Michelle Obama once said, “You may not always have a comfortable life and you will not always be able to solve all of the world’s problems at once but don’t ever underestimate the importance you can have because history has shown us that courage can be contagious and hope can take on a life of its own.” When thinking about our world we picture it as one, but if we take a deeper look into it it is broken up in multiple layers. Gender, race, socioeconomic status, ability, culture, personality, and other factors are some of those layers. Unfortunately, factors such as those are heavily constructed around stereotypes. Stereotypes have always been a big problem in society and till this day continue to impact us as a whole. Stereotyping is a way of grouping people or objects in clusters causing a false misconception of how our society is supposed to function. It has been known to label every person, young, old, tall, or short, with either negative or positive remarks making people feel no sense of motivation or hope. “The Joy of Reading and Writing: Superman and Me” by Sherman Alexie and “Learning to Read and Write” by Frederick Douglas are two expository essays that critically focus on the association between reading and writing and the effect it has on society for the better. In “The Joy of Reading and Writing: Superman and Me” Alexie displays a personal reflection on the challenges that come with being a Native American in modern America. He tells us readers how learning to read protected him as an individual regardless of the social challenges he faced on the Spokane Indian Reservation. In “Learning to Read and Write by Frederick Douglas” Douglass, an African American slave who later became a leader in the abolitionist movement, emphasizes on his personal journey of how he became literate while living in Master Hugh’s Family. Expository writing can be used to break stereotypes because it uses rhetorical devices such as repetition, tones, and personal anecdotes to discuss social change.
Reading is a valuable gift that has a positive impact on an individuals life. From a very early age, we are taught that the more education we obtain, the more fulfilling our lives will be. However, in “The Joy of Reading and Writing: Superman and Me,” this was not the case for Sherman Alexie as he battled against different challenges. Although not growing up with a solid educational foundation, Alexie was one of the fortunate ones to have access to tons of literature at home and a father figure with a strong love for reading “westerns, spy thrillers, murder mysteries, gangster epics, basketball player biographies, and anyting else he could find” (Alexie 16). On the Spokane Indian Reservation this was known as a destruction of culture. Native American Indians were not allowed to be surrounded by factors that would perhaps make them “smarter” than the social norm. If someone were literate, it was harder for people to gain control over them. A smart Indian was known to be a dangerous person and a failure. Sherman Alexie was expected to be unintelligent in school because that was the common view of Native Americans at that time. Knowing this stereotype, Alexie did not hold back and instead was inspired to do good. He opens up his essay by saying that he learned to read with the help of a Superman comic book (one that he did not know the name of) by looking at “each panel, complete with picture, dialogue, and narrative…” (Alexie 16). This is a crucial factor because it lets us readers know that Alexie was willing to get his hands on any reading material that came his way. Later in the comic book, we come to learn that Superman symbolizes hope and perseverance.
The figure of Superman is a personal referral to himself, creating a personal connection with his readers. When Alexie repeats the sentence, “Superman is breaking down the door,” he is referring to his own attempt to break down the borders of racial stereotype (Alexie 17). Here, Alexie is taking matters into his own hands to transform his life for the better. Alexie notes that “breaking down the door” was a way for him to progress to those steps of learning how to read. His use of this personal anecdote allows for his readers to feel a deep respect and sincerity for him. The message he tries to portray here is that everyone should have an equal opportunity to showcase their capability and be their own version of Superman. Throughout Alexie’s short essay, we see him use repetition in order to get a point across. The phrase Alexie repeats is, “I am smart. I am arrogant. I am lucky. I am trying to save our lives” (Alexie 18). He first introduces this point at the start of his essay when he talks about his dedication to reading as he read every opportunity he had. At the beginning of the essay he changes his tense from past tense of “I was” to present tense of “I am” by the end of the essay. The change in tense is a strong emphasis of who he was at the early start of his life to how much he has grown by the end of the essay. He wants to be recognized for something more than just another Native American on his reservation. This repetition is a good call to action to save the lives of the people in his community by spreading awareness of how their lives should be. Throughout his essay, Alexie achieves his purpose of breaking stereotypes toward Native Americans by using repetition and personal anecdotes.
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