Thomas King: Overview

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Author: Kevin McNeilly
Date: 1996
From: Contemporary Novelists(6th ed.)
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 782 words

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As chair of American Indian Studies at the University of Minnesota and a native person himself, Thomas King has more than a passing interest in native issues. His fiction explores what it means to be native in a predominantly white culture. However, his writing does not simply separate native elements from a corrupt white influence or mythologize native life, strategies that tend to create dehumanizing stereotypes of indigenous peoples as members of a "vanishing race" or as "noble savages." Rather, King sees the native experience as hybrid. King himself is of mixed European and native background, and he appears to understand ethnicity as an inherently unstable set of self-created fictions, to be treated ironically rather than merely accepted. His writing is playfully satiric; with broad humor he debunks both white and native misconceptions of native life. Storytelling transgresses the racial or social limits that all human beings place upon themselves and injects a welcome complexity into narrow-minded understandings of human experience.

The native person in King's work often acts as a detached observer, pointing with amazement and disbelief to the self-interested behavior within North American culture. Lionel James, one of many storytellers who inhabit King's...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1420004590