February 25, 2010

Stereotypes in Indian in the Cupboard

From Oyate's review of The Indian in the Cupboard:

The Indian in the Cupboard, The Return of the Indian

Book to AvoidThe setting is England. On his birthday, Omri is given a small, white cupboard. When, for lack of a better idea, he puts a plastic "Indian" in it, the little figure comes to life, still tiny, but very much a human being. Omri's life becomes centered around the needs and wants of "Little Bear." The object here was not to draw an authentic Native person, but to create an arresting literary device. Although the little "Indian" is called Iroquois, no attempt has been made, either in text or illustrations, to have him look or behave appropriately. For example, he is dressed as a Plains Indian, and is given a tipi and a horse.

This is how he talks: "I help... I go... Big hole. I go through... Want fire. Want make dance. Call spirits." Et cetera. There are characteristic speech patterns for those who are also Native speakers, but nobody in the history of the world ever spoke this way.

What one reviewer describes as "some lively battle scenes" are among the most graphic war scenes in modern children's literature. As a whole, the book is brutal, and the Indians are horrifying:

He saw an Indian making straight for him. His face, in the torchlight, was twisted with fury. For a second, Omri saw, under the shaven scalplock, the mindless destructive face of a skinhead just before he lashed out... .The Algonquin licked his lips, snarling like a dog... .Their headdresses... even their movements... were alien. Their faces, too—their faces! They were wild, distorted, terrifying masks of hatred and rage.
Comment:  For more on the subject, see Images in Indian in the Cupboard and Thoughts on Indian in the Cupboard.

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