Discuss Sherman Alexie's use of rhetorical strategies and his claim in his essay "Superman and Me."

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Sherman Alexie grew up on an Indian reservation.  Alexie was  lucky.  His father loved to read.  This encouraged Alexie as a young child to look at books.  His first experience was with a Superman comic book.  He would look at the pictures and say what the pictures represented. Thus, he eventually was able to actually read the words.

In "Superman and Me," Alexie's claim declares that reading can make a difference in a person's life. 

"I refused to fail.  I was smart. I was arrogant.  Iwas lucky.  I read books late at night...I read books at recess...

Alexie emphasizes that because of the white man's attitude some Indians do not try in school.  They have been taught to resist the white mans's education. Now he returns to the schools to encourage the students to grab onto their education:

'Books," I say to them. 'Books,' I say.  I throw my weight against their locked doors. The door holds. I am smart. I am trying to save your life. 

To Alexie, reading and books helped him get off the reservation and find his way in the world.

Alexie's use of rhetorical strategies makes his essay appeal to the reader in more than one way.  HIs use of ethos or his ethical appeal comes from his illustrating what reading did for him. From this, he establishes his authority and character  as someone the reader can trust.   He points out that books have made such a difference in his life that he has become a published writer. 

Alexie wanted to be a pediatrician, but instead he writes poetry, short stories, and novels. His decisions have enabled him to look at the Indian boys who resist education and through his success tell them the importance of reading and an education.  When he visits the reservation to talk to the children about the importance of reading and education, this is his response:

The Indian kids crowd the classroom. They have read my books. They look at me with bright eyes and arrogant wonder.

They trust Alexie because of his success.

His logical [logos] argument follows the story of his life.  Interestingly, he explains that he sees everything as a paragraph.  He defined the paragraph as a " fence that held words." He placed everything within the paragraph: his family was seven different paragraphs; the reservation was a small paragraph in the larger United States.  This way of looking at things helped Alexie to find his place in the world.

Throughout the story, he appeals to the emotions [pathos] of the reader.  His description of his difficulty in the Indian world as an intelligent person strikes a heart string:

A smart Indian is a dangerous person, widely feared and ridiculed by Indians and non-Indians alike.  We were Indian children who were expected to be stupid. 

But Alexie was none of those things.  He refused to fail because he knew is future depended on his education; so he read everything that he could find. Sadly, he explains that anywhere else he would have been considered a "prodigy." However, on the reservation he was considered weird or eccentric. Sherman Alexie beat the system by growing up and using his talents to become a successful writer.

soupomatic | Student

“We had birthday and graduation parties and things like that, but there was another hunger that had to be fed. There was a hunger I didn’t even have a name for. Was this when I began writing?” meaning of quote?

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