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.
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