Ten Little Indians by Sherman Alexie Essay - Critical Essays

Ten Little Indians

In Ten Little Indians, Sherman Alexie continues his writing’s practice of undermining the white world’s expectations of Native Americans. All the old stereotypes are held up for ridicule at one time or another in these stories in which the Indians (they frequently call themselves by that term) mostly do not live on reservations, are mostly not alcoholic, do not necessarily have a special sense of union with the earth, and may in fact hold important jobs in computer technology or major in English at a university. At the same time, these characters are highly aware of their unique position in American culture and of whites’ biased ideas about them.

In “The Search Engine,” for example, Corliss is a Washington State University English major. Good brains, helpful high school teachers, and intense ambition got her to the university, despite discouraging comments from her family. Now, by accident, she has found a volume of poetry by a Native American on the library shelves. Many of the poems are set on the Spokane reservation, Corliss’s own home, and she wonders why she has never heard of Harlan Atwater, their writer. Although she knows that the volume is uneven, she feels a special kinship with its author and longs to meet and talk with him. After an exhausting search, she locates him and finds that instead of the reservation, he had been adopted and raised in the city by a loving white couple.

Her last gesture in the story is to place Atwater’s book, face out, on a bookstore shelf, so that all the world will see his poems. Like almost all Alexie’s characters, she will combine respect for her origins with an ironic smile and a willingness to make her way as a Native American in the urban world of whites.

Review Sources

Book: The Magazine for the Reading Life, July/August, 2003, p. 179.

Booklist 99, no. 16 (April 15, 2003): 1426-1427.

Kirkus Reviews 71, no. 8 (April 15, 2003): 548.

Library Journal 128, no. 9 (May 15, 2003): 129-130.

The New York Times, May 26, 2003, p. E10.

The New York Times Book Reviews, June 15, 2003, p. 13.

Publishers Weekly 250, no. 18 (May 5, 2003): 198.