Sherman Alexie is a Spokane Native American writer, poet, and filmmaker. In his essay “Superman and Me,” he tells the story of how he learned to read using Superman comic books.
Alexie grew up on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Washington state. He was raised by his grandparents, who spoke only the Spokane language. His parents were alcoholics and were not very involved in his life.
Despite the challenges he faced, Alexie was a bright child who loved to learn. When he was three years old, he started reading Superman comic books. He was fascinated by the stories and the characters. Superman became his hero.
Alexie credits Superman with helping him learn to read. He says that the comic books gave him a “superpower” that he could use to escape the poverty and violence of his everyday life.
Today, Alexie is a successful writer and filmmaker. He has won many awards for his work, including the National Book Award. He continues to honor Superman as his hero.
In Sherman Alexie’s essay, Superman and Me, he employs repetition and extended metaphors to move from a personal to a sociological perspective while describing his difficult childhood and the role reading played in his survival. The essay begins with the recollection of how Alexie learned to read after reading Superman comic books. He explains that instead of remembering the particular details of what he read, he remembers the concept of reading.
This detailed description of the illustrations in the comics and how he was able to understand them without knowing how to read, further develops the idea that reading does not come from understanding words but from comprehending ideas. This is why Alexie could “read” the comics before he knew how to read because he was understanding the idea of what was happening in the story.
This also allowed him to make connections from his real life to the superhero’s life. For example, when Superman saved people from a fire, Alexie made the connection that both he and Superman were “saving” people, just in different ways; Superman saved people with his superpowers and Alexie saved people by teaching them how to read.
Although Superman is a superhero, he is also a relatable character to Alexie because they both had tough childhoods. Superman’s parents died when he was a baby and he was sent to Earth, while Alexie’s mother almost died during childbirth, his father was an alcoholic, and his family was very poor. In the essay, Alexie uses extended metaphors to compare himself to Superman. He states that like Superman, he too is “an alien” (Alexie, Sherman. “Superman and Me.” The Norton Reader: An Anthology of Nonfiction. Shorter 13th ed., vol. 2, W.W. Norton & Company, 2016, pp. 50-54).
This is because he does not feel like he belongs on the Spokane Indian Reservation. He also says that they are both “naming themselves” because they are creating their own identities; Superman creates his superhero identity and Alexie creates his writer identity.
Throughout the essay, Alexie uses first person point of view which allows readers to see how reading has affected him on a personal level. He talks about how hard it was for him to learn how to read because he grew up in a poor family and attended a school for Native Americans that was short on resources. He describes how difficult it was for him to find books that were interesting to him, but when he did find one, he would read it over and over again. This showed how much he loved reading and how much it meant to him.
The essay ends with a powerful statement about how reading can save lives. He talks about how his father used to tell him that “the world was one big book and we were all trying to read it” (Alexie, Sherman. “Superman and Me.” The Norton Reader: An Anthology of Nonfiction. Shorter 13th ed., vol. 2, W.W. Norton & Company, 2016, pp. 50-54).
This quote shows how reading is important not just for him but for everyone because it allows us to understand the world around us. It is clear that reading has had a profound impact on Alexie’s life and has helped him to become the person he is today.
Then he contrasts this with what he can recall, which is that he was “a Spokane Indian boy living with his family on the Spokane Indian Reservation.” This contrast is emphasized by recalling that his family was “poor by most standards,” and that they lived on “irregular paychecks, hope, fear, and government surplus food.” This adds to Alexie’s childhood and background.
The essay then talks about how Superman came into Alexie’s life. He found an issue of Superman at a local trading post and was immediately drawn to it. He loved the idea of Superman – “a hero who looked like me but was nothing like me.” This is an important point that Alexie makes, because it shows how he related to Superman. He saw himself in the character, but also recognized that they were different. This is something that many people can relate to, regardless of their background.
Alexie goes on to talk about how Superman affected his life. He states that “Superman didn’t just make me feel strong; he made me feel good about being Indian.” This is a powerful statement, because it shows how important representation can be. For Alexie, seeing himself reflected in Superman made him feel good about who he was. This is something that is often lacking for minority groups.
The essay ends with Alexie talking about how Superman has inspired him throughout his life. He talks about how he “read voraciously” after finding Superman and how the character has helped him through difficult times. He even credits Superman with helping him become a writer.
The comparison between the Superman comic books and Alexie’s family emphasizes his love of reading, even though his family couldn’t afford to buy him books. The following paragraph continues Alexie’s discussion about how he acquired his passion for reading and how it changed the way he saw the world. He repeats himself yet again to demonstrate the enormous number of books he read, bought, and that may be found all over his house.
“I must have read every Superman comic book ever published. And I don’t mean just the ones with Superman in them. I read Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen, too. I was also partial to Superboy and Supergirl. I cut my teeth on those comics, learned how to read from them. My mother used to joke that if someone put all the comics I’d read end to end, they would stretch from our house clear across the reservation and into Spokane. That’s not far from the truth.”
Alexie’s love for reading gave him an escape from the difficult reality of his life on the reservation. It showed him a world outside of his own, where anything was possible and people were good. In many ways, Superman was Alexie’s real-life hero.