Last Updated September 5, 2023.
Sherman Alexie’s Indian Killer is the story of a serial murderer in Seattle, who is scalping white men and covering their body with owl feathers, and of John Smith, the confused and angry man who appears to be the killer. John Smith is a Native American construction worker who was raised by white parents. He feels estranged from both cultures, however, and in the wake of the serial murders, he becomes angry, unsettled, and mentally unstable. Smith attempts to find comfort in a fellow Indian named Marie, but his feelings of displacement and anger overcome him, and he embarks on a mission to find and kill a white man he believes to be the cause of the Indians’ plight.
As the serial killings continue, racial tensions rise, fueled by the media. Smith becomes increasingly obsessed with the idea of killing a white man, believing that by doing so, he can come to terms with his anguish and atone for the sins against his people. He chooses a victim and attacks— a white mystery novelist who claims to be part Native American and believes that his writings speak truths about the Native American people. After attacking the white writer, John begins to hallucinate and falls from the 40th floor of a skyscraper and dies. The police state that John was the Indian Killer, and the fear that grips the town begins to subside. The hunt for the Indian Killer widened the rift between Whites and Native Americans, however, and it left the people of Seattle with an awareness of tensions that will continue to resurface and might never be resolved.