Indian Education by Sherman Alexie: Analysis of Rhetorical Devices

April 21, 2023
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Indian Education by Sherman Alexie: Analysis of Rhetorical Devices essay
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This assignment is on “Indian Education” by Sherman Alexie. It makes an analysis of rhetorical devices used in the short story.

"Indian Education" is a semi-autobiographical short story written by Sherman Alexie, a Native American writer. The story follows the protagonist, Victor, from his first day of kindergarten to his high school graduation. Throughout the story, Alexie portrays the struggles and challenges faced by Native American students in the American education system, including racism, cultural assimilation, and the loss of identity. Even though Alexie faced many struggles because he was different, he still had the strength and willpower to receive a good education and he uses several rhetorical devices to help show his life over the years. The story takes place in an Indian Reservation, as well as a predominantly white school outside of the reservation. This memoir shows what life was like for an Indian boy going to school and being bullied. It shows how Alexie overcame his obstacles to be someone greater than expected of him. It tells about how Alexie proves the Indian stereotypes wrong.

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Sherman Alexie "Indian education": summary and analysis

In “Indian Education”, he talks about his life during his years of schooling. His life was not easy, because his parents were the typical Indian parents that drank and cried all the time. He went to school outside of the Indian reservation. He wanted the education that most in his tribe would not get. Alexie’s audience could be aimed toward Indian people that have suffered through racism or it could be aimed toward white people that don’t understand Indian culture. His persona is one that shows strength and willpower. He had to have the strength to get through school. Sherman Alexie is someone who has the authority to write about the struggles of being an Indian student in school, because he was one of those Indian students. He had to live through the racist comments and stereotypical thoughts of other people around him. For example, his teacher criticized him in second grade for having long hair. She told Alexie’s parents to cut his hair or keep him home from class. His parents came to school and flaunted there long braids across the teacher’s desk. She said “indian, indian, indian.” Alexie responded with “ Yes I am, I am Indian. Indian, I am.” (Alexie) He was strong and I was very proud of his ethnicity. All of these are examples of ethos, the ethical appeal.

Another rhetorical device that is used is pathos, which is the emotional appeal. The entire and short story evokes emotion, but here are a few examples throughout the story. In seventh grade, he talked about the white girl that he loved. Alexie ends up kissing the white girl and that was his way of saying goodbye to his tribe because it is a form or betrayal. He says “after that, no one spoke to me for another five hundred years.” which is yet another rhetorical device that Alexie use, because obviously they didn’t stop talking to him for 500 years.(Lone Ranger) Alexie says in the short story that He stated that she was raped by her foster-parent father. When the newspaper wrote about it, it did not mention anything about their color of skin. The newspaper had said “Just Indians being Indians”. (Alexie) A Juxtaposition is shown when Alexie says “I sat back and watched them grow skinny from self-pity. But we ate it day after day and grew skinny from self-pity.” Alexie says that the girls at his school suffer from anorexia and bulimia. He would ask them for food because they did not have enough as a family. His mother would stand in long lines to receive canned beef that the dogs would not eat. Alexie wants the audience to show sympathy and empathy toward ethnic children in the school system.

Alexie also appeals to the logical side of things (logos). In fourth grade, his teacher said to him “You should be a doctor when you grow up.” (Alexie) Alexie asked his teacher why he should become a doctor. His teacher responded to him by saying that he could really help out the people in his tribe if he become a doctor. That year, he would go home and talk to his reflection in the mirror and say “Dr. Victor to the emergency room.'' (Alexie) Dr. Victor is a symbol of the need for someone to heal the tribe. Alexie became as successful as he did because of that teacher that saw something great in him. And because his teacher saw something good in him, he saw something good in himself as well.

Alexie graduates and he is at the top of his class. He looks at his indian peers that can barely read and he realizes that all they are going to do is go to the tavern every other night to drink. He even says “Why should we organize a reservation high school reunion? My graduating class has a reunion every weekend at the Powwow Tavern.” (Alexie) Alexie uses yet another form of juxtaposition by saying “I tried to remain stoic for the photographers as I look toward the future.” and “ They smile for the photographer as they look back toward tradition.” (Alexie) Alexie states that he pretended to look happy for his pictures, but in reality, he does not know what he was going to do with his life. Right after he admits that, he says that everyone else smiles because they have no doubt about their lives. They will follow the Indian tradition ways. They will end up living the exact lives their parents lived and that does not scare them at all. That’s the difference between Alexie and the rest of his class, Alexie was very scared of becoming exactly like his parents and that’s why he pursued a better education.

Alexie has to deal with all of this first hand. He did not need evidence to support his claims. He lived it; this was his life. No evidence is greater than first-hand evidence. He had no idea what was next in his life after graduation. He wrote “ The bright students are shaken, frightened, because they don't know what comes next.” (Alexie) Alexie never knew what he truly wanted, all he knew was that he wanted to prove the stereotypes wrong. He wanted everyone to know that even someone from his background could leave the reservation and become successful in life.


  1. Alexie, S. (1994). The lone ranger and tonto fistfight in heaven. Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
  2. Alexie, S. (1997). Indian education. In J. Eschholz, R. Rosa, & P. Clark (Eds.), Subject and strategy: A writer's reader (pp. 320-328). Bedford/St. Martin's.
  3. Bercovitch, S. (1985). The American jeremiad. University of Wisconsin Press.
  4. DeCosta-Klipa, N. (2018). The troubled legacy of Sherman Alexie. Boston Globe.
  5. Finnegan, C. (2014). Telling stories: Sherman Alexie and the rhetoric of American exceptionalism. Journal of American Studies, 48(4), 911-927.
  6. Hoxie, F. E. (1984). A final promise: The campaign to assimilate the Indians, 1880-1920. University of Nebraska Press.
  7. Keating, A. (2010). The contradictions of sovereignty: Native American struggle for justice in Indian education. American Indian Quarterly, 34(3), 243-265.
This essay is graded:
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Expert Review
This essay provides a comprehensive analysis of Sherman Alexie's semi-autobiographical short story, "Indian Education," focusing on the rhetorical devices employed by the author. The writer effectively examines how Alexie uses rhetorical strategies to convey the struggles faced by Native American students within the American education system. The analysis covers key rhetorical devices such as ethos, pathos, and logos, demonstrating how Alexie establishes credibility, evokes emotions, and appeals to logic. The essay connects the story's themes to Alexie's personal experiences and highlights the impact of cultural identity, racism, and the pursuit of education. While the analysis is insightful, the essay could benefit from deeper exploration of specific quotes from the text to substantiate the claims made and provide more nuanced interpretations. Additionally, expanding on the broader societal and historical context could enhance the understanding of the story's significance.
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What can be improved
Quote Integration: Incorporate specific quotes from the short story to illustrate and support each rhetorical device discussed. Textual Analysis: Provide more in-depth analysis of selected quotes, delving into their nuances and connections to rhetorical devices. Contextual Framework: Expand on the historical, cultural, and social context of Native American experiences within the American education system to enhance the essay's depth. Further Interpretation: Offer deeper insights into the layers of meaning in Alexie's use of rhetorical devices, connecting them to the broader themes of identity, racism, and education. Flow and Structure: Enhance the essay's flow by using transitions between paragraphs and ideas to create a seamless progression of analysis.
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