1 The narrator begins the novel by stating, ‘My zits are me,’ defining himself by his affliction. How else does het define himself? Speculating about rock stars with ‘stringy hair and greasy beards and bloodshot eyes,’ Zits says, ‘As ugly as I am, I might have been the biggest rock star in the world’ (p. 2). How, as he learns in juvenile detention (p. 26), is the acne a badge both of shame and poverty? How does his identity begin to change in the book? Does he seem liberated by inhabiting clean-faced people in his travels?
Zits and zits, the two of them can’t be separated. Zits doesn’t really seem to care about his zits. He speculates their origin, saying ‘I wonder if loneliness causes acne. I wonder if being Indian causes acne.’ Nevertheless, it appears that Zits wants to define his inner self by his physical appearance, his zits. This element is found in Zits’s name (which is Zits), and by his thoughts (‘My zits give me superpowers’).
2 How is shame at the heart of dislocated Indians? What kinds of shame, besides his ‘ugliness,’ does Zits suffer from? (see p. 5). How does the physical stigma serve as a metaphor for larger cultural deprivations? For the human condition? Can you think of other figures in literature form whom one oddity or deformity is emblematic of greater dilemmas? One thinks of Kafka’s Gregor in Metamorphosis who awakens one day as a giant, awkward insect. Or Captain Ahab with his cursed wooden leg in Moby-Dick. Others?
Zits is ‘dying from about ninety-nine kinds of shame.’ He isn’t only shamed of his zits, he is ‘ashamed of being fifteen years old. And being tall. And skinny. And ugly.’ Zits ugliness and shame is a metaphor for the Indians in general, who all seem ashamed of their ‘half’ Indian, ‘half’ white identity.
3 Zits has had twenty foster families by the time he is fifteen, and he started running away from them at age eight. What is the picture of foster parents he conveys in the book? Have you found that view corroborated in newspaper articles? ‘When it comes to foster parents, there are only two kinds: the good but messy people who are trying to help kids or the absolute welfare vultures that like to cash government checks every month. . . . But who cares, right? It’s not like I’m going to be here much longer. I’m never in any one place long enough to care’ (p. 8). Do you see that Zits might have done things differently to make some of these foster homes work better?
Zits attitude towards foster parents is quite simplistic. He only makes one distinction: either they are good but messy, or they are ‘absolute welfare vultures’. I don’t think he is right by doing so. Afterall, we are all different, and so are foster parents. Zits, however, doesn’t seem to realise this. When Zits is placed in a new foster family at the beginning of the book, his attitude is really negative and so is his behaviour. This is bizarre, especially because he doesn’t even know his new foster parents. If Zits had started off properly and hadn’t acted so rude, he might have had a better time at his foster families.
5 ‘My mother loved me more than any of you will ever know’ (p. 3). Is this the boy’s talisman? Is it the core of him that might ultimately provide a way out of his cycling nightmares, real and imagined? He also thinks his mother got cancer from grieving at her loss of his father. How did his own grief make him even more vulnerable to the repeated abuses of his childhood?
Zits wants to protect himself from more grief, and he does so by not attaching to others. But it was this refusal to love that isolated Zits and made him become more vulnerable. If he had had someone that could take the place of a friend, he wouldn’t have been so lonely and embittered. His statement ‘I’d always been punished for showing emotion’ wouldn’t have been true, if he had just known someone he could show the emotion to.
6 Zits is a boy whose childhood was taken away from him, leaving him bleakly lonely. ‘I don’t know any other Native Americans, except the homeless Indians who wander around downtown Seattle. . . . Of course, those wandering Indians are not the only Indians in the world, but they’re the only ones who pay attention to me’ (p. 7). One thinks, too, of the drunken street Indian later in the book who shouts that he needs some respect. Are there ways to reclaim the lives of down-and-outers? Zits scoffs at the ‘overeducated, yoga-addicted’ social worker who urges him to wear a necktie and shine his shoes to develop ‘a sense of citizenship’ and learn to be a ‘fully realized human being’ (pp. 6-7). Do you think the visible outward signs of uniforms in creation inner-city schools contribute to law, order, and self-respect? Should neckties and shoeshine kits be part of shelters?
I don’t think that a street Indian with a necktie and shiny shoes will become ‘a fully realized human being’. It takes more than a change in appearance. Uniforms, neckties and shiny shoes don’t contribute to law and order. They provide uniformity, but uniformity doesn’t necessarily imply law or order. The hardest and most important step is a change in attitude. If someone doesn’t want to change, he will never change. I think that people should pay more attention to this element rather than the physical element.
7 Among many sad, bitter, angry, vengeful characters in Zits’s life and travels are several who stand out for their humanity. Think about people who risk their lives for strangers, such as Little Saint and even Gus, the white liberals in Spokane, and Dave who as a good cop puts his life on the line every day, even before he and Mary take the huge risk they do at the end. Are there others you can think of? Does Zits take stands that put him in this category.
The title of the book, ‘Flight’, can be explained in multiple ways. During Zits’s travels (or ‘flights’), he experienced all sorts of hatred and anger, but also forgiveness. The boy who shot people at the beginning of the book took a spiritual ‘flight’ to a grown-up man that knows how to control feelings of anger and hatred. Step by step, Zits learns how people can forgive or don’t forgive, how people lie and don’t lie, and how people kill or choose to save others instead. In the beginning of the novel, it would be impossible to put Zits in the specific category. However, as the novel progresses, he takes more and more stands that do put him in the category, until he is as good as Little Saint, Gus and the others.
‘I WOULD STEAL HORSES’
I Would Steal Horses
for you, if there were any left,
give a dozen of the best
to your father, the auto mechanic
in the small town where you were born
and where he will die sometime by dark.
I am afraid of his hands, which have
rebuilt more of the small parts
of this world than I ever will.
I would sign treaties for you, take
every promise as the last lie, the last
point after which we both refuse the exact.
I would wrap us both in old blankets
hold every disease tight against our skin.
— Sherman Alexie
Read the poem and develop a response on whether you believe this poem has an engulfing sense of hatred or anger towards something or someone. Or whether you believe the poem is about something entirely different; defined by various emotions and literary elements. Do you see any connotation of hate or anger within the poem? What do you believe the poem is trying to convey? Identify some literary elements (tone, structure, flow, rhyme, etc.) that help support your interpretation or take on the poem?
The poem contains a lot of negative elements. These are typified by words with a negative meaning, such as ‘afraid’, ‘dark’, ‘die’, ‘lie’ and ‘disease’, as well as sentences, such as ‘if there were any left’ and ‘more than I ever will’. The use of enjambment suggests some sort of urgency, the speaker doesn’t feel comfortable or safe. This urgency and the negative words indicate an approaching ‘enemy’. This ‘enemy’ deceived the speaker quite some times, but he doesn’t seem to distrust him. Perhaps this ‘enemy’ is revenge, and the speaker defends himself by ‘giving horses’, ‘signing treaties’ and ‘taking every promise as the last lie.’
‘GREAT DYING’ DEPICTION
King Philip’s War (1675-1676), a brief but bloody conflict between Native Americans and English colonists in southern New England, marked a turning point in 17th century encounters between Indians and Europeans. However, it was not the worst disaster to occur during a long period of tension and upheaval. That honor goes to the “Great Dying,” a cataclysmic scourge brought upon the native population by epidemics—notably smallpox, measles, and typhus—from which they had no immunity. Spreading into this region from the mouth of the Saco River in 1617 and up the Connecticut River by 1635, these contagious diseases seriously reduced Abenaki numbers, perhaps by as much as 90 percent.
— Bethel Historical Society Web Site
Consider the artwork and think about what is being represented. Develop your response and support your interpretation with evidence taken straight from the artwork. What do the images drawn convey to the observer? What is the depiction suggesting about the context of the massacre? What emotions or feelings emerge from observing this drawing?
It is clear that the people on the foreground are either dead dying. Their innocence is shown by the fact that both men put their hands in the air and pray for the others. The emotion of grief is evident on the faces of the men, which indicates close – perhaps familiar – relationships with the dying victims.
SMALL SAINT SAVES BOW BOY
Why did Small Saint save Bow Boy? Would you change the story around and have Zits himself save Bow Boy? What implications would it have for the rest of the story? If you decide that you would not have had Zits save Bow Boy, then provide reasoning for why not. Create a prediction for what happens to Small Saint, Bow Boy and Zits (as Gus in this instance) in the context of the battle.
The event in which Small Saint saves Bow Boy, is a great turning point in Zits’s way of thinking. It (or in fact, he) showed Zits that there are ways to be kind, even though the situation doesn’t ‘allow’ it. If it were Zits who saved Bow Boy, the climax of the story (Zits changing) would have been reached in a shorter and more incomplete way.
The act of bravery provides Zits with some sense of hope. In a war stetting, it is highly unlikely that an enemy would save his enemy. But when it comes to the reasoning behind this act of ‘reason’, Zits doesn’t get it. ‘Is there a difference between that killing and this killing? Does God approve of some killing and not other killing? If I kill these soldiers so that Small Saint and Bow Boy can escape, does that make me a hero?’ (p. 105). If the plot had been changed and zits became Small Saint, he wouldn’t have come up with all these essential questions.
On the other hand, the plot doesn’t need any adjustment: Zits already saved the boy, but then in a different fashion. The realisation that justice can also be achieved in a different way than using violence, the only way Zits had been knowing of, was a turning point in his development. Zits sacrificed himself (actually, Gus) to save Small Saint and Bow Boy.
Crazy Horse (Lakota: Thašųka Witko, literally “His-Horse-is-Crazy”) (ca. 1840 – September 5, 1877) was a respected war leader of the Lakota, who fought against the U.S. federal government in an effort to preserve the traditions and values of the Lakota way of life. On June 17, 1876, Crazy Horse led a combined group of approximately 1,500 Lakota and Cheyenne in a surprise attack against Brevet Brig. Gen. George Crook’s force of 1,000 cavalry and infantry and 300 Crow and Shoshone warriors in the Battle of the Rosebud. The battle, although not substantial in terms of human loss, delayed Crook from joining up with the 7th Cavalry under George A. Custer, ensuring Custer’s subsequent defeat at the Battle of the Little Bighorn.
At 3:00 p.m. on June 25, 1876, Custer’s 7th Cavalry attacked the Lakota and Cheyenne village, marking the beginning of the Battle of the Little Big Horn. Crazy Horse’s exact actions during the battle are unknown. Possibly Crazy Horse entered the battle by repelling the first attack led by Maj. Marcus Reno, but it is also possible that he was still in his lodge waiting for the larger battle with Custer. Hunkpapa Warriors led by Chief Gall led the main body of the attack, and once again Crazy Horse’s role in the battle remains ambiguous. Some historians think that Crazy Horse led a flanking assault, assuring the death of Custer and his men, the only fact that can be proven is that Crazy Horse was a major participant in the battle.
Why I have provided you a biography of ‘Crazy Horse’?
The biography provides us with information about Crazy Horse, who is a prominent character in chapters eight and nine. Understanding the historical background of both Crazy Horse and the Battle of the Little Bighorn helps you understand the context better.
What significance does this figure hold in and for the Native American culture?
Crazy Horse was, the way Zits described him, ‘the greatest warrior ever.’ ‘Bullets couldn’t hit him. He could never be photographed. He is like a holy ghost, the Sioux Jesus.’ This clearly indicates Crazy Horse was seen as a hero, perhaps the last one able to defend himself and the other Indians from the Europeans.
Why does Sherman Alexie use this figure within the Novel?
Who else would have been better at conveying a message than the ‘national’ hero of the Indians? Zits looks up to him for the fact that he faced Custer and the ‘whites’, eventhough he knew they’re much stronger. But when Zits is standing next to him, he figures that Crazy Horse is ‘a half-breed’. This must have been puzzling Zits, a half-breed too. How is it possible that the Indian hero is a half-breed?
What purpose does it serve to include famous battles, such as that of The Battle of The Little Big Horn?
It adds some sense of reliability and authenticity to the story. By using well-known historical events and persons, the writer shows that he is knowledgeable about the subject. Zits, who could instantly recognise the setting and persons, is also shown to be knowing about the battle and persons.
Are there any other social implications to including such events such as race, violence, and so forth?
The battle is quite symbolic for Zits’s situation. On the one hand we have Crazy Horse and his fellow Indians, and on the other hand we have Custer and his army. It is clear that Custer and the other Europeans by far had better equipment than the ‘primitive’ Indians. Zits thinks he has to face the ‘whites’ too, who have better means of attack. Battles such as this one might give him hope, that the outcome of a future event can be unpredictable.
Now, you must go home and consider what heroes or cultural icons you would like to share with the class. Provide factual information, traditional myth, or legendary tales that include your famous familial icon. It must be an individual that is revered and loved in your heritage. After deciding on one, answer these questions.
I chose William of Orange. Below is some factual information.
William of Orange
William I, Prince of Orange (24 April 1533 – 10 July 1584), also widely known as William the Silent (Dutch: Willem de Zwijger), or simply William of Orange (Dutch: Willem van Oranje), was the main leader of the Dutch revolt against the Spanish that set off the Eighty Years’ War and resul ted in the formal independence of the United Provinces in 1648. He was born in the House of Nassau as Count of Nassau-Dillenburg. He became Prince of Orange in 1544 and is thereby the founder of the branch House of Orange-Nassau.
A wealthy nobleman, William originally served the Habsburgs as a member of the court of Margaret of Parma, governor of the Spanish Netherlands. Unhappy with the centralisation of political power away from the local estates and with the Spanish persecution of Dutch Protestants, William joined the Dutch uprising and turned against his former masters. The most influential and politically capable of the rebels, he led the Dutch to several successes in the fight against the Spanish. Declared an outlaw by the Spanish king in 1580, he was assassinated by Balthasar Gérard (also written as “Gerardts”) in Delft four years later.
Many of the Dutch national symbols can be traced back to William of Orange:
- The flag of the Netherlands (red, white and blue) is derived from the flag of the prince, which was orange, white and blue.
- The coat of arms of the Netherlands is based on that of William of Orange. Its motto Je maintiendrai (French, “I will maintain”) was also used by William of Orange, who based it on the motto of his cousin René of Châlon, who used Je maintiendrai Châlon.
- The national anthem of the Netherlands, the Wilhelmus, was originally a propaganda song for William. It was probably written by Philips of Marnix, Lord of Saint-Aldegonde, a supporter of William of Orange.
- The national colour of the Netherlands is orange, and it is used, among other things, in the clothing of Dutch athletes.
- The orange sash of the Prussian Order of the Black Eagle was in honour of the Dutch Dynasty of William the Silent, since the order’s founder, Frederick I of Prussia’s mother, Louise Henrietta of Nassau, was the granddaughter of William the Silent.
Other remembrances of William of Orange:
- A statue of William the Silent stands on the main campus of Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, a legacy of the university’s founding by ministers of the Dutch Reformed Church in 1766. The statue is commonly known to students and alumni as “Willie the Silent” and contains an inscription referring to William as “Father of his Fatherland.”
- In January 2008, the asteroid 12151 Oranje-Nassau was named after him.
Why have you chosen the individual?
William of Orange was very important in the process of unifying the Netherlands and making them independent from the reign of Spain.
What makes the person you chose a legend, myth, hero, or icon?
William of Orange is better known as the ‘Father of his Fatherland’. He was part of the uprising for independence he was declared stadtholder. He became the first (accepted) ruler of the Netherlands and made way for the for independence form Spain.
What do they mean to your culture or heritage?
William of Orange founded the country and established its modern way of governing. He also influenced parts of the culture. The flag (red, white and blue) is based on the flag of the prince (which was orange instead of red). The coat of arms is also based on that of William of Orange, and its motto ‘Je maintiendrai’ was also used by him. The national anthem, the Wilhelmus, is a propaganda song for him.
What does the individual mean to you personally?
William of Orange can be seen as a great example. He had all the properties to be a king and so he became one. Personally, he proves to me that willingness and stamina in hard times are rewarded.
What information would you love to share to others about this individual?
I always tell people that there is no one that had a greater influence on our country than William of Orange.
Do they have any similarities to that of the famous figures in FLIGHT? If not, how are they different?
William of Orange and Crazy Horse both stood up for their people and culture and tried to gain independence. Both fought famous battles and managed to gain support from others. The only difference is that Willem of Orange didn’t have a technological handicap.