1. What does literacy mean to Alexie? What are his associations with reading? With writing? How does he use his reading and his writing to establish ties to the community? What aspects of his identity are bound up with reading and writing?
He believes literacy saved his life. He feels it is extremely important and he loves being able to read. He was never formally taught to read. He taught himself and after that he read everything he could get his hands on. Similarly no one ever formally taught him how to write novels, short stories, or essays. He loves writing and does it frequently. He visits schools and talks about reading, writing, and books. It seems he is who he is because he has reading and writing. He says twice that he is smart, arrogant, and lucky and if he hadn’t had those qualities then he wouldn’t have pushed as hard as he did to learn to read, write, and be successful because he was expected to fail.
3. Alexie uses the metaphor of breaking down the door to describe the act of learning to read. What are the connotations of this metaphor? How does it compare with Frederick Douglass’s account of his acquisition of literacy in “Learning to Read and Write” in which he says that he sometimes felt as though “learning to read had been a curse rather than a blessing”? As he encountered arguments for and against slavery in the books he read, Douglass felt that reading deepened his already vivid experience of slavery: “It had given me a view of my wretched condition, without the remedy.” Is literacy a means to freedom for Alexie as it was ultimately, for Douglass? Is so, freedom from what or freedom to do what?
His metaphor might have a double meaning. The first meaning every time he breaks down a door he understands what he is reading even more. Every time a new door is broken down he comprehends his reading or has completed a reading. The other meaning could mean the doors he has to break down to become successful in his Indian community. Everyone there seems destined and content with failing but he has to break out of that in order to become the successful person he wants to be. For Douglass literacy brought misery and depression because it revealed to him the terrible position he was in. For Alexie literacy opened new doors to successfulness and happiness. Literacy was definitely a freedom for Alexie because without it his horizons would have never been broadened past the Indian reservation he lived on. I believe the same for Douglass but his being literate was more of a struggle for him than for Alexie. Alexie did have to deal the ridicule of classmates and the dis-encouragement from adults but Douglass had to deal with far more psychological issues. Eventually though literacy led to his freedom. In both cases it seemed that literacy was a freedom from oppression and ignorance. Because they became more intelligent they were able to better themselves and escape the stereotype of what they were supposed to be.