Monday, September 29, 2014

Role Reversal

            This week’s readings provided a new angle on the role of identity, especially Native Identity, and how authors use humor to argue for its importance as well as showing how it has been abused by Western society. In “Borders,” readers are presented with the humorous story of a woman and her son who are stuck in limbo between America and Canada because the mother insists on being recognized as a Blackfoot Indian instead of a citizen of either country. Neither border will let her pass without claiming some form of ‘acceptable’ identity. When being questioned by the Canadian border guard, the guard says “’I know,’ said the woman, ‘and I’d be proud of being Blackfoot if I were Blackfoot. But you have to be American or Canadian.” (King 141). While the predicament of the characters is humorous, it is also revealing the absurdity of forced identity. King wants the readers to recognize the oppression of identity when the woman is forced to choose between American and Canadian instead of being allowed to represent herself in a way she sees fit. We laugh at the woman’s stubbornness and perhaps feel she should give up but by doing this we recognize our own perceptions of identity and realize that people should be free to identify themselves in any manner they choose.
            Patricia Grace similarly deals with Native Identity in “Ngati Kangaru.” In her short story, Grace reverses the roles of Manifest Destiny to an hysterical effect. While not overtly recognized as Manifest Destiny in New Zealand, the native Maoris were taken advantage of by Westerners in an almost identical way to Native Americans. The role reversal is humorous and enlightening. When they are devising a plan to steal the summer homes of rich New Zealanders, Makere says the homeowners will never sign away their homes to which Billy responds, “’Not them,’ Billy said, ‘You don’t get them to sign. You get others to sign. That’s how it was done before.” (Grace 34). The absurdity of Billy’s plan to allow people to sign for houses they do not even own brings to light the absurdity of historical notions such as Manifest Destiny, and others like it. Grace’s argument that Maoris will take back the land because they have ancestral ties to it is both humorous and more valid than Western claims to the land. Through superiority humor, Grace makes a claim to the land and for once puts the Native people on the receiving end.
Kasaipwalova similarly puts natives on a level playing field with white Westerners. The narrator of his short story seems uneducated yet fiery and much of the humor is derived from his misspelling of words. The instant inclination to assume the narrator is uneducated places the reader on a higher level than the narrator and thus begins the superiority humor. However, Kasaipwalova checks this superiority with the passage, “Why aren’t you arresting those white kids inside the terminal for chewing P.K.? What’s the difference between their P.K. in the terminal and our betel nut outside on the road pavement?” (Kasaipwalova 616).

The theme of exploitation seen in all three short stories is also very evident in Candide. Candide is constantly taken advantage of due to his own naiveté and ignorance. One particular instance arises with the Marchioness in France. “The lady having perceived two enormous diamonds upon the hands of the young foreigner praised them with such good faith that from Candide’s fingers they passed to her own.” (Voltaire 61). All throughout the novel we laugh as Candide stumbles from misfortune to misfortune. From being forced to run the gauntlet to having his jewels stolen from his own fingers with ease, we wonder ‘Will he ever learn?’ In fact, the point of Candide, and of all three short stories, is not that the characters have something to learn. It is about readers learning something. We come to understand systematic abuses that have long been present in the world and how damaging they really are. Unfortunately one of the main groups affected by such oppression has been the Native populations of colonized countries. These people were seen as lesser by the colonizers and were treated as such. By reversing these roles and challenging these traditions with humor, authors present audiences with a call for social justice that it not abrasive but easy to take in. It is often said that laughter is the universal language and what better way to bridge the gap from the Western world to the Native one than with humor.

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