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Essay: Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese

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  • Subject area(s): Literature essays
  • Reading time: 7 minutes
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  • Published: 26 July 2022*
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  • Words: 1,995 (approx)
  • Number of pages: 8 (approx)

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Everyday, it can be observed that millions of people are getting discriminated due to racism as others are judging people just solely based on skin colour, race and religions. This kind of racism issues has been increasing common that often drives people crazy, turning people into a different lifestyle, mentality as well as behaviour, and in serious cases, suicidal thoughts will emerge. In the same time, this situation can be recognized clearly in the book Indian Horse by the author Richard Wagamese, where the main character, Saul, faced and preserved a lot of racism by his teammates in his hockey team and this shaped him into having a different sense of identity. Saul is admirable in this book, a really bright young hockey player who often strives to his best he can be to become a more successful hockey player as part of his passion in hopes of escaping from his miserable life in residential school and absolutely does not deserve to be a person that others can look down and tease. Although Saul experienced and endured so many discrimination due to his race and skin colour for a prolonged period of time, he eventually could not withstand all the pressure he faces and as a result his sense of self changed due to the racism comments he received and becomes a more aggressive and violent character, also giving up his ultimate dream of becoming a victorious hockey player and he perceived himself as a negative person, treating others differently.

After experiencing so many racist comments from people in the hockey team, Saul just could not control himself shifted into a really aggressive person, thus changing his sense of identity. Sadly, Saul ended up getting into a fight with his teammates during a hockey game when he could not bear all the bully, verbal insults and cruelty that others were making for so many years. This is illustrated when Saul claimed that “I blazed up the ice with locomotive force, and when anybody hit me, I hit back. When they slashed me I slashed back harder, breaking my stick against shin pads and shoulder pads. I punched and pummelled until I had to be torn off by my teammates…….” (176). Technically, Saul provoked the fight as he found it harder and harder to control his anger and negative emotions and in the same time, his teammates and opponents called him ‘The Rampaging Redskin’ and an ‘Indigenous Indian’, a really racist term for First Nations People. Eventually, the negativeness he received were so bad that he could not handle it. He broke down and began fighting back. Before, he was making very wise decisions in terms of controlling how he reacts to bad comments about his race, he tried ignoring them but then it seems like this did not work in long term. Now, he became a really arrogant people who is very sensitive to these pressure. He started to play hockey not for passion, but to let all his negative emotions out by showing off his decent skills because he failed to preserve it all in his mind.This is revealed when Saul was playing with the moose, he mentioned “If they wanted me to be a savage, that’s what I would give them….I begin to skate with the deliberate intention of showing my skill up the noses of those who belittled me, made me feel ashamed of my skin…” (164). It exemplifies the strong feeling of Saul trying to show off his hockey skills instead of playing it for fun. His opponents and teammates challenged him in hockey and thought he was not good at it at all. Saul tries to prove himself by choosing a hard path which is go crazy. It shows he is now a completely different person than before. This shows how Saul completely changed from a peaceful person that is careful in dealing his emotions to a more aggressive and violent person, choosing to fight back when others make fun of his identity like his race and skin color. It is very clear that the cumulative effect of racism and negative influence due to his race cannot be counted as there is so much, it somehow ruins his potential in hockey and life by leaving him angry and frustrated.

Also, Saul turned into a really negative person who seeks no meaning in life. Saul gave his passion for hockey by making a decision of not trying out for the NHL hockey team even though he is capable of earning a success in the team. During the discussion between Virgil and Saul when saul refused to try out , Virgil expressed, “…..What about the NHL? With stats like that over a full season in Major Junior, you’d be a lock to be drafted.” Saul replied, “I just want to play the game, Virg. I can’t do it with all that bullshit getting in the way” (170-171). It is pretty obvious that Saul was talented enough that he could play for the NHL, even with his record of bad behavior, but he made a so called ‘conscious’ decision (according to himself in the book) of not trying out for the NHL even Virgil and other people all wanted and convince him to. It can be inferred that when he says “I can’t do it with all that bullshit getting in the way”, he felt so sick of putting up with racism that he refuses to put himself in a position where he would be a target for racists again. He was so overcome done with frustration that he backs down, giving the racists exactly what they want, which is make all the Indigenous Canadians to disappear from hockey. He used alcohol to escape from his sadness, which is totally undesirable as it is not a real solution to the problem. Saul insists, “I’d wake up in the early hours, switch off the light, take another few swallows of alcohol and fall back asleep……….I was an alchemist, mixing solutions I packed in my lunch kit to assuage the strychnine feel of rot in my guts. It was a dim world. Things glimmered, never shone” (181). It is huge disappointment to see saul becoming an alcoholic person, which can be implied that he is using this to numb the pain of the sufferings he has gone through no matter it is physical, emotional or mental abuse. What is more, he is convinced by the stereotype (fake idea) that alcohol can help him to relax by lessening his misery and when he’s drunk, he thinks he becomes funnier, and making it easier to make light of his deep unhappiness. By explaining to readers from saul that “things glimmered, never shone.”, the thought of the believing in the darkness of the world can be demonstrated. Saul was trying to see the light and in the same time lift himself up and rebuild his confidence, but this small ‘hope’ in others words, light, is too far away to be discovered or seen. This paragraph displays how Saul became a really gloomy person that he gave up his pursue of being a professional and successful hockey player and chose to alleviate his pain using alcohol, finding no hope in life.

His attitude to other people including the one that he is close with who cares about them has changed completely through the decisions and behaviour of him. He left the community when he turned into an adult even though others did not want him to. During his final day in the residential school, he claimed “I left Manitouwadge the year I turned eighteen…..There was no plan. I just wanted to leave…..” However, when Fred Kelly found out he is leaving and he run forward and begged, “It will be tough, Saul…. A working life is made easier by a home. People. Noise. Distraction. They fill you when you’re tired and depleted. Understandably, Saul came up with a reply saying “Feels like I’ve had enough noise and people for a while” (177). Saul felt like he needed some time to be alone and think about the past, all those critical years when he lost his family members and being humiliated just because of some horrible racists. He wanted some time to collect thoughts about his tragic life by isolating himself and leave. When he said “feels like i’ve had enough noise and people”, it can be deduced that he is so tired with all those stuff that he has been dealing that he needs to take some good rest. This changes his sense of identity. This is no longer a team or even a family (which is something he lost since childhood miserably) if he leaves as Fred said. He did not want anyone’s advices and prefer to work alone in Toronto even though others had already warned him that it might be hard to earn a living, he moved forward in hopes of looking a big change in his life. His attitude and mentality has changed after undergoing so much pressure by others in his hockey career. It can be explained when Saul was playing cards late at night with Ervin, the person who he met in the bar, work together in the farm after saul left his own community and his truly companion, he exclaimed “I always didn’t feel like talking to him, there were always more silences between us than words….but we understood each other’s need for privacy….” (185-186). Both Saul and Ervin had gone through tragedy and fill with sad memories. Saul lacked the courage to speak Ervin because he was very sad already that no words can be explained. It shows all his emotions and actions changed just because all the racism he experienced. In the book, he mentioned he could not even understand himself, so how can he expect to have a healthy conversation with Ervin though Ervin has been treating Saul really well like not charging any of his meals as he knew saul just came out so he assumed he did not have much money. Saul’s deep heart is quite negative so he choose to spend his time and relax in silence. This moment of tim…… Therefore, it is believed that through saul’s decisions that he has made, it changed completely his sense of identity.

In conclusion, it can summarised that for a time in the beginning, Saul managed to ignore the racism comments of his teachers and hockey opponents through the control of his personal emotions, which this good quality contributed to his hockey career, even though they were so offensive and disrespectful. Initially, it appears that hockey provides him with a happier path to live his life besides how having to suffer from the inhumane treatment in the residential schools such as being sexually abused by the priest and a ban to see his parents or speak his own language. But eventually, the cruelty, mental abuse and racial discrimination of the racists prove to be too overwhelming for him, and he gave in to the temptation to fight back, which is very understandable because he has been experiencing a really tragic life that he does not deserve to suffer from. He is so consumed with anger and frustration that he basically seems to be looking for a fight whenever he gets triggered by others, this not only isolate/alienate him from the racists, but also all his good friends. His behaviour and actions completely shifted him into a really arrogant, violent and alcoholic person, changing how others and him himself comprehend him (change in sense of one’s identity). Perhaps this may somehow warn people out there in the world like the racists to stop discriminating others just by looking at their skin colour, race or family background as there are so many serious consequences to bear if you are the sufferer!


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