19 pages 38 minutes read

Sherman Alexie

On the Amtrak from Boston to New York City

Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 1993

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Alexie’s poem explores the theme of identity. Individual identity is one focal point. The other passenger, the white woman, is directly identified by race and gender from the first line. If the “I” of the poem is believed to be a version of Alexie, the speaker would be seen as male, but most certainly Indigenous, from the beginning. Beyond that, there are glimpses of belief systems, education, and emotion, but ultimately, both passengers are representatives of their cultural identities.

The white woman is just that: an aspect of mainstream, colonizer culture. She is not a cartoon villain, but she does occupy a position of unquestioned privilege. The speaker is a Native American who exists in a liminal space and navigates complexities of identity. They are part of America, even while they simultaneously exist outside of it.

The poem ends with the speaker thinking about what to say and do the next time they are mistaken by “somebody from the enemy” (Line 37) for “one of their own” (Line 37). By not considering the possibility of an alternative experience or identity, “the enemy” (Line 37) makes foolish assumptions. The assumption of cultural dominance becomes an act of war when it consumes everything in its wake.