Sherman Alexie and Native American Writing

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Sherman Alexie began his literary career writing poetry and short stories, being recognized for his examination of the Native American (Hunter 1). Written after reading media coverage of an actual execution in the state of Washington, Sherman Alexie’s poem Capital Punishment tells the story of an Indian man on death row waiting for his execution. The poem is told in the third person by the cook preparing the last meal as he recalls the many final meals he has prepared over the years. In addition to the Indian currently awaiting his death, the cook speaks of a black man who was electrocuted and lived to tell about it, only to be sent back to the chair an hour later to be killed again. He also recalls many of the meals he had prepared had been for dark-skinned men convicted of killing white people. The thought of racial discrimination in capital punishment seems to be the theme at first glance, but reading further indicates differently. The cook also ponders his own survival in the prison system as an inmate. Learning to cook and outlasting all the others before him, whether by age or fate, allowed him the opportunity to create food filled with love for the one that will die. After this final meal has been prepared by the cook for the condemned inmate to eat, fear and anticipation takes over his body. Just as proper temperature is needed for cooking, a proper amount of electricity is needed to operate the electric chair and this need creates a dimming and flickering effect in the prison reminding all those left behind of their possible fate: “You can watch a light bulb flicker on a night like this and remember it too clearly like it was your first kiss or the first hard kick to your groin” (Alexie lines 52-56). As death ... ... middle of paper ... ...eter, Richard C. “Death Penalty Information Center” A Crisis of Confidence: Americans’ Doubts about the Death Penalty. 2007. 1-30 Print. Hunter, Jeffrey W. “Sherman Alexie.” Contemporary Literary Criticism. Vol. 312. 2012: 1-5. Literature Resource Center. Web. 24 November 2013. Keyzer, Amy Marcaccio. Does Capital Punishment Deter Crime. Michigan: Greenhaven, 2007. 7-93 Print. Radelet, Michael L. and Borg, Marian J. “The Changing Nature of Death Penalty Debates.” Annual Sociology Review. 2000: 43-57. Academic Search Complete. Web. 17 November 2013. Randa, Laura E. “Society’s Final Solution: A History and Discussion of the Death Penalty.” (1997). History of the Death Penalty. Ed. Michael H. Reggio. University Press of America, Inc., 1997. 1-6 Print. The New International Version/The Message. Zondervan Parallel Bible ed. Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2006. Print.
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