S.E. culture.” In folk tales where the presence of

S.E. Schlosser defines trickster as, “A Trickster is a mischievous or a roguish figure in myth or folklore who
typically makes up for physical weakness with cunning and subversive humor. The
Trickster alternates between cleverness and stupidity, kindness and cruelty,
deceiver and deceived, breaker of taboos and creator of culture.” In folk tales
where the presence of the trickster figures is significant, are figures
generally of animals with human traits, also are God- like figures. Animals who
are known for their ability to explore new territories and to fit in
wherever  urban  and wild both the environment like coyote,
raven, dragon fly, racoon and spider are chosen as a trickster figure in Native
American oral tradition.

The coyote is the oldest traditional Native American
Trickster figure and a significant symbol in its culture and oral tradition.
The coyote is seen in all the myths, legends and stories of Native American
tribes, known for his crafty intelligence and covertness.  The word “coyote” was
originally a Spanish alteration of the Nahuatl (Aztec) word for the animal, coyotl. The same folktale
narrated by storytellers may differ from tribes to tribes according to their
culture and values, and similarly, with a number of tribes the function and
importance of the trickster figures also varies.   In
some of the tribes’ myths and folktales coyote is a revered culture hero who
creates, teaches, and helps humans, while in some other tribe, he is a sort of
anti-hero who is an epitome of negativity like greed, recklessness, and
arrogance. The coyote is also functions the character of a comic trickster,
whose lack of wisdom gets him into trouble while his cleverness gets him
escape. Furthermore, the coyote is even present in combination of all three
characteristics in one folktale.

We Will Write a Custom Essay Specifically
For You For Only $13.90/page!


order now

A
trickster figure controls / regulates the world we live in, not an ideal but a
real world. The good and negative traits they posses reflect upon the idea of
life according to Native Americans, who believe life is a mix of bad and good. They
are considered as culture heroes because they benefit the community in one or
the other way. The tale of coyote as trickster serves many purposes in the life
of people, his unpredictable characteristics are always connected to the community’s
experiences of handling  unpredictable
surroundings one after the other. People learn about their own weakness and
foolishness and learn to laugh at themselves and
their occasional acts of self-deception.

Moving with the pace of
modernity, Sherman Alexie, Sherman
Joseph Alexie, Jr. (October 7, 1966), grew up on the Spokane Indian
Reservation, is a poet and a writer. In his
writings, he embeds his personal experiences as a Native American,
his growing up on reservation along with
ancestry of several tribes. His  collection
of twenty two  interconnected short
stories The
Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven (1993) became popular
largely, further he got  inspired to
direct a film  Smoke Signals (1998)  which
is  based on this collection. A
collection of stories with recurring characters Victor Joseph and Thomas Builds
– the- Fire, who are two young Native Americans living on the Spokane Indian
Reservation. The stories describe their
relationships, desires, and histories with family members and others who live
on the reservation. These twenty two stories are narrated through the medium of
flashbacks, dream sequence, storytelling, surreal images and diary entries. Alexie
through his writings informs that the reservation is just not the experience
that Native American claims to have suffered, but it’s the effect on their identity
and culture that is present even in the absence of reservation with present
multicultural society.

Borrowing
the role played by trickster in oral tradition who teaches a lesson, Alexie
uses humor as a method to approach/ bring into light the difficult issues
residual in the society alcoholism and poverty. Through his collection of
stories The Lone Ranger and Tonto
Fistfight in Heaven, Alexie himself plays the role of a trickster for the
society, as he challenges on the language conventions and stereotypes, through
presenting a trickster figure in his works. He depicts the history of
despair, deprivation and racial discrimination of being Native American- from a
Reservation and how one tries to maintain once tribal identity to survive in
White society.

 Thomas Builds -the –Fire
is one of the trickster figure in this story collection that is represented
similarly to coyote. The trickster is considered to be one of the oldest
mythological figures in the Native American oral tradition.  Thomas Build- the- fire is the man who
obliges to the community needs and acts as a teaching aid that contributes to
the benefit of couture to survive. Thomas Build- the – Fire is present in the
three stories ‘ A Drug Called Tradition’, ‘This is What it Means Means
to Say Phoenix, Arizona’ and  ‘ The Trail
of Thomas Builds- The- Fire’.Thomas, who is
shown alone without a companionship and also inferior to others in physical
strength but is indestructible like a coyote. As he is the only one who
survived when his house sets on fire and his parents died. He even faces the
humiliation and beatings from his coequals, and the rejection he suffers for being
an Indian whenever he leaves the reservation. A trickster is known for teaching
lessons majorly through stories, similarly Thomas Build –the –Fire narrates the
stories that confronts with Euro- American version of both past and present.
Thomas Build- the- Fire inherits the story telling ability, as his grandfather,
Samuel Builds- the- Fire is bestowed with the talent of narrating the story
spontaneously. Although, Thomas Builds- the- fire is never appreciated his
story telling feature and is always ridiculed. For him these stories mark an
important connection with his family as he remarks,

“We are all given one thing by which our lives are
measured, one determination. Mine are the stories which can change or not
change the world. It doesn’t matter which as long as I continue to tell the
stories. My father, he died on Okinawa in World War II, died fighting for this
country, which had tried to kill him for years. My mother, she died giving
birth to me, died while I was still inside her. She pushed me out into the
world with her last breath. I have no brothers or sisters. I have only my
stories which came to me before I even had words to speak. I learned a thousand
stories before I took my first thousand steps. They are all I have. It’s all I
can do. (Alexie  72)

The role of Thomas of a storyteller gets erased on his
reservation; he is not portrayed as a warrior or savage, but a child whose
childhood and adult life is full of atrocities, and without a companion. In one of his recollection of story
Thomas narrates, “They
hated Thomas for his courage, his brief moment as a bird. Everybody, had dreams
about flying. Thomas flew. . . . One of his dreams came true for just a second,
just enough to make it real.” (Alexie 70)  
Thomas breaks his arm and is made fun of by other students, who are
jealous however.  The courage of a
trickster that Thomas possesses, influences him to make an attempt and bring
his childish dream into reality and gain something that other student cannot.  Towards the begging of the life of Thomas and
Victor both could relate to stories of brave Indians. But eventually, with
time, only Thomas is the one who is still connected to the tradition, storytelling
beliefs and does not get corrupted by White’s influence. Thomas always remained
victorious in his path of storytelling and his connection with the roots, while
other students were defeated because of them falling into assimilation. 

 Only at the
time of Victor’s father’s death, the importance of Thomas’s stories is
understood by him at first. Earlier each and every person considered Thomas as
abnormal rather than realizing the fact that his stories can teach them great
lessons, just like the stories of coyote. Alexie uses Thomas to depict and
confront the ridiculous notions of Indian representation. Again, as a
subverting storyteller Thomas falls into a flashback to the summer when Natives
were celebrating the Fourth of July and Victor asks Thomas to tell him a story.
Thomas closed his eyes and narrated,

“There were these two Indian boys who wanted to be
warriors. But it was too late to be warriors in the old way. All the horses
were gone. So the two Indian boys stole a car and drove to the city. They
parked the stolen car in front of the police station and then hitchhiked back
home to the reservation. When they got back, all their friends cheered and
their parents’ eyes shone with pride. You were very brave, everybody said to
the two Indian boys. Very brave.” (“Alexie 
63)

Through this incident Alexie marks comment on the situation
of Indian reservation life, as he points out the inability of the boys to be
warriors turns them to commit a crime. Storytelling for Thomas is a medium to
communicate the importance of one’s tradition and tribal identity, the communal ties, the dreams, and the hope which are getting
erased by the influence of White and thus no more believing in the above.
Similar to many other natives who are suffering from poverty and alcoholism,
Victor also goes through the same. Alcohol implies the influence of Whites that
is afflicting Native American slowly leaving them with their broken dreams,
loosing of their real traditional identities, without which one cannot
fly.  But with the help of Thomas stories
he finds an alternative in the traditional message to take care of one another
and thus started to understand the significance of the traditional identities.  

The
first story “A Drug Called Tradition” talks about the tradition of taking drugs
according to Victor and Junior. The role of Thomas, of a storyteller begins
from this story. Along with Victor and Junior, Thomas too intakes drugs and
begins narrating the story, to which victor does not believe during this story
it brings back the tradition of dancing. The tradition which was meant only for
Native Americans, and does not involve White men. “Then the boys sing. They sing and dance and drum. They steal
horses. I can see them. They steal horses” (Alexie 21).  Native Americans keep their glories as victors
instead of as victims. Here, Thomas brings the past which was fictional to the
present reality, as it depicts the characters at the present moment, regaining
their proud Indian way of life untainted with alcohol or drug intake.  Thomas emphasizes on the fact that one must
be aware and feel proud to carry one’s original Native American identity,
rather than a stereotypical identity. 
Victor and Junior throw away the bottles, thus portrays success of Thomas’s
story which convinced them for their rebirth of tradition identity.

In
the story ‘The Trail of Thomas Builds- The- Fire’ where Thomas plays the larger
role is on a trail on the charge of two murders. Judge asks him to proceed with
his testimony, where he narrates four stories. Here, Thomas performs both as
the protagonist and the story itself, as like a trickster Thomas builds on
cross cultural references, stereotype and humor. The trail of Thomas can be
seen as a trial against the belief in the power of storytelling.
“Builds-the-Fire has a history of this kind of behavior … A storytelling
fetish accompanied by an extreme need to tell the truth. Dangerous” (Alexie 93).
While the BIA members were planning to accuse him of various charges, Thomas knew
of what crime was he actually guilty of. Along with the storyteller being on
trial, Alexie also depicts the hopelessness of the social situation of the
Native Americans. The response marked towards Thomas as ‘dangerous’ signifies
the threat among the people of criticizing the society. Thomas’s stories are
not even accepted in the court room, denial of his stories represents the
denial of the history through his eyes. Represented as a trickster Alexie
disguises the criticism in humor, and who interprets the past through the
stories of Thomas, that travels between history and myth, Natives version and
Euro-American version of the stories.

In
his first story he narrates himself as a pony who was taken captive and
transported to Walla Walla valley. The story is set for Sept 8, 1855, and
narrates how hundreds of captured ponies were being killed. The motive behind
the story as a tragedy was to gain sympathy of the people present in the courtroom
as he tricks them for a pony as Native Americans. During the description of the
slaughter of the hundred of horses, many of the people present in court room
fell into the trap. “Most of the Indians in the courtroom wept and wanted to
admit defeat” (98)  His successful
attempt to gather the emotional support towards his remarks to the beginning of
the story where his story telling was considered as dangerous. It proves the
power that lies in storytelling (while Thomas was considered as abnormal) that
Thomas is dangerous, not only to the “white” American system, but also for many
Native Americans.

“A new story was raised from the ash of older stories”
(Alexie 98), therefore, Thomas closed his eyes and narrated another story in
the flashback, and represented himself as a warrior named Qualchan. This story
comments on the false promises made by White men to Native Americans, moreover,
killing of them.  The story again raised
awareness among the people regarding their self pride, community pride,
willingness and confidence to regain their Native American cultural identity
and heritage of the people in the reservation. Thomas portrays the importance
of storytelling, because of which he was shunned in the community that it is
through the stories one is connected to its past cultural identity of the
community and one’s family. Thomas focuses on the acceptance and recognition of
the past, and also signifies that through storytelling the culture can be
preserved to pass on to the next generation.  After he is charged for imprisonment and is
made to sit in the bus, still the power of storytelling is recognized by the
other prisoners: “You’re that storyteller. Tell us some stories, chief” (Alexie
103).

No matter how long the officials’ tried to suppress the truth
with the help of stereotype, but the power of storytelling brings back the
oppressed Indian identities as proud warriors. Thomas’s attempts to glorify
storytelling are a medium to shed the vision of oppression and the stereotypes,
and to achieve the lost traditional ideals, further to preserve them for the
generations to come. Native Americans are being trapped in the white
culture  falling into self- fulfilling
stereotypical image, but Thomas through his story telling believers to change
and retaliate  against the troubles and
gain the real Native American past and present.