The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven
Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven: Native American Struggling with the USA
Many events and details in The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, by Sherman Alexie, are representative of the struggles that Native Americans have faced in their relationship with the United States. When North America was discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1492, the lives of Native Americans changed forever. The relationship between Native Americans and the United States Government has always been a strained one, often tested over conflicts of land or culture. Even today, Native Americans face many struggles in American society. Alexie uses The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven to point out some issues which have created conflict between Native Americans and the U.S., including profiling, race, and skepticism.
Alexie frequently brings up the issue of profiling through his stories. We first notice this when he is driving around aimlessly late at night, after a fight with his girlfriend. He is pulled over by a police officer, after someone called them worried about a suspicious vehicle. The police officer says, “You’re making people nervous. You don’t fit the profile of the neighborhood.’ I wanted to tell him that I didn’t really fit the profile of the country but I knew it would just get me into trouble” (Alexie 12-13). After the police officer tells him he doesn’t fit the profile of the neighborhood, Alexie furthers this by adding that he feels he doesn’t fit the profile of the entire country. Solely due to the fact that the narrator looked a certain way, someone called the police and described him as suspicious. This represents the struggle of Native Americans to feel like they have a place in today’s American society. Native Americans have become minorities in a land they inhabited first, and now do not fit the profile of an ‘American’. The issue of profiling is later brought up again by Alexie, shown in the cashier at the 7-11. We learn that the narrator formerly worked at a 7-11 in Seattle, so he is familiar with this situation. He says that he recognized a look the cashier gave him, one so that he could identify him to the police later if need be. Upon entering the store, the narrator immediately felt as if the cashier was profiling him, thinking he looked suspicious due to his appearance. Due to this, the narrator profiles the cashier as well, and it creates a cycle of profiling and suspicion. We learn that he feels like everyone judges him every day, which is why he judges everyone else. The narrator tells us, “’Can I help you?’ the 7-11 clerk asked me loudly, searching for some response that would reassure him that I wasn’t an armed robber. He knew this dark skin and long, black hair of mine was dangerous. I had potential” (Alexie 14). Alexie describes how the cashier judged by his appearance that he had the potential to be an armed robber. This relates to the constant struggle in America to try and avoid judgements based on appearance, profiling. As he cannot help himself, he goes along with the situation, causing the cashier to become even more anxious. Alexie uses the police officer, and the 7-11 cashier to represent the issue of profiling in America.
Another issue Alexie addresses throughout The Lone Ranger is that of race. The narrator seems to be obsessed with race, always immediately noting a person’s race. In one of the very first lines of the story, the narrator introduces us to his girlfriend. He describes her by saying, “She was white and I lived with her in Seattle” (Alexie 6). By introducing one of the most significant people in his life by identifying their race, we see the importance that race has on the narrator’s life. It seems to suggest that the most important attribute of his girlfriend, is that she’s white. He additionally refers to ‘white man’, and viewed everything as racial. Alexie uses the narrator’s fixation on race to refer to the constant racial struggle facing the Native Americans and the United States. The narrator’s girlfriend is later mentioned again, when discussing their relationship. He says that during their arguments, he always ends up talking about mainstream America, and they end up on bad terms. While this may seem insignificant, Alexie could be referring to the endless relationship trouble between the Native Americans and the United States. The history between the two groups is marked with conflict, and Alexie sees no light at the end of the tunnel. He does not buy into the American Dream, he is not at rest in American society. Alexie is relating to the many Native Americans who feel the same way that he does, that there is no end in sight to the troubled relationship.
Alexie also uses the narrator’s skepticism as a commentary on the relationship between Native Americans and the United States. His fixation on race plays into this, but when any positive event occurs in his life, he finds a way to portray it as negative. The narrator is waived to by a police officer, and automatically assumed that it must have been an accident. By making this assumption, the relationship between Native Americans and the U.S. is hurt. By assuming that everyone is profiling him, he becomes the one doing the profiling. He took a simple gesture of kindness as a negative, accidental act, which could not have been for him. In another instance, “Will this be all? he asked me, in that company effort to make me do some impulse shopping. Like adding a clause onto a treaty. We’ll take Washington and Oregon and you get six pine trees and a brand-new Chrysler Cordoba” (Alexie 18). The narrator’s skepticism turns a simple question into a digression on bad deals, while referencing previous government deals with Native Americans. Alexie introduces references to mainstream American society as well. He walks into a 7-11, an iconic American business where everyone is welcome, and feels as if he is being profiled due to his race. By saying this, Alexie is saying that all of America acts as if it welcome to everyone, yet is not actually inclusive of all. Alexie makes another reference to American culture, saying “’Hey’, I said. ‘Forget the Slushie. What I want to know is if you all the words to the theme from ‘The Brady Bunch’?” (Alexie 26). He not only mentions an iconic American television show, but points out to the cashier how ridiculous they are both acting. After that, the narrator and the cashier are friendly, and the cashier actually gives him his creamsicle for free, revealing he is the graveyard shift manager. Instead of being gracious another kind gesture, the narrator viewed it as a power that the shift manager exerted over him. Alexie uses his relationship with his girlfriend to provide a metaphor for the relationship between Natives and the U.S., saying “I knew the look. One of my old girlfriends said I started to look at her that way, too. She left me not long after that. No, I left her and don’t blame her for anything. That’s how it happened. When one person starts to look at another like a criminal, then the love is over” (Alexie 4). This represents the way that Native Americans and the United States look at each other, and have looked at each other for years, making it impossible to have a working relationship.
Sherman Alexie uses the narrator’s references to profiling, race, and skepticism to offer a commentary on the relationship between Native Americans and the United States. The narrator has a very gloomy view of the world, interpreting every interaction as negative or as an act of profiling. The longer the narrator lives in his skeptical world, the more he hurts the relationship between the two. His feeling that everyone is profiling him led to his constant judgement of others. While it may seem like everyone is judging him, he is still adding to the problem and hurting their relationship with the U.S. This further represents the endless cycle of disagreement between the Native Americans and the United States. The Lone Langer and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, by Sherman Alexie provides views on race, profiling, and skepticism to provide a commentary on the conflict-prone relationship between Native Americans and the United States.
Sherman Alexie’s Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven: Comprehensive Analysis
The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven
The book The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven is not so much a novel, but a collection of short stories. The stories in the book focus mainly around two boys growing up on the reservation, Victor Joseph and Thomas Builds-the-Fire. The stories told by Sherman Alexie are about the events and struggles the boys face growing up on the reservation. The stories told in this book are written about a Native American by a Native American, so the views and themes expressed in this book come from an Indians point of view, not the whites. The main character, Victor, is a fictionalized character of the writer Sherman Alexie himself. Through out the book there are numerous occasions of Victor, his family members and his friends being constantly drunk, struggles for survival, and countless numbers of the white race acting in superiority over Native Americans.
Over the years Native Americans have acquired the reputation of being heavy drinkers. Sherman constantly tells of times throughout his life when alcohol has caused his love ones problems. When Europeans came to America, they saw that Natives could craft beautiful crafts, clothes, and pottery. To the Natives these items had sacred or utilitarian meanings to them, but to the Europeans, they saw these items as money. The Europeans began to trade whiskey to the Natives for their handcrafted masterpieces. In the end, the Europeans would end up with profit in their pockets and the natives would end up drunk with an empty bottle. This theme is reoccurring throughout Sherman’s stories. Native American heroes, unlike white heroes, live on indefinitely in the lives of Native Americans. Native heroes tend to be reborn into new stories and their legends live on for many generations. Sherman tells a story of how his reservation lost a great basketball hero, the reservation saw basketball heroes as a sort of savior. They lost the young basketball star to alcoholism, and Victor states, “I just can’t explain how much losing Julius Windmaker hurt us all.”(52) Julius not only hurt himself with his excessive drinking, but he hurt his relations with friends and family. I believe that Victor and the rest of the reservation was so hurt because Natives cherish relations and want to take care of each other. By Julius falling victim to alcohol the rest of the reservation felt defeat as well.
Native Americans have anyways had a fight for survival buried deep within their roots. Ever since the existence of the Europeans in America, Native Americans have to fight for their survival. The Europeans uprooted Indians from their land and forced them to move west, taking sacred and inherited land from them. Indian children were taken from their homes and shipped off to boarding schools. The whites forced the children to speak English, dress like whites, and not speak their native tongue. The whites hoped to take away the Indian’s identity by doing this. Natives were instilled with a drive to survive during this time. Sherman uses this theme in a few of his stories in his book. As a kid, Victor witnesses many fights between his parents that pained him. Even though their marriage was falling apart, Victor’s parents stay together through their struggles. Indian divorces have taken on many changes over the years. Before Europeans, wives would simply pack up and leave. I believe that the struggle for survival that Natives faced against the Europeans 100 years ago is why current day Indians have such a drive to survive today. Sherman believes that he finds marriages that are falling apart more painful and destructive today because “….Indians fight their way to the end, holding onto the last good thing, because our whole lives have to do with survival.” (32)
One more theme that I feel Sherman stressed throughout his book was how the whites act as the superior race over the Indians. Since the Europeans landed at America, they’ve been trying to eliminate the Indian race. There have been numerous tries by white people to limit the Indian race, even if it meant tricking the Natives. Sherman writes about how the doctor tied his aunt’s tubes without her knowing after she gave birth to her child. She thought she signed a paper that proved her Indian status for the BIA, but the hospital administrator lied and gave her a permission slip for the doctor to tie her tubes. However, Victor’s aunt was not the only victim to these crimes, white doctors everywhere did this to help limit the population of the Native American in America. Sherman later tells a story of a time when Victor’s parents got pulled over by a Washington state patrolman on the highway. The policeman was rude to his parents just because they were Native American. He threatened the Natives to accuse them of violations that they had not committed, but said it could all go away if they paid him enough. After Victors dad told the patrolman to ask his wife the question not him, the patrolman replied with “Don’t you even think about telling me what I should do.” (165) To me, his reply gave off a feeling that he felt disrespected by the Natives telling him what to do. The patrolman felt superior to the Natives and felt they had no right telling him what to do.
Sherman’s stories about his life through Victor take on many twists and turns as he struggles to make his way in a society that want him to fail. He tackled many themes in this book including how alcoholism has an impact on the whole Indian population through relations, the struggle the survive in a world that wants them to disappear, and how the white population feels that they are superior to the Native American race.
Sherman Alexie’s Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven: Book Review
In current society, people are always telling others to improve upon themselves and to contribute to society. This happens to everyone, regardless of their status in society. In The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie, Alexie wrote about Native Americans living lives in current society. By being members of society, they also had to face the pressure exerted upon them by society; this included the pressure for them to contribute to society more. Through the techniques of repetition and syntax, Alexie described the life Native Americans had to go through while enduring the constant demands of society.
Alexie repeated the word “imagine” or some form of it multiple times to emphasize a contradiction. In one way, he stated “[i]magine a song stronger than penicillin” (153). He also repeated imagine multiple times in this form, but all of the situations associated with this were fantastical. On the other hand, Alexie questioned, “How do we imagine a new life when a pocketful of quarters weighs our possibilities down” (152), as if it was not possible to even imagine a new life. The imaginations associated with this were also actually realistic. The contradiction in here was that Alexie questioned the reader or society how they expect Native Americans to be able to imagine, but right after saying that, Alexie wrote about being able to imagine fantastical things. This contradiction was present to emphasize the fact that society had too many expectations for Native Americans, and Native Americans themselves already had their own life that they wanted to live. The overload of expectations was shown by the questioning of the reader and society, while the fact that Native Americans have their own way of life was described by the imagination of fantastical things, such as songs stronger than penicillin and water that can heal broken bones. This revealed that Native Americans always have to endure society’s demands, such as their demands for them to have a new life. However, this was also not very possible, because there were no opportunities, as described by the pocketful of quarters weighing down their possibilities. The pocketful of quarters could be a symbol for something not very useful that slows one down because of their weight, as compared to bills of money, which are actually worth more and very light. Because of many situations that drown Native American’s opportunities, they cannot actually rise and contribute to society. Their only other option was to endure society’s accusations and to, at the same time, imagine scenes that were part of their dreams and not society’s wishes.
Alexie also used a technique of syntax by questioning the reader multiple times about Native Americans’ way of life. For example, he asked, “Would the Indians still be sprawled around the one-room apartment in the cable television reservation?” (149) and “Does every Indian depend on Hollywood for a twentieth-century vision?” (151). These questions seemed to fit the responses of society questioning Native Americans about their lack of participation in society. The first question was a response to society by saying if there had been a difference in historical events, they might be contributing towards a society that did not just place them in a “one-room apartment” in a reservation. The second question was a response to society to get Native Americans to assimilate to American life. This question assumeed that American life includes Hollywood visions and set images for people to try to become. By questioning this fact of Hollywood, Alexie emphasized that Native Americans did not need to assimilate, because they had their own way of life and their own wishes and imagination. They wish that they do not have to be around a dilapidated one-room apartment and that they do not have to follow the set images and stereotypes of society. This also illustrated the way of life that Native Americans had to go through. They had to repeatedly endure society’s questioning of why they were in the state they were in. The counterargument to this in another question form is that there could have been other possibilities if history was different, because Native Americans might have been able to keep their land and benefit from it.
Syntax is also used in a different way; Alexie describes how a Native American child told some other Native Americans false facts to mock them. In each sentence, Alexie chose to write “the Indian child told” (151) in order to emphasize that there was a lot of telling and commands used. Alexie could have used other words to describe what the Native American child said. He could have even just described how the Native American child was mocking them. However, he used the word told because he had to emphasize that many Native Americans had to live through the false facts and stories that others told them. There was nothing to counter this. In fact, the false facts and stories would just make matters worse because they remind Native Americans of their past. In addition to that, the word told also implies command and authority. This shows that Native Americans had to live through the command of others and endure it.
The Symbol of the Hurricane in “Every Little Hurricane”
The understanding of the readers is dependent on the manner in which they interpret the symbols used in literary works. Symbolism is a literary device which entails the conveying of specific themes and messages through symbols. The symbols help in relaying deeper meanings in a literary work beyond the ordinary meaning. It requires critical thinking for the reader to understand the things that the writer is trying to hint through the use of specific symbols. Symbolism helps the reader to make a connection between the symbols that are used in the literary works and the main themes. The hurricane is a recurring symbol in Sherman Alexie’s “Every Little Every Hurricane.” The hurricane symbolizes all the bad things that happen in the Indian reservations, and these include violence and alcoholism. The damage that is caused by these hurricanes is tremendous. The hurricane is a significant symbol in Sherman Alexie’s “Every Little Hurricane” that underscores the problems that that threaten victor’s family and the Indian in the reservation as a whole.
Firstly, the hurricane symbolizes the fights that tear apart the family of Victor. The story begins with New Year celebrations, and a weather forecast indicates that there will be a hurricane. “The forecast was not good. Indians continued to drink, harder and harder, as if anticipating. There’s a fifty percent chance of torrential rain, blizzard-like conditions, seismic activity. Then there’s a sixty percent chance, then seventy, eighty.” This passage implies that something based is going to happen to the party attendants (Sherman 1).The party attendants are involved in heavy drinking. Two of Victor’s uncles, Adolph and Arnold start fighting. The fight gets intense because of the drunkenness that has dominated the party. A fight breaks and this brings the party to an end. The author’s use of the hurricane, in this case, indicates that even though the family and the whole community is striving to be unified through the New Year Celebrations, fights that always break them apart. The fight between two of Victor’s uncles alludes in the hurricane because they threaten the unity of the family. The narrator points that “In the morning, all was good, but the Indians, “the eternal survivors, gathered to count their losses.” The implications of the hurricane are deadly. The family members turn against one another, and this brings a lot of pain. Therefore, the hurricane of fights destroys the peace and unity of the family.
Second, the hurricane symbolizes the poverty in Victor’s family. To illustrate, Victor has a flashback about a Christmas Party that occurred when he was five years old. His father tells him that he will not have the money to buy him a Christmas gift. They can only afford to buy a Christmas tree that has few ornaments. His father sits looking at his empty wallet, and he cries. Living in poverty is difficult, and it is a huge hurricane in the life of Victor. Victor is upset because of this hurricane of poverty. Poverty hinders the family from enjoying their Christmas time together. Additionally, the narrator points out that” when children grow up together in poverty, a bond is formed that is stronger than most anything. It’s this same bond that causes so much pain”(Sherman 2). This quote implies that poverty brings feelings of resentment and negativity that is why the hurricane symbolizes them. Poverty makes the family members sad, and the hurricane symbolizes the sadness. Consequently, the hurricane of poverty destroys happiness in Victor’s family.
Thirdly, the hurricane represents the suffering of the Indians that reside on the reservations. The suffering causes a lot of suffering and resentment on the part of these Indians. To elaborate, the narrator notes that “One Indian killing another did not create a special kind of storm. This little kind of hurricane was generic. It didn’t even deserve a name” (Sherman 3).This quote means that the Indians in the reservation have the tendency of killing one another and this creates a lot of suffering. Furthermore, the narrator explains terrible memories that guests in the party have because they are Indians. For example, Victor’s father remembers an incident of how someone spat on him while he was waiting for a bus. Also, Victor’s mother recalls how the Indian Health services sterilized her without seeking her consent when she gave birth to victor. Moreover, Victor’s brothers remember the battles that they faced when growing up. Suffering is part and parcel of the lives of the Indians that reside on the reservations. Consequently, the Indians are victims of circumstances and this makes them resentful and hateful.
In conclusion, the hurricane is a significant symbol in Sherman Alexie’s “Every Little Hurricane” that symbolizes the problems that that threaten victor’s family and the Indian in the reservation as a whole. The use of symbolism in the story evokes emotion in the reader. The first hurricane is predicted at the beginning of the story. Another hurricane appears in Victor’s flashback about the Christmas party. This is personal hurricane. The family does not have sufficient money to buy a Christmas tree. The big hurricane represents the relationship between the parents of Victor. The relationship brings out the theme of the sufferings that the Indians in the reservation face. Symbolism brings out the theme of sadness in Victor’s family. The suffering of the Indians in the reservation is emphasized through the symbolic hurricane. The hurricane in this story represents poverty, fights and the suffering of the Indians in the reservation. Victor remembers the difficult moments that his family has been through. Further, his father, mother, brothers and other members of the Indian tribe remember the suffering they have been through because they are members of the tribe. The author introduces the hurricane in the beginning in a bid to foreshadow the pains, suffering, and fights in the story. All in all, the hurricane symbolizes the things that destroy Victor’s family and the lives of the other Indians in the reservation.
Illuminating Irony: Technology on Sherman Alexie’s Reservation
Sherman Alexie’s Native American characters in The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven are modern Indians who are often fixated on the glories of their past. In their modernization, one of the most blatant attacks on their pride and respect for their traditional ways comes from the technology around them. In perhaps Alexie’s subtlest use of irony, technology manifests itself throughout his book, highlighting the tremendous gap between Indians now and Indians before the time of reservations. Indeed, the technology itself — TV, radio, even traffic signals — serves as a reminder of the outside influence oozing in, and its inevitable use by Native Americans is another sign of their surrender. Alexie uses technology in his book to highlight such instances of irony.
Television is perhaps the most often used example of technology in The Lone Ranger and Tonto, coming into most of the characters’ lives indirectly. In fact, one would be hard-pressed to find any character interacting with the TV for longer than a sentence, yet its presence is undeniable; it gives all of the characters a connection to the outside world. Few Indians in the book venture beyond the reservation, yet none are totally clueless about outside society in general or, more specifically, about how that society sees them. References to Indians in popular culture, like comparisons to Tonto (155, 164), are made frequently to highlight the large gap between how Indians are perceived and how they really act. Most interestingly, it also gives these characters a window through which to see their own world. A young Victor sees a fistfight between his uncles like a hurricane on the news and sees himself as one of the crazy people who “tie themselves to the trees on the beach” (2) so they can “feel the force of the hurricane firsthand” (2). He also finds hollowness in the saying “at least we’ve got each other” (4) during a particularly giftless Christmas, finding the expression meaningless because he’s heard it before on “the old Christmas movies they watched on television” (5). The events unfolding on television give these characters another backdrop against which to situate their lives, making their problems seem a little less daunting and a little more universal.
Television’s main role in the book is more direct: while it appears in the book passively, it is often followed by a frightening or violent event. A family is quietly watching television in “The Fun House” right before a mouse runs up a woman’s leg (76); a character casually mentions he doesn’t watch TV anymore because it “exploded and left a hole in the wall” (p 114); in one especially unsettling paragraph, a character “dreamed about television” and “woke up crying” (108). Alexie uses this narrative technique to quite literally show the negative impact of television, or technology in general, on these characters. The television, a symbol of sedentary and passive involvement, contrasts the punch of these events in an ironic way that Alexie is fond of.
Music plays a large role on Alexie’s reservation, with characters often alluding to old native songs and drums (165). More pertinently, modern music is just as important to some of these characters, particularly to Victor and his father in the story “Because My Father Said He Was the Only Indian Who Saw Jimi Hendrix Play ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ at Woodstock.” It is this modern music that allows these characters to interact and use technology, finding new meaning in it. Victor observes that his father would play the tape of the performance “until it wore down” (26). These characters are finding solace and pleasure in new, modern things, only to have them slowly disappear. While the tape itself is not why Victor’s father enjoys the music, it is a rather impermanent medium that is relatively unfamiliar to Native Americans and their relation to music. Later, Victor listens to the performance again and finds that “the reverberation came to mean something” (28): in particular, it meant a closer relationship to his father. Both found pleasure in this foreign recording in a purely sonic way. The irony here is that the actual meaning of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” a song about America becoming stronger through war, would not appeal to any Native American. But Jimi’s guitar is an unrefined, piercingly removed rendition of the song, and it invokes happy memories in Victor’s father, reminding Victor of the bonds they share.
The broken traffic signal in the story “The Only Traffic Signal on the Reservation Doesn’t Flash Red Anymore” is a more specific example of technology in the reservation, but it effectively illustrates how Indians would ideally like to treat such a thing: with apathy or contempt. In the story, two characters are sitting on a porch watching the reservation, and Victor’s friend Adrian ironically mentions that the broken signal could “cause an accident” (48). The two friends are doing what they do best: reminiscing, joking with each other, and quietly passing the day away. It is in this state that this sort of technology is especially jarring and unnecessary to them; the traffic signal is broken and meaningless, a symbol of white attempts to intervene. The road was fine before it was installed.
Another specific yet meaningful instance of technology is the train in the story “A Train Is An Order of Occurrence Designed To Lead to Some Result.” The train is the catalyst to Samuel Builds-the-Fire’s barrage of modernity during his days as a working man. Even in the admittedly obtuse story title, we see a train as some sort of charging and the inevitable series of events that will cause something to happen, so we as readers wait for it to show up. What ultimately happens is perhaps Alexie’s most direct use of technology harming Native Americans: a train comes and runs over a willfully surrendered Samuel. Samuel was drunk and suicidal; the train was merely doing what it was made for. The two of them together make up this bizarre, unsettling event. Alexie highlights the blind, mechanical fury of technology by coupling it with the humanistic and flawed nature of Samuel, who represents all Native Americans: whimsical, impulsive and curious. He shows, quite starkly, that these two things together do not produce a happy result.
Alexie uses technology to create irony because it represents modernity. It is something that permeates every aspect of life, yet it couldn’t be further from Native American tradition. It works so well for him because Indians use this technology and it interacts with them; it is one aspect of the newer way of life that they simultaneously resent and resign themselves to. No matter how hard these characters work to keep their pride and traditions strong, the very real image of a Native American family huddled around the TV set undoes that work. Not coincidentally, Alexie has come to the forefront about his own personal resentment of technology: in recent interviews, he has blasted the Kindle and other eBooks, calling them an “easily pirated device” and humorously noting that one could fall into the hands of the government (and saying, as an Indian, he has “plenty of reasons to fear the U.S. government”). More seriously, Alexie laments the loss of community-based celebrations of books, mentioning how much he enjoys “traveling from bookstore to bookstore” but noting that demand has since been squelched due to the digitization of both books and their marketing. Deep down, this use of technology in his books to highlight irony stems from a hatred of what this technology has done not only for the Native American way of life, but for life in general. It has reduced personal communication and desensitized people to the benefits of hard work and individual perseverance.
Narratological Analysis of “This Is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona”
Sherman Alexie uses embedded analeptic narratives throughout the chapter “This Is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona” in Tonto and The Lone Ranger Fistfight in Heaven to emphasise the importance of both the characters memories and pasts on their lives. Embedded in the main chronological storyline, non-linear flashbacks follow Victor and Thomas’s pasts, showing their relationship to the present, since memory is activated by association with the present. By using a single narrative interspersed with flashbacks, Alexie frames the narrative like memory: prompted by free association, rather than always in a set chronologic order.
Victor’s childhood memories of his relationship with Thomas occur after he realizes he will need Thomas and his money to get to Phoenix. Victor “…held his head in his hands and thought about Thomas-Builds-The-Fire, remembered the little details, tears and scars, the bicycle the shared for a summer, so many stories” (Alexie 62). It’s clear Thomas and Victor’s past is causing Victor pain. After Victor and Thomas leave, another analeptic passage vividly reveals how Victor beat Thomas while he was drunk, “…Victor was really drunk and beat Thomas up for no reason at all” (65). Later in the central narrative, Victor apologizes to Thomas, saying “Yeah, but i’m still sorry” (67). The effect of Victor’s guilt is further exemplified by his memory shown by a second flashback of Thomas helping him escape a wasps nest when he was twelve. “He might have died there, stung a thousand times, if Thomas-Builds-The-Fire had not come by” (68). Victor’s flashbacks reveal how much this event still impacts his life as they speak to each other in the present main narrative, embedded analytic passages easily allow past moments of their troubled intertwined past relationship to be vibrantly put on display for the reader, elevating the importance of these past events.
Further analiptic flashbacks reveal Thomas-Builds-The-Fire and Victor’s childhood friendship to show what the significance of them taking a trip together and possibly repairing some sort of relationship means for them. A flashback to the fourth of july celebration reveals their early friendship.“Victor…Hurry up. We’re going to miss the fireworks” (62). and later growing apart “They hated Thomas for his courage, his brief moment as a bird” (70). The embedded analytic narrative here is used to give background information parallel to the central narrative. These memories of past occurrences are more significant as embedded narratives since the break from the frame interrupts the flow of the story and magnifies the importance of what happens in them. In these breaks from the main narrative Victor and Thomas’s past is the cause of their strained relationship inside the central chronological narrative. When in the main plotline “Victor was ashamed of himself. Whatever happened to the tribal ties, the sense of community?…He owed Thomas something, anything.”(74). This reaction is supported by what the reader saw in the flashbacks. Interspersed reflections in the form of analiptic flashbacks are a way of narration, used as as the means by which one can connect the past and present.
Later analeptic passages reveal the importance of Victor’s discordant relationship with his father and it’s effect on him though his life. In the central present narrative plotline, Victor must retrieve his father’s ashes and during the process comes to terms with his father’s past actions. The introduction to Victor’s father’s occurs through a memory, Victor reflects back to when Thomas told him how his father “…wants to run and hide. He doesn’t want to be found” (61). predicting his abandonment of Victor and his family. Another past description of Victor’s father is given by Thomas after Victor asks, “What do you remember?” (69). Thomas’s recalling the story of Victor’s father’s past kindness towards him allows for Victor to reflect. “Victor was quiet for a long time. He searched his mind for memories of his father, found the good ones, a few bad ones, added it all up, and smiled” (69). Revealing Victor’s father’s impact. The flashback here catalyzes the memories of Victor’s father, allowing for the reader to experience them, making them a larger, more real, lucid part of the story, just as they are in the characters minds.
Throughout the chapter, these embedded analytic flashbacks give a glimpse directly into characters past though each characters own reflection back on these events, creating a more direct connection emphasizing their importance in the present central narrative and thus on both Thomas and Victor’s present lives.
Sherman Alexie’s Survival Equation and the Resilience of Native American Culture
Sherman Alexie’s The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven portrays the hardships faced by Native Americans at the hands of the overpowering force of mainstream American culture. Alexie uses multiple perspectives in his book to convey the complexity of the situation on the reservation. However, his recurring themes such as survival, tradition, and underlying cultural ties connect the stories together as does the overarching message about the resilience of Native American people and their culture. With these consistent themes, the multiple perspectives found in his stories prove the validity of his cultural points due to their repetition. In his composite novel, Alexie reveals the resilience of Native American culture by breaking it down into a mathematical equation that makes an important statement about the survival of Native American culture.
Alexie brings to light the importance of imagination through his illustration of the process of survival: “Survival = Anger x Imagination. Imagination is the only weapon on the reservation” (150). The ability to imagine a better world or a better situation is a coping mechanism for the Native Americans. One way they do this is through storytelling. This is shown when the narrator of “A Good Story” tells a happy story at the request of his mother. He observes the poor situation he and his mother are in at the beginning of the story with no food in their cabinets and only sad stories. He concocts a lighthearted story for his mother and in the end states, “Believe me, there is just barely enough goodness in all of this” (Alexie 144). Using imagination to form a simple story that painted a pleasing picture was enough to make the hardships of life seem bearable. In this case, the use of imagination was “barely enough.” Alexie attributes the power of such imagination to its necessity in Native American society in his epigraph for the chapter “Imagining the Reservation,” which is a quote from Lawrence Thornton: “We have to believe in the power of imagination because it’s all we have and ours is stronger than theirs” (Alexie 149). This quote comes from one of Thornton’s novels where a character is in a situation similar to the Native Americans because he is left to imagine his country the way it was in the past to deal with the declining situation of the present. This quote itself conveys that imagination is stronger in the Native American society because it is integral to their survival. The necessity of imagination is also exemplified in the story by the need for tradition and the deeply rooted need for stories as a connection to tradition. This is shown when Victor decides to let Thomas accompany him to Arizona. He lets him go because he “felt a sudden need for tradition” (Alexie 62). Imagination is strengthened by its necessity and the necessity of it is extensive because of the roots imagination has in their tradition of storytelling. With this in mind, Alexie’s composite novel can be viewed as a product of necessity and imagination with the purpose of carrying on a piece of Native American culture.
While conveying its necessity and potency, Alexie conveys that the Indian imagination is being tethered in modern American society. The narrator in “Imagining the Reservation” poses an important question concerning the effect of modern society on Indian imagination: “How can we imagine a new language when the language of the enemy keeps our dismembered tongues tied to his belt? (Alexie 152). Native American culture only finds a place in society by incorporating modern day American culture into its expression. In the subsequent lines, Alexie furthers this restriction: “How do we imagine a new life when a pocketful of quarters weighs our possibilities down?” (152). Not only is their expression in society limited, but their culture’s survival in general is threatened in a materialistic society. This book shows that a culture that favors storytelling, dancing, and ancestral connections struggles to survive amidst mainstream American culture, which is focused on the material factors in society including monetary value and gain.
The tension between the two competing cultures in the book that is tethering the Native American imagination also brings to light the differences between those two cultures, which produces anger among the Indian population, the second factor in Alexie’s survival equation. Rather than traditional anger, he seems to suggest that anger is meant to refer to the recognition of the suppression of their culture by the invading forces of American culture, which should foster a conscious need to remain separate from said culture. In “The Trial of Thomas Builds-the-Fire,” Thomas states: “Some may have wanted to kill me for my arrogance, but others respected my anger, my refusal to admit defeat” (Alexie 98). If this sentiment were transposed into another equation similar to the survival equation Alexie wrote about, it would read “anger = resilience.” Anger is rooted in the wrongs of the past for the Native Americans. When combined, as Alexie suggests in his equation, with a strong imagination that can envision a better world or at least a future where Indian culture can be positively viewed, the product is survival in the present.
In Alexie’s portrayal of Native American culture, he reveals a culture that, on the surface, appears to be disappearing while conveying that, with its deep roots, it has the ability to withstand the oppression put upon it by mainstream American culture. He reveals the keys to achieving survival to be imagination paired with anger or more specifically the refusal to give up or give in. Imagination among Native Americans is manifested in their storytelling, a tradition that is deeply rooted in their culture, and also provides a coping mechanism to use amidst oppressive conditions. With this explanation, Alexie’s composite novel, which conveys the resilience of Native Americans (anger) through the telling of multiple stories (imagination), can be seen as an aide to survival that serves to inform everyone of the situation and the true culture of his people, which is disappearing in mainstream America. His survival equation encapsulates his reason for writing.
The Trouble With Karma: Close Reading of The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven
Native Americans are often a forgotten minority, in history and in literature. The slaughter of native lives and the obliteration of their culture is an unfortunate American legacy. Luckily, writer Sherman Alexie has attempted to fill the cultural void and illuminate the plight of his people. He does this through a style of writing he labels “reservation realism.” Although natives are the opposite of immigrants, the experience of the Native American minority shares many similarities with the discourse surrounding immigrants, therefore rendering reservation realism a viable division of immigrant literature. This genre uses stories that are often “biased,” “exaggerated”, or “deluded” as a means of documentation and translation of the Native American experience (Alexi). The idea here is that the “story-truth” can be truer than the actual truth (TTC 203). Reservation realism combines the storytelling tradition practiced within tribes with historical fact in order to capture the essence of reservation life. This is exemplified in “The Trial of Thomas Builds-The-Fire”, a story in Alexi’s collection The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven. This story incorporates the surreal theme of reincarnation into its triangulated structure combined with a variety of literary devices in order to document the Native American experience, and to show the shared nature of their suffering.
Initially, Sherman Alexie utilizes a timeline divided into three tales, each representing a different reincarnation of the protagonist, Thomas Builds The Fire. He creates this structure in order to demonstrate the progression in native resistance as time passes, and to reveal the similarities between the experiences of Thomas’s incarnations. The three stories told by Thomas are also buttressed with details relating to his current predicament as a supposed felon. Thomas begins as an alleged criminal on trial in Spokane Washington. The reader is not informed as to what he is on trial for specifically because Thomas himself his unsure. While he is in a holding cell, the white officers discuss Thomas’s “future,” “immediate present” and “past” (93). Here is another example of the triangulation of time. Thomas’s past, future, and present are all connected. His history is shared with those who came before him. This theme of connectivity continues throughout the story as Alexie explores the idea of a collective, ancestral consciousness through reincarnation.
Alexie uses negative diction when describing Thomas’s propensity for telling stories, and exploits his protagonist’s present silence as a symbol, to demonstrate the destruction of Native American culture caused by white Americans. The guards at the prison where Thomas is being held, mention that he has a “dangerous” “storytelling fetish” The negative connotation of the word “fetish” implies that storytelling is somehow taboo, and this is further emphasized by the labeling of the fetish as “dangerous.” Since storytelling is a staple of native culture, treating it as a crime shows how caucasian Americans violated native traditions. In addition, the word “dangerous” illuminates the fear felt by those who believed that native culture threatened the colonial way of life. Negative diction is also manipulated in order to evince the effect of white Americans on native culture. For example, a native man named Walks Along labels his wife as a “savage in polyester pants” (94). The way in which Walks Along treats his wife is an example of a phenomenon called assimilation, which is the label given to the way minorities conform to a new way of life, perhaps losing their previous identities in the processes. He has conformed to mainstream American life to the extent that he now labels his own wife as a “savage”. Assimilation is a trend common to the immigrant experience. Colonials and pioneers marginalized Native Americans severely and it resulted in a loss of their cultural identity. Alexie is implying that this is one of the many negative effects that has resulted from the imposition of American conventions on native people.
In this story, silence is used as a symbol of oppression for the protagonist and for his people. The officers reveal that Thomas had “agreed to remain silent” and has not “spoken in nearly twenty years” (94). Thomas will not tell stories anymore because of the negative consequences that he, and those similar to him, have faced for doing so. His silence is an adaptation, gained from those before him who spoke and suffered the consequences. The reveal of this “adaptation” helps Alexi relate Thomas Builds A Fire suppression of the minority voice indicative of the immigrant experience. Silence in the face of oppression connotes defeat, victimizing Thomas and the native people. The reluctance to speak, or the loss of voice represents a loss of liberty. However, Thomas does not remain silent. The narrator informs the reader that Thomas began making “small noises that contained more emotion and meaning than entire sentences” (94). Eventually, Thomas breaks his silence when he defends himself at his trial. The slow progression that helps Thomas find his voice parallels the progression the natives in Thomas’s story makes from passive resistance to active retaliation. Finding his voice is a way for Thomas to find solidarity in the face of his oppressors.
Alexie also employs animal diction in his first tale to represent the inhumane treatment of natives, to infuse his story with the focus on animals and nature pervasive in Native American culture, and to interject a fantastical aspect, thus exemplifying reservation realism. His first story begins in 1858 and Thomas is a “young pony” who is taken captive (96). An American general writes a letter describing the stolen “captured animals”; the “poor creatures” that he regrets killing in order to prevent a “stampede” (97). Although the general is referring to actual horses, in the dialogue describing racial conflicts, members of the offending party often view the minority in animal terms. Native Americans were herded onto reservations as if they were horses or cattle. The metaphor is then extended as Alexi personifies the “mother” horses who “cried for their dead children.” Native Americans traditionally believe that humans share a brotherhood with animals. Here, Sherman Alexie is exemplifying one of the staples of reservation realism, an infusion of native culture into American literature.
The structure of this story enables Alexi to show the ways in which the native response to American oppression evolved over time. The story continues as Thomas describes how, as a pony, he let a man “saddle” him but then “suddenly rose up and bucked him off and broke his arm” (98). This single act of defiance marks the beginning of the progression of natives from hopeless victims that transformed into worthy adversaries. However, it is important to note that the defiance occurs as the response to imposed hardships and oppression. This parallels the experience of the natives in regards to their colonial captors. Native Americans were exploited and slaughtered by European settlers, and forced to vacate communities they had occupied for centuries. Just like the “young pony” they did not start the conflict. Moreover, in Thomas’s second story, he is a man named Qualchan fighting in an Indian war. Qualchan was a real Yakima chief and Thomas’s version of his story is accurate (“Spokane History Timeline”). This is an example of the actual history that infiltrates Alexie’s fictional story; the “realism” portion of reservation realism. Qualchan was hung with six other “Indians…who had never raised a hand in anger to any white” (98). The hanging is another instance of the native reluctance toward violence, compared with the brutality of the whites. It emphasizes that Thomas, although on trial for some unidentified crime, is a victim since he shares a past with his suffering ancestors. Finally, in Thomas’s third story he is a man named Wild Coyote who is also engaged in a conflict with the whites. Even though he desires peace between “white and Indians”, he notices that the whites have “cannons and had lied before” so he decides to attack the men rather than brokering peace (100). This signifies the complete escalation from passive resistance to violent conflict. Although the murder and scalping of the white men by Wild Coyote is brutal, Alexi makes the reader sympathetic to the plight of the natives with the previous stories. He shows that this crime committed by Thomas as Wild Coyote, is a response to the the previous atrocities he has suffered.
The author also manipulates imagery in order to portray those who desire Thomas’s incarceration in a negative light. It is prudent to remember that this unusual story is Thomas’s testimonial for his trial. Alexie wants the reader to be the jury and to decide that the plaintiff is innocent. When the judge asks Thomas what his point is in telling this story, he informs the judge that Spokane is “building a golf course” named after Qualchan located in the same valley where he was hanged (99). He’s saying that the predecessors of the men who hung him are now publicly commemorating him. However, this seems like a weak attempt of repentance. The fact that the monument is a golf course, cheapens the action. Golf is a sport synonymous with the white upper class. White, privileged men are undoubtedly building this golf course and they are putting Qualchan’s name on it as a consolation prize. At least, this is what Alexie is implying. This is an example of the bias present in reservation realism. Alexie wants the reader to be incredibly biased toward Thomas and the natives so he embellishes historical events and uses imagery, such as the golf course, that emphasizes a negative bias against the whites.
Furthermore, Alexie portrays the injustice that Americans perpetrated against natives through depiction of the legal officials at Thomas’s trial as injudicious and corrupt. Furthermore, a theme of injustice permeates this story. Since Thomas represents the Native American community, the guards and the judge signify white America. When Thomas is in prison, the officers are deliberating about what to charge him with. They are inventing a “felony charge” for Thomas because they “don’t need his kind around” (94). The members of the justice system are corrupt thus connoting universal societal corruption in regards to minorities. If the system that is designed to uphold justice fails to do so it is logical to assume that justice does not exist, at least in the world of Thomas Builds The Fire. When Thomas eventually admits to Wild Coyote’s murder, he expresses his remorse admitting that he is “sorry that those men had to die” (102). He is even “happy” for the surviving soldiers who “fought well” and “deserved to live another day” (101). However, this is disregarded by the judge who gets Thomas to admit to the “cold blooded” murder. They judge does not care about the reasons for Thomas’s actions. He just wants to put a native in jail. This brand of injustice represents the unfair treatment of minorities in America by the judicial system.
Although unrealistic, the theme of reincarnation helps the author to show that the histories of the Native American peoples are connected. For the purposes of this work, Thomas is reincarnated and has actually experiences all of the events depicted however, the reincarnation can also be interpreted figuratively. Crimes committed by natives against whites in the present era, are the consequences of past events. Since this collection, and reservation realism, often has a focus on the civil unrest and criminal activity currently occurring within the native community, Alexi is trying to explain this behavior through the fantastical story of Thomas Builds The Fire. Here, is an instance of the “story-truth” carrying more weight than an actual, realistic portrayal. If Thomas actually existed he would not remember his past lives even if reincarnation is possible. Still, the surreal theme succeeds in making Thomas’s story more powerful, and thus more persuasive. However the fictitious court ultimately disregards any mitigating circumstances and Thomas is sent to jail.
On his way to the penitentiary, Thomas shares the bus with “six other prisoners” of various races. The bus will deliver them to “a new kind of reservation, barrio, ghetto, logging-town tin shack” (103). Once again, a native man is being taken involuntarily from his home and the vicious cycle continues. It is important to note that Thomas is not alone and is instead accompanied by other races of oppressed people. This shows that oppression and injustice in America is not indicative to any one race. Suffering is as integral to the American experience as baseball and apple pie. The same conflict of prejudice and oppression is continually reborn, just like Thomas. Perhaps Alexi is suggesting that it is up to us to stop history from repeating itself.
Lone Ranger and Tonto: Struggles with Isolation and Assimilation
Sherman Alexie’s The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven is a collection of short stories that explores the continuing Native American struggles in the modern era. The product of more than 500 years of oppression and persecution, the world of the Native American reservations is plagued by poverty, dysfunction, and alcoholism. Living in one of these reservations, Victor Joseph is a man who is torn between the modern world and the world of ancient tradition. He struggles with issues of identity and the place of Native American beliefs and history in a white American-dominated hostile environment. While going to a 7-11 at 3 am on a particularly hot night, Victor reminisces about the time he left the reservation with a white girlfriend to start a new life in Seattle. Through depicting Victor’s tribulations, the short story “The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven” explores Native American issues of alienation and assimilation, and how these problems can be addressed by members of the community.
One of Alexie’s main themes in his short story is the sense of alienation that Native Americans feel in the modern world. The story begins with Victor walking up to a 7-11 to get a creamsicle 3 am in the morning. Once he enters the store, he notices the clerk giving looking him over, commenting, “He looked me over so could describe me to the police later.” It’s important to note that Victor is at a 7-11 store on a Native American reservation. Even within the confines of his home territory, Victor feels a strong sense of alienation and “othering”. He is not just a man buying a simple creamsicle, but a suspect later to be described to the police. Victor’s identity as a Native American is constantly reinforced by this sense of alienation. As Victor travels down a Seattle road to escape a violent and turbulent argument with his girlfriend, he is stopped by an officer for “Making people nervous. You don’t fit the profile of this neighborhood.” He himself comments how he doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere. This sense of alienation isn’t just a literary device, but a very real perception by many Native Americans. According to a study carried out in 1987, many Native Americans suffer from “perceptions towards feelings of alienation” (Trimble). It is this native American feeling of “otherness” that Alexie attempts to capture in his work.
Alexie also shows in his short story how feelings of alienation can lead to a desire to assimilate with the “othering” force. Critic Andrew Dix comments how such pressures to assimilate not only lead to the drowning out of Native American voices, but also make it impossible to construct a cohesive native American identity (Dix). Victor is torn between two different ways of being, his traditional Native American heritage and the hostile world of modern urban living. Victor’s departure from Seattle was his attempt to rid himself of the cognitive dissonance of living in these two worlds at once, a way to assimilate his “otherness” into the wider White American culture. Yet Victor’s attempt at assimilation in Seattle did little to separate him from the alienation he experienced at the reservation. When he’s stopped by the police officer in Seattle, Victor thinks to himself, “I wanted to tell him I didn’t fit the profile of the country but I knew that would just get me in trouble.” Even hundreds of miles away from the reservation, Victor feels as if he’s still somehow confined to it.
While Victor’s attempt at assimilation ends with his return to the reservation, he never allows his negative experiences to leave him jaded and cynical. When Victor breaks up with his white girlfriend, he thinks to himself, “When one person starts to look at another person as a criminal, then the love is over. It’s logical.” The end of the relationship is a metaphor for the end of Victor’s flirtation with assimilation. According to critic Jolie Sheffer, “White women seem to offer the promise of the American dream in the future (a mirage in the distance), but, given US history, also prevent pantribal solidarity and threaten Native American identities” (Sheffer). Victor’s time away from the reservation and his encounters with people outside of it showed him how actively hostile the world is to his identity and way of life. Even when confronted by the hostility of the 7-11 clerk, Victor does not act in kind. Instead, he makes the manager laugh, asking him if he knows the theme to The Brady Bunch. He counters hostility with humor, leading the clerk to give him the creamsicle for free. Thus, Victor refuses to be a part of the system that perpetuates self-alienation.
Sherman Alexie’s short story “The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven” is a trenchant piece of literature that explores Native American issues of alienation and assimilation, and how individuals can overcome those obstacles. Victor feels isolated and alienated from mainstream white American culture. Even when riding down the road in his car, he cannot help but be reminded that he is different. That he is an “other.” Even when he attempts to assimilate, his efforts are thrown back at him. After living with his white girlfriend for some time, he comes to be a personification of the destruction of the Native American identity. When he eventually returns to his hometown, he’s again treated to the same “othering” process that he’s experienced his whole life. Yet instead of lashing out or saying nothing, he takes the opportunity to create a positive encounter. Victor figures out the key to stopping the infinite cycle of alienation and assimilation: mutual understanding. Ultimately, Sherman Alexie’s work stands as a testament to the struggles of the Native American community to maintain identity in the face of assimilation.
DIX, ANDREW. “Escape Stories: Narratives and Native Americans in Sherman Alexie’s The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven.” Yearbook of English Studies (2001): 155.Academic OneFile. Web. 3 Apr. 2016.
Sheffer, Jolie A. “The optics of interracial sexuality in Adrian Tomine’s shortcomings and Sherman Alexie’s the lone ranger and tonto fistfight in heaven.” College Literature 41.1 (2014): 119+. Academic OneFile. Web. 3 Apr. 2016.
Trimble, Joseph E. “Self-perception and Perceived Alienation among American Indians.” Journal of Community Psychology J. Community Psychol. 15.3 (1987): 316-33. Web.
The Unbreakable Cycle
One of the worst feelings in the world is the one you get when it seems like you are trapped in the life you live. This is the feeling when the routine of your life gets so repetitive and tired that it’s stifling, and the city you live in becomes a dull, inescapable prison. For many Native Americans, this feeling can be amplified tenfold — namely, by living on a reservation with the same people for your entire life. There’s only so much to do and getting off the reservation is both terrifying and difficult. The outside world may offer a variety of opportunities, but many are not armed with the skills needed to take advantage of those opportunities and many more may face the forms of racism embedded in American life. It is this rational fear that, on the basis of contemporary literature, keeps so many Native Americans from breaking the constraints of the reservation and moving on with their lives. Victor’s life is the perfect example of this scenario. In the short story “The Only Traffic Signal on the Reservation Doesn’t Flash Red Anymore” by Sherman Alexie, Victor and his friend Adrian seem to be caught in an endless loop. The whole story projects the trapped feeling that Victor experiences through various symbols such as the broken traffic light and rising basketball stars. Victor is a lost character, desperate for change; however, he is a follower and is too fearful to break the routine and face the unknown before anyone else does so.
Victor does not know what he wants to do. Actually, he knows what he wants but not how to free himself from his routine. The story begins with Adrian and Victor playing a form of Russian Roulette with a BB gun. When Adrian shoots the gun into his mouth and the BB is fired, Victor asks if he is dead yet. “Nope… not yet,” is Adrian’s response before he asks for a beer, having forgot that the two of them have quit drinking (44). This section of the story immediately gives the reader an unsettling feeling. The “not yet” implies that death is something Alexie’s characters are anticipating. The immediate request for beer afterwards is so automatic that it just seems routine. They are not used to change and are so lost in the same old cycle that they do not even think twice. What really makes this cycle seem so stifling and permanent is the way the story ends. One year passes, and Victor goes on to say that year has passed and that they have done stuff such as “ate and slept and read the newspaper” (50) in between. It is basically the same scene as at the opening of the story. Not only does the repetition of the scene close the circuit of the routine that the two seem to live, but the meaningless nothings are also the only thing that Victor mentions happening in between. Clearly nothing exciting enough has happened in that entire year to give him a different view on anything. He’s bored. He feels trapped.
The broken light on the reservation can be viewed as a symbol used to parallel Victor’s character. The fact that it is broken is a huge indication of the way Victor feels. He feels broken, just like the light. However, because it has been that way for so long, no one really notices anymore. And if they notice they do not care. The light does not do all that much because there are not many cars. “About only one car an hour passed by,” (48) so how useful was the light in any case? How useful does Victor feel if he is doing the same thing that everyone else is doing on the reservation over and over again? No one wants to fix the traffic light. No one makes it a priority. No one wants to fix Victor. He does not want to save himself. He is not making it his priority. So time presses on, and a year later the light is still broken, and Victor is still trapped and broken as well.
The biggest way that Victor copes with his feeling of helplessness is by watching others and hoping that they break the mold. In the beginning of the story Vicor and Adrian are discussing Julius Windmaker, the up and coming basketball star. Victor immediately flashes back to talk about how he used to play basketball and be good at it until he lost his edge and started drinking. The reader is immediately able to see the personal connection that Victor is making with Julius, clearly wanting him to succeed for more reasons other than just wanting to see a new sports star. After hearing some noise, they watch Julius being taken away by a tribal cop. When Adrian states that he thinks Julius is going to go bad and fail, Victor immediately denies that, claiming that “He’s just horsing around,” (49). He does not want to think that someone with such a bright future will ruin his future, even if he and everyone else before and after him has. Maybe if someone else makes it all the way and succeeds, it will give Victor the motivation to do the same. It will break the endless loop and maybe others will follow. At the end of the story Victor and Adrian go to see Julius’s game a year later to see that he is too drunk to play well. He ends up passed out on Victor’s floor the next morning after stumbling drunkenly into his house. The two friends start talking about a third grader named Lucy who is so good a basketball that she is playing with the sixth graders. “God, I hope she makes it all the way,” Victor says. He just puts all of his hopes into the next one. And the cycle continues.
Ultimately, Victor has found himself trapped in the lifestyle of any other self-confining Native American. Too afraid to leave the reservation and build a life off of it, he traps himself in a depressing cyclical routine. He is lost in his own life, unsure of where to go or what to do with himself. He’s broken and no one, not anyone else nor himself, seems to care enough to fix him. He is like the broken traffic light, just part of the scenery at this point. He is nothing special. Sometimes it just feels like an escape from yourself is impossible. Any routine can go from comfortable to stifling. Sometimes it is both, as it is in Victor’s case. Breaking the cycle is much easier said than done.