Self-Reflection and Cruel Irony in “Amusements”
Sherman Alexie’s “The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven” is a collection of short stories all having to do with the relationship between Indians and white people or the growth and development of the main character, Victor. In the short story “Amusements,” the story of a drunken Indian man named Dirty Joe is told. Victor and his friend Sadie put Dirty Joe on a roller coaster when he is so inebriated that he is passed out, this leads to a crowd watching and laughing at Dirty Joe while he incoherently rides a roller coaster. While Alexie definitely creates a divide between white people and Indians, his main characer is forced to look at his own actions and reconsider how he can negatively affect this divide.
If we look at Victor’s actions and reactions in “Amusements” we will see that Victor recognizes that his actions are part of the problem with the divide between Indians and white men, which is important because it shows how a person has the potential to learn from the hardships of life and use these for personal growth. First and foremost, we see the blatant prejudice that the white people show against Indians. The fear of leaving Dirty Joe alone at the carnival is apparent, “we both knew we couldn’t leave another Indian passed out in the middle of a white carnival,” (55). This suggests that if Victor and Sadie were to leave Dirty Joe alone and passed out drunk, he could be harmed, arrested or even killed by white people. After fear is suggested, Victor explicitly tells the reader that he (and most Indians) “wear fear now like a turquoise choker, like a familiar shawl,” (55). This not only demonstrates that the Indians experience fear, but they live with it every day and they carry it with them everywhere, just like they would with clothes or jewelry. To add to the fear, Victor and Sadie are wildly outnumbered in this story, “I looked around and saw a crowd had gathered […]. Twenty or thirty white faces…,”(56). By showing how outnumbered Sadie and Victor are, Alexie shows how intimidating it was to be an Indian during this time. One of the more violent scenes in this story is when Victor passes two young boys who are mocking him, and one of the young boys “pointed his finger at me [Victor] and shot. ‘Bang,’ he yelled. ‘You’re dead, Indian,” (57). This shows how the entire white society is being raised with hatred towards Indian people, and how even a young boy has the agency to insult and threaten an adult man, simply because he’s Indian. Lastly, when the police show up to investigate what’s going on with Dirty Joe, the carny points to Victor and tells the police that it was his fault. The police yelled at Victor saying, “‘Okay, chief’ […] Get your ass over here,” (57). The police call Victor “chief” in a condescending way, which shows that even the people in position of authority showed prejudice against Indians. When the police yelled at Victor, he ran away and then Alexie added that the police officer “pulled out his billy club from his belt,” (58). This allows the reader to infer that the policeman was ready to hurt Victor, even though he had not yet been convicted of anything.
This story exemplifies the racism and injustice that Victor experiences by the white people, which is the initial cause of the division between Indians and white people during this time. This is significant to the book as a whole because it allows Victor to understand that racism is ever present (if he didn’t already) and it allows him to be able to ignore this and it will better his argument against racism. Alexie includes this to allow readers to see how Indian people are also treated unjustly by white people, Alexie said that he lives through each of his characters, so by writing about things he has experienced, it suggests that these things happen in real life.On the other hand, while Victor is actively threatening to hurt people of his own race, he is not exactly helping them out either. When he first find Dirty Joe passed out drunk he was upset to see him like this, “what the hell do we do with him?” (54). This doesn’t exactly suggest that Victor hates his Indian people, but it shows that he definitely lacks respect for people like Dirty Joe. After all of this, Sadie and Victor sit with Dirty Joe and white people being to crowd around and laugh at Dirty Joe. After everyone laughs at Dirty Joe, Victor says, “We should start charging admission for this show,” (55). Although this is sarcasm, Victor jokes about exploiting one of his peers for money, this shows that he does not value the people and there’s a hint of sincerity in his voice when he talking about exploiting Dirty Joe. As the climax of this short story, Victor puts Dirty Joe on a roller coaster for everybody to laugh at him. Not only does Victor laugh and disrespect Dirty Joe, he puts him in extreme danger by putting him on this roller coaster when he is barely conscious.
Despite the fact that Victor put Dirty Joe in danger, he and Sadie also planned on running away after they realized what had happened, “We walked fast and did our best to be anything but Indian,” (56). This shows that Victor would deny being Indian in order to stay out of trouble. All of these things contribute to the division between Indians and white people, by endangering a fellow Indian man, leaving him there while he’s in danger and being laughed at and then denying his own heritage he undermines his arguments against white people and the discrimination he faces. Alexie Includes this to write to people who may be experiencing racism, this will help readers make sure they avoid causing themselves any extra strife. Perhaps the most significant passage of this short story is the “crazy mirrors” passage. After Victor is running from the policeman, he ends up in a room full of fun house mirrors. The mirrors themselves could represent a distorted view of reality for Victor and the way he perceives himself and how he perceives society. In this passage he also realizes that he has made a mistake, “Crazy mirrors, I thought, the kind that distort your features, make you fatter, thinner, taller, shorter. The kind that make a white man remember he’s the master of ceremonies, barking about the Fat Lady, the Dog-Faced Boy, the Indian who gave up another Indian like a treaty,” (58). This is where Victor realizes what he did to Dirty Joe (offering him up as entertainment) was wrong and defeats his purpose of arguing against the discrimination of Indians. The last passage of the “crazy mirrors” passage is “Crazy mirrors, I thought, the kind that can never change the dark of your eyes and the folding shut of the good part of your past,” (58). This is where Victor realizes that he will always be an Indian, and there’s nothing that he can do to take that part of him away.
While Victor is being discriminated against by white people, he is also doing things that make the situation worse. However, this short story was included in this book because it shows how Victor made a mistake, and then learned from it. People often make mistakes and ignore the lesson behind them, but Victor took this in stride and used it to improve his character.
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