Study Guide

The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven

by Sherman Alexie

The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven Summary

Summary (Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Sherman Alexie’s initial foray into fiction (except for a few stories sprinkled among his poems), The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven appeared before his twenty-seventh birthday and was awarded a citation from the PEN/Hemingway Award committee for best first book of fiction in 1993. Praising his “live and unremitting lyric energy,” one reviewer suggested that three of the twenty-two stories in the book “could stand in any collection of excellence.”

Alexie grew up in Wellpinit, Washington, on the Spokane Indian Reservation; he is Spokane-Coeur d’Alene. Critics have noted that the pain and anger of the stories is balanced by his keen sense of humor and satiric wit. Alexie’s readers will notice certain recurring characters, including Victor Joseph, who often appears as the narrator, Lester FallsApart, the pompous tribal police chief, David WalsAlong, Junior Polatkin, and Thomas Builds-the-Fire, the storyteller to whom no one listens. These characters also appear in Alexie’s first novel, Reservation Blues (1995), so the effect is of a community; in this respect, Alexie’s writings are similar to the fiction of William Faulkner. One reviewer has suggested that The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven is almost a novel, despite the fact that Alexie rarely relies on plot development in the stories and does not flesh out his characters. It might more aptly be said that the stories come close to poetry, just as Alexie’s poems verge on fiction. The stories range in length from less than three to about twenty pages, and some of the best, like “The First Annual All-Indian Horseshoe Pitch and Barbecue,” leap from moment to moment, from one-liner to quickly narrated episode, much like a poem.

That story begins, “Someone forgot the charcoal; blame the BIA.” The next sentence concerns Victor playing the piano just before the barbecue: “after the beautiful dissonance and implied survival, the Spokane Indians wept, stunned by this strange and familiar music.” Survival is a repeated theme in Alexie’s work. The story then jumps to a series of four short paragraphs, each beginning “There is something beautiful about.” Then we are told that Simon won at horseshoes, and he “won the coyote contest when he told us that basketball should be our new religion.” A paragraph near the end is composed of a series of questions, each beginning “Can you hear the dreams.” The last paragraph features a child born of a white mother and an Indian father, with the mother proclaiming: “Both sides of this baby are beautiful.”

Beneath the anger, pain, and satiric edge of his stories, often haunted by the mythic figure of Crazy Horse and tinged with fantasy, Alexie offers hope for survival and reconciliation.

The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven Overview

A loosely connected collection of twenty-two short stories, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven describes incidents from the...

(The entire section is 166 words.)

The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven Summary

Every Little Hurricane
This first story of The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven introduces Victor,...

(The entire section is 1931 words.)

The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven Summary and Analysis

Summary and Analysis: Every Little Hurricane

New Characters
Victor: the main character of several stories; he is nine years old in this opening tale.

Adolph and Arnold: Victor’s uncles, whose drunken fight during a New Year’s Eve party provides a focal point for the story.

Victor’s father and mother: the protagonist’s parents, who remain unnamed in this story.

Summary
The book opens with a story about the metaphorical arrival of a hurricane on the Spokane Indian Reservation on New Year’s Eve of 1976. The story is told in a third-person narrative voice from the perspective of Victor, who is nine years old at the time.

It soon becomes clear that the storm is more symbolic than real; it...

(The entire section is 2110 words.)

Summary and Analysis: A Drug Called Tradition

New Characters
Thomas Builds-the-Fire: a key character in the collection who stands apart from his peers for his wisdom and his talent as a storyteller.

Junior: a wild teenager who plays the role of Victor’s sidekick in this story.

Summary
“A Drug Called Tradition” follows an older, presumably adolescent, Victor as he parties with Thomas and Junior one night on the Reservation. The story is told in the first-person from his point of view.

The night begins with a beer party at Thomas’s house and quickly moves to a wild ride in Junior’s car. The change in plans is instigated by Victor, who wants to take drugs and cruise for girls. He convinces Thomas to join in...

(The entire section is 1328 words.)

Summary and Analysis: Crazy Horse Dreams and The Only Traffic Signal on the Reservation Doesn’t Flash Red Anymore

New Characters
An unnamed girl at a powwow who seduces Victor.

Adrian: Victor’s new sidekick in this story, who is about his age and lives on the Reservation.

Julius Windmaker: the new basketball star on the Reservation, who is fifteen years old.

Lucy: the new prospect for basketball stardom; a mere third-grader.

Summary
“Crazy Horse Dreams,” and “The Only Traffic Signal on the Reservation Doesn’t Flash Red Anymore” are the fourth and fifth tales in the collection, respectively. Each story relates an adolescent escapade undertaken by Victor and his friends; together, they provide a broader picture of the lives of young men on the Reservation than...

(The entire section is 1673 words.)

Summary and Analysis: Because My Father Always Said He Was the Only Indian Who Saw Jimi Hendrix Play ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ at Woodstock and This Is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona

New Characters
Norma Many Horses: a neighbor who breaks up a childhood fight between Victor and Thomas in these stories and appears in later tales opposite Jimmy and Junior.

Summary
Alexie adapted these stories into the main plotline for his film Smoke Signals. They focus on the relationships between Victor, his father, and Thomas. Victor narrates the action from a first-person point of view in “Because My Father Always Said He Was the Only Indian Who Saw Jimi Hendrix Play ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ at Woodstock,” the events related in the story all center on the relationship between Victor and his father.

Victor’s father was a hippie who attended demonstrations in...

(The entire section is 1396 words.)

Summary and Analysis: Amusements and A Train Is an Order of Occurrence Designed to Lead to Some Result

New Characters
Sadie: Victor’s sidekick in this story.

Dirty Joe: the drunken man that Victor and Sadie humiliate on the carnival ride.

Samuel Builds-the-Fire: Thomas’s grandfather, who suffers an emotional decline culminating in death in this story.

Summary
“Amusements” and “A Train Is an Order of Occurrence Designed to Lead to Some Result” both relate the experiences of minor characters who suffer humiliation.

“Amusements” is an exceptionally short story, just over four pages long, about a cruel joke played on Dirty Joe one night at a carnival in Spokane. Dirty Joe, a drinker infamous for sneaking into bars and finishing the leftover drinks...

(The entire section is 1170 words.)

Summary and Analysis: The Fun House, A Good Story and First Annual All-Indian Horseshoe Pitch and Barbecue

New Characters
Uncle Moses: a tribal elder and storyteller commemorated in the second story.

Arnold: a boy who requests a story from Moses.

Narrator's Aunt: the protagonist of the first story who symbolizes strength and survival.

Summary
“The Fun House,” “A Good Story,” and “The First Annual All-Indian Horseshoe Pitch and Barbecue” focus on everyday life on the Reservation; they offer positive images of family relationships and neighborly friendships.

In “The Fun House,” the narrator’s aunt makes a bead dress too heavy to wear. It offers a test of strength for the women of the tribe, for she claims: “When a woman comes along who can carry...

(The entire section is 929 words.)

Summary and Analysis: All I Wanted to Do Was Dance and The Trial of Thomas Builds-the-Fire

New Characters
Victor’s former white girlfriend, who is unnamed in this story.

David and Esther WalksAlong: the tribal chief, who “walks along” with BIA policy, and his wife.

Summary
In “All I Wanted to Do Was Dance” and “The Trial of Thomas Builds-the-Fire”, Victor and Thomas each play the role of protagonist for the last time in the book.

In “All I Wanted to Do Was Dance,” Victor is in Montana after a break-up with his white girlfriend. He begins one night of drinking on the dance floor of a bar and ends it in a car on the roads of an unnamed reservation.

Once in bed, he doesn’t sleep; instead, Victor entertains himself by remembering...

(The entire section is 1367 words.)

Summary and Analysis: Distances and Imagining the Reservation

New Characters
Tremble Dancer: an Urban Indian who is the love interest of the narrator in the first story.

Summary
“Distances” is the story that Thomas tells during the bus ride to the state penitentiary after his trial. It is a visionary tale of an apocalypse that kills the majority of the white population and spares much of the Native American community. The narrator imagines that this event is the result of a Ghost Dance—an attempt to bring back the ancestors and old times—that finally worked.

The action begins with the survivors’ destruction of anything, from houses to appliances, that reminds them of white culture. The narrator is a \"Skin,\" or a resident of the...

(The entire section is 797 words.)

Summary and Analysis: Jesus Christ’s Half-Brother is Alive and Well on the Spokane Indian Reservation, The Approximate Size of my Favorite Tumor and Somebody Kept Saying Powwow

New Characters
James: the baby adopted by the narrator in the “Jesus Christ’s Half-Brother is Alive and Well on the Spokane Indian Reservation.”

Jimmy Many Horses: a Reservation man who is married to Norma Many Horses and dying of cancer.

Junior Polatkin: the narrator of “Somebody Kept Saying Powwow” and an admirer of Norma.

Summary
“Jesus Christ’s Half-Brother is Alive and Well on the Spokane Indian Reservation,” is an account of unexpected fatherhood; the tale is broken into sections by year, beginning in 1966 and ending in 1974.

The narrator is the father of an orphan named James who was born and adopted under seemingly miraculous...

(The entire section is 1182 words.)

Summary and Analysis: Indian Education, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, Family Portrait and Witnesses, Secret and Not

New Characters
Unnamed clerk at a 7-11; he sells the narrator of “The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven” a Popsicle.

Jerry Vincent: a former friend of the narrator’s father and murder victim whose case remains open in “Witnesses, Secret and Not"

Summary
An unnamed character again narrates the action, which begins in adulthood and ends in childhood, in “Indian Education,” “The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven,” “Family Portrait,” and “Witnesses, Secret and Not.”
The collection's title story follows the narrator’s return from a sojourn in the city back to Spokane; the action alternates between events in the present and memories of the...

(The entire section is 1858 words.)