illustrated portrait of American Indian author Sherman Alexie

Sherman Alexie

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In "Superman and Me," how does Sherman Alexie relate his experiences to Superman's values and abilities?

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Alexie connects his superpower of reading to Superman's fictional superpowers because he learned to read from a Superman comic. He also relates his father, who taught him to read, to Superman's father. Alexie wants to help others by teaching through writing and encouraging them to read, much as Superman uses his powers to save people.

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In the essay "Superman and Me" by Sherman Alexie, the author, a Native American from the Spokane Indian Reservation in eastern Washington, writes that he learned to read by reading a Superman comic. He gives an example of one of the comic panels in which Superman is shattering a door, and he imagines what is written in the caption and what Superman must be saying. The door in the panel is symbolic of the discouragement and lack of opportunities that afflict most of the inhabitants on the reservation, and Alexie shatters this barrier through reading and writing, which in the essay are equated with superpowers. Just as Superman can shatter the physical door with his super-strength, Alexie can shatter the barriers of poverty and despair with the superpowers of knowledge and education.

Alexie credits his father with his early love of books. His father loved books, and Alexie loved his father so much that he developed a love of books as well. His father recalls Superman's father Jor-El, who creates the starship that saves the baby Superman from the dying planet Krypton and propels him safely to Earth. In various comics and films, Jor-El appears as a simulacrum and educates Superman about his heritage and powers.

Learning to read at a precociously early age is the start of Alexie's superpowers. He begins at the age of three, and by the time he is in kindergarten he can read complex novels. On the reservation, his superpower of knowledge causes him to be feared and ridiculed, and as a result he gets in daily fights. However, he refuses to fail, which is another aspect of heroism that Superman also manifests. Reading empowers Alexie, so he continues to accumulate strength by reading at every spare opportunity.

And then, abruptly, through all of his reading, which is a type of preparation, he acquires a new superpower: writing. Writing, in turn, leads to another superpower: the ability and desire to teach others.

We see, then, that Alexie uses the Superman story as a metaphor for the empowerment that reading, writing, and teaching impart.

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The character of Superman is associated with characteristics of loyalty, truth, justice, patriotism, and friendship. As a hero, he can transform himself, fly, and act with superhuman strength.

When Sherman Alexie decides that he wants to learn to read, he does it in part because reading meant so much to his father. Alexie says "My father loved books, and since I loved my father with an aching devotion, I decided to love books as well." This sentiment is related to Superman's value of loyalty, and in educating himself, Alexie went through a transformation, as well.

In the essay, Alexie comments on the quality of his schooling and the way Native American children were discouraged from being active participants in their education. Like Superman, he is unafraid to break through this barrier, as he remembers himself as "A little Indian boy [who] teaches himself to read at an early age and advances quickly. He reads "Grapes of Wrath" in kindergarten when other children are struggling through "Dick and Jane."

Later, as an adult and published author, Alexie returns to the reservation schools of his youth where new generations of Indian children are being educated, and he sees both children who are engaged in reading and writing, and others, "defeated" and "sullen" who ignore him. Instead of turning his back on them, he employs a metaphor and writes "I throw my weight against their locked doors." This is the type of response one could reasonably expect from Superman. Alexie knows that the Indian children who are disenfranchised from education are the ones that need the most help, and he emulates the comic book hero who burst through doors and who taught him to read.

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In the conclusion to his essay "Superman and Me," Sherman Alexie states that through teaching reading and writing he hopes to save Native American lives.

Throughout the essay, Alexie discusses the idea that learning to read saved his life. He recounts how he learned to read through a Superman comic book and focused on an image of Superman breaking down a door, which led him to understand the words above the image to read "Superman is breaking down the door." After learning to read at a very young age, Alexie says he was able to read novels like The Grapes of Wrath in kindergarten and later became interested in "saving" his life by becoming as smart as possible.

This idea of breaking down doors is mentioned again in the final paragraph, but this time in relation to young Native American lives. He makes the metaphor that when he teaches these young people who have been taught to fail or "were expected to be stupid," he, like Superman, throws his "weight against their locked doors." Unfortunately, "[t]he door holds." 

Alexie clearly sees reading as a superheroic trait and believes that intelligence has the ability to save lives.

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