‘The Toughest Indian In The World’ by Sherman Alexie


The Toughest Indian In The World by Sherman Alexie, 1999

The magic trick:

Framing the story through the narrator’s Indian identity at the outset

Two sex scenes in this story. They differ from each other in almost every possible way. And it’s in those differences that we find the story’s theme. Interestingly, it might not be the most obvious difference, though, that plays the biggest factor.

The story, essentially, is three different pieces. The narrator begins by reflecting on his childhood – his father and the things he learned from his father about being an Indian. The next section is the shortest. In it, the narrator relates his disconnected life working as a newspaper reporter, dating a white woman. In the final section, the narrator picks up a hitchhiker and spends the night with him, a wandering Indian fighter.

You can probably guess then the key difference between the sex scenes. However, the story’s focus on Indian identity established in the opening section remains front and center throughout. The story touches on many different subjects and ideas from there, but it’s always doing so as a consideration of the narrator’s Indian identity. And that’s quite a trick on Alexie’s part.

The selection:

“I hit him like he was a white man,” the fighter said. “I hit him like he was two or three white men rolled into one.”

But the Flathead kid would not go down, even though his face swelled up so bad that he looked like the Elephant Man. There were no referees, no judge, no bells to signal the end of the round. The winner was the Indian still stand- ing. Punch after punch, man, and the kid would not go down.

“I was so tired after a while,” said the fighter, “that I just took a step back and watched the kid. He stood there with his arms down, swaying from side to side like some toy, you know? Head bobbing on his neck like there was no bone at all. You couldn’t even see his eyes no more. He was all messed up.”

“What’d you do?” I asked.

“Ah, hell, I couldn’t fight him no more. That kid was planning to die be- fore he ever went down. So I just sat on the ground while they counted me out. Dumb Flathead kid didn’t even know what was happening. I just sat on the ground while they raised his hand. While all the winners collected their money and all the losers cussed me out. I just sat there, man.”


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