Questions and Answers: A Drug Called Tradition
1. How does the style of the story, especially the repeated shifts in time and place, impact its themes?
2. Which attitudes toward the ritual of earning one’s adult name are apparent in the story?
3. How do the three visions address the past and present situation of the American Indian tribes?
4. What does the plotline foretell for the futures of the three main characters?
5. What does the “tiny drum” symbolize at the end of the story?
1. The shifts between past and present highlight generational differences in the coming-of-age rituals of young American Indian men. This disparity between the experiences of the young and the old speaks to a broader loss of identity, or a sense of tradition, among young American Indian men.
2. It seems that the ritual is important, but not crucial, to establishing a sense of identity and culture. Alexie is clearly skeptical that this ceremony will solve all of the problems facing men such as Victor, Thomas, and Junior.
3. The three visions correspond to instances of suffering after contact with white Europeans, including the loss of horses, spread of smallpox, and violence of the Indian Wars. Alexie provides a new ending to these events in the vision by overturning their outcomes. The horse is stolen, the settlers return to Europe, and the Indians win the war with the whites.
4. Thomas is expelled from the group; he must learn how to better communicate with his peers, so that they will begin to learn from him. Victor and Junior remain doubtful; they must learn to use tradition in new ways in order to change.
5. The drum symbolizes the power that a “little tradition” might have, if the boys only can learn to use it in less destructive and more beneficial ways.