffering, it’s the person that is able to accept that life is bad, but things are humorous at the same time.” That the humor of minority people often “stems from defeated expectations relates to … constant and repeated failures in his aspirant behavior to reach his or her goals” (Lowe 446) is simply further critique on our flawed society. We have to laugh about what we cannot control. Native people have “survive[d] a shared struggle and come together to laugh about it … even if the humor hurts” (Lincoln 63). The outcome of Zits’ story is positive; he is accepted into Officer Dave’s family, finally offered acne treatment (which will obviously fix all of his problems), and finally accepts his ‘true’ identity, abandoning the moniker ‘Zits’ and asking to be called ‘Michael,’ which is his given name. Perhaps this happy ending is Alexie’s way of saying that humanity too can have a happy ending, if we just treat our ‘acne’ (which is probably the scars of violence and oppression, right?) and find love and happiness among each other. Lincoln says “dark humor … accepts what has happened in hope that it will not happen again,” (Lincoln 61) that can only be the hope of every person after reading this or any other account of the types of arbitrary and extraordinary violence that human beings are capable of – that just because it has happened, doesn’t mean we as a people can’t stop it from happening again. Because “nothing is fixed. Not even injustice” (Lincoln 62). If everyone were to take a frank look at history, and adopt a sense of humor about themselves, perhaps everyone could have a happy ending. Works CitedAlexie, Sherman. Author Sherman Alexie Talks ‘Flight’ Rebecca Roberts. 11 April 2007.—. Flight. New York City: Black Cat, 2007.Lincoln, Kenneth. Indi’n Humor. New York City: Oxford University Press, 1993.Lowe, John. “Theories of Ethnic Humor: How to Enter, Laughing.” American Quarterly (1986): 439-460.Ward, A. Joseph. “Prayers Shrieked to Heaven: Humor and Folklore in Contemporary American Indian Literature.” Western Folklore (1997): 267-280.
Character Development in Flight
Throughout the book Flight by Sherman Alexie, the main character Zits is in search of where he belongs and why people have mistreated him throughout his life. In the midst of the action in the novel, Zits begins to experience character jumps, where he is trapped in the body of different characters. Each character jump that Zits has contributes to his growth into becoming more mature by allowing him to expand his perspectives and reflect on his own ideology. The most significant character jumps are into the bodies of the little Indian boy, Jimmy and his father. These jumps force Zits to develop his present ideas about revenge, violence, and forgiveness. One of the first characters that Zits becomes is a little Indian boy. When first describing his experience as the boy, he is very critical and unhappy about the situation. He is nearly naked, hot, and surrounded by a lot of Indians who are speaking in a language he cannot understand. While this is true, he is comforted by the fact that he has a father who loves him. In the start of the novel, Zits talks about his father who has left him when he was born. He constantly attempts to understand this betrayal in the story. While he has a father in this section, one is able to identify Zits’s desires to have a father in his life. It seems to be the only true way that he can be happy. Zits says, “This guy loves me…I wonder if this is Heaven” (65). He wants a father and having one is comparable to paradise. He says that this is the first time in his life that he is happy. Before he can enjoy this bliss for too long, Zits realizes that he is at the camp of Little Big Horn before attack and he becomes interested in what is happening. He witnesses a lot of killing and brutality and is disgusted by what he sees, saying, “[he] feel[s] sick in [his] stomach and brain…in [his] soul” (72). He reflects on the idea of revenge at this point and begins to attempt to justify it. Saying that it is war and is just self-defense. He is forced to think about it more in-depth though when the father of the boy prompts him to slit the throat of a white boy to get revenge for his own. He reflects and realizes that taking revenge on people is not the optimal thing to do to replace his own loneliness or hurt. At this point, Zits becomes a more sensitive and reflective person. After he commits murder in a bank robbery, Zits is transported to the body of a FBI agent Hank Storm, where he reflects on violence, death, and morality. In this body, Zits is forced to shoot a man who has not given enough information after he is already dead. If he does not shoot him, he will be killed himself, so he chooses to shoot him. Once he does this, Zits begins to reflect on murder and how cruel it is. While he does, he develops a more sensitive idea about taking the lives of people. At a later point in the novel he says, “Maybe you’re not supposed to kill. No matter who tells you to do it. No matter how good or bad the reason. Maybe you’re supposed to believe that all life is sacred” (162-63). Zits begins to understand that killing is not okay, no matter how much revenge you want to take or how messed up your life is. He develops a sense of morality and questions his previous ideas about murder. The final character jump that Zits has is into the body of his father. While in this body, Zits is forced to understand why his father left him. He is able to expand his perspective and see where his father is coming from. He understands that his father became a product of his environment and society’s oppression on Indians who are always drunk. Zits’s grandfather treated Zits’s dad badly, because he was an alcoholic and after being in this body, Zits understands that his father was just trying to protect him by leaving. He didn’t want to trap Zits in the same alcoholic cycle that he was in. Zits’s father shows a picture of himself in his wallet. Zits, while looking at the picture, thinks that the picture is one of his father, but then realizes that it is of him. He realizes that his father does care for him in some type of way because he carries a picture of him around. The realization that someone cares for him enables Zits to be more at ease with his life. He truly just wants people to love him and respect him, and by being in his father’s body, he is able to realized that someone does love him enough to do well by him, even if leaving was the only way that he could do well. Overall, the character jumps in Flight offer Zits an opportunity to become surer of himself. He is able to reflect on the ideas and values that he had prior to the jumps, as well as establish a new sense of morality and justice. He becomes a more wise person by expanding his mind and ideas on these subjects. Zits seemed to have been struggling with ideas about revenge, violence, and forgiveness throughout the novel. He was always being hurt by different people, and being that so, he always had a bittersweet outlook on life. The journeys he had and the information he gained from these jumps have made it easy for Zits to transition into Michael.