The Stories (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
Set on the Spokane Indian Reservation in eastern Washington State, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven is a collection of loosely related stories featuring a recurring cast of characters. In these twenty-two stories, the young male protagonists, usually in their late teens or their twenties, struggle with poverty, alcoholism, and the despair of everyday life on and off the reservation. They also try to come to grips with what it means to be Indian (as the characters exclusively refer to themselves) in the late twentieth century.
Though these stories have no chronological order, vary wildly in style, and use different narrators, the author manages, with thin plots, sketchy characterization, and “artless” language, to build stories of great cumulative power and understanding. The reader is well advised to read the book through to experience the full effect.
The first story in the collection, “Every Little Hurricane,” describes a New Year’s Eve party as seen through the eyes of nine-year-old Victor. Images of bad weather metaphorically represent the emotional storms of the party, where Victor’s drunken uncles, Adolph and Arnold, fight viciously for no apparent reason. “He could see his uncles slugging each other with such force that they had to be in love. Strangers would never want to hurt each other that badly.” A flashback then recounts a Christmas of four years before, when there was no money for gifts and...
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The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven (Magill's Literary Annual 1991-2005)
The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven is Sherman Alexie’s first full-length work of fiction. In 1992, Hanging Loose Press published his The Business of Fancydancing (see Magill’s Literary Annual 1993) praised for its mythmaking power to portray the inner lives and unspoken conflicts of Native Americans caught with “one foot in the reservation and the other in the outside world.” In The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, Alexie continues to write about a native culture whose traditions, such as powwows and oral storytelling, have been replaced by strip joints and cable television. His characters, many of whom first appeared in The Business of Fancydancing, are most often seen sitting on the porch steps of Housing and Urban Development houses, as if trapped by genetic and genocidal footfalls-such as alcoholism, diabetes, self-loathing, all of which have contributed to the dissipation of Native Americans (a population that only in the late twentieth century topped the one-million mark, an estimated 75-90 percent less than when whites first arrived in North America). Not much else happens in this collection. A paralytic sense of stasis strips these stories of dramatic action or conventional, conflict-centered plot. Unlike other writers’ work that is devoid of narrative movement—ennui-driven stories that oftentimes exist entirely within the four blank walls of a room-Alexie’s stories are haunted by...
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The Stories (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
“Every Little Hurricane”: Young Victor Polatkin recalls reservation hurricanes, watching fights and seeing an old American Indian man drown in a mud puddle. He also remembers the alcoholism enveloping his people. Victor also realizes that his drunken father and mother embody an unnamed hurricane deep enough to destroy everything.
“A Drug Called Tradition”: A grown-up Victor, along with his brother Junior and Thomas Builds-the-Fire, a storyteller, experience a different Indian vision under the influence of a new drug. When Victor disavows the visions, Thomas walks away, both emotionally and physically. Later, spiritual guide Big Mom gives Victor a tiny drum as a “pager.” Though he never uses it, the drum becomes his “only religion,” which “fill[s] up the whole world.”
“Because My Father Always Said He Was the Only Indian Who Saw Jimi Hendrix Play ’The Star Spangled Banner’ at Woodstock”: Though the music of famed guitarist Jimi Hendrix brings Victor closer to his father, their family trip to Hendrix’s grave site signals the beginning of the end of his parents’ marriage. Victor’s father buys a motorcycle and eventually leaves the family, leaving Victor with only the imaginary sound of motorcycles and guitars.
“The Only Traffic Signal on the Reservation Doesn’t Flash Red Anymore”: Adrian and Victor talk about former reservation basketball heroes and wonder if Julius Windmaker will “make it.”...
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History and Culture of the Spokane Indians
As an enrolled Spokane Coeur d'Alene Indian, Alexie draws on his experience on the reservation in Wellpinit, Washington, to craft his stories. Approximately 1,100 Spokane tribal members live on the Spokane Indian Reservation located about 50 miles northwest of Spokane, which includes a school and offices of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). The Spokane Indians belong to the Interior Salish group, who had made their home in northeastern Washington, northern Idaho and western Montana. "Spokane" means "Sun People." White settlers who moved into the Spokane's territories in the middle of the nineteenth century often skirmished with the Indians, and many from both sides were killed. In 1881, the Spokane Reservation was established by executive order of President Rutherford B. Hayes, and in 1906 land allotments were made to the inhabitants. In 1940, by an act of Congress, the United States acquired tribal land along the Spokane River for the construction of Grand Coulee Dam, affecting both the Spokane Indians' and the Coeur d'Alene Indians' ability to fish for salmon. The tribes had few avenues through which to challenge the government until 1946, when the Indian Claims Commission was created to settle claims filed by Indian tribes against the United States. The Spokane tribe filed a claim arguing that the government under-compensated them for land in an 1887 cession of land agreement. In 1967, the tribe was awarded...
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The setting of The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven is key to the stories and their meanings. The Spokane Indian Reservation is a place quite different from the America most young people have experienced. Alexie candidly describes the poverty, the problems, the separateness of this life, and yet almost none of the residents can live successfully elsewhere. While not described in great detail, the "rez" is a rather barren place comprised of government- sponsored low-income HUD (Department of Housing and Urban Development) houses with TVs, the Powwow Tavern, the Trading Post, a Catholic church, and a fry bread stand. The cars are broken down, the employment opportunities are nearly nonexistent, food may consist of commodity cheese, the roads are bad, and not much is happening. At the same time, the Native Americans call it home, and although they may go to Spokane now and then for dinner and a movie, few can live in the city. The reservation is difficult, but urban American life seems nearly impossible. The setting reflects the situation of the modern Native American, not fully part of mainstream America yet not thriving outside that life either, just caught between.
Alexie does not romanticize his characters or their setting. While the reservation may lie in a beautiful part of the country, the mountains, the lakes, and the forests are not portrayed. While Alexie mentions that hunting is a major pastime, the only time the characters in...
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Questions and Answers: Every Little Hurricane
1. What does the hurricane symbolize in this story?
2. What is the role of the storytelling as seen here, and what makes this role so difficult?
3. How do sensory images from Victor’s childhood contribute to themes of this story?
4. Which experiences finally bring the community together, and how is this communal bond ironic?
5. What does the end of the story portend for Victor’s future, and thus, for the themes of other stories in the book?
1. The hurricane refers to the emotional turmoil experienced by Victor as well as the social chaos experienced by his community; it is symbol of the threats faced by the Native American community both from outside and within the Reservation in the story.
2. The storyteller must record his own experiences as well as those of the tribe. This act is difficult because it involves remembering the past clearly, and thus truthfully, even if it contains painful memories.
3. Depiction of images that evoke the senses help to underscore the difficulty of Victor’s childhood. The primary sensory experiences of his childhood, at least as seen in this story, are of alcohol abuse, hunger, and emotional conflict.
4. The shared experience of suffering finally brings the partiers together at the end of the story. It is ironic that such negative, rather than positive, experiences provide strong bonds between individuals and hope for the survival of the group.
5. The conclusion suggests that Victor must remember, and perhaps even accept, his past. The emphasis on memory, storytelling, and survival in this story suggests that these issues will be continue to be important to and cause conflict in subsequent stories.
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Questions and Answers: A Drug Called Tradition
1. How does the style of the story, especially the repeated shifts in time and place, impact its themes?
2. Which attitudes toward the ritual of earning one’s adult name are apparent in the story?
3. How do the three visions address the past and present situation of the American Indian tribes?
4. What does the plotline foretell for the futures of the three main characters?
5. What does the “tiny drum” symbolize at the end of the story?
1. The shifts between past and present highlight generational differences in the coming-of-age rituals of young American Indian men. This disparity between the experiences of the young and the old speaks to a broader loss of identity, or a sense of tradition, among young American Indian men.
2. It seems that the ritual is important, but not crucial, to establishing a sense of identity and culture. Alexie is clearly skeptical that this ceremony will solve all of the problems facing men such as Victor, Thomas, and Junior.
3. The three visions correspond to instances of suffering after contact with white Europeans, including the loss of horses, spread of smallpox, and violence of the Indian Wars. Alexie provides a new ending to these events in the vision by overturning their outcomes. The horse is stolen, the settlers return to Europe, and the Indians win the war with the whites.
4. Thomas is expelled from the group; he must learn how to better communicate with his peers, so that they will begin to learn from him. Victor and Junior remain doubtful; they must learn to use tradition in new ways in order to change.
5. The drum symbolizes the power that a “little tradition” might have, if the boys only can learn to use it in less destructive and more beneficial ways.
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Questions and Answers: Crazy Horse Dreams and The Only Traffic Signal on the Reservation Doesn’t Flash Red Anymore
1. What is the significance of the comparison between Crazy Horse and Victor?
2. What fears finally separate Victor from the girl at the powwow, and what do they suggest about his development as a character?
3. How does Alexie reclaim basketball for Native Americans in “The Only Traffic Signal on the Reservation Doesn’t Flash Red Anymore,” and what is the impact of this claim on the storyline?
4. Why is it so difficult to believe in heroes on the Reservation?
5. What is the mood of the final scene, and what does it suggest about “The Only Traffic Signal on the Reservation Doesn’t Flash Red Anymore”?
1. Victor wants to be brave and fearless like Crazy Horse, the epitome of the Indian war hero. Yet he finally cannot “play” the warrior and fight for the girl he meets, as the end of the story makes clear.
2. Victor fears that he cannot provide a future that suits her; she is a girl of the suburbs, while he is a boy of the Reservation. He still fears that the poverty and hardship of his childhood will be repeated in his own adult life.
3. Alexie suggests that basketball heroes emerged in Native American culture long before whites “invented” the sport. He ultimately attempts to reclaim not only the sport, but also its heroes, for the characters in this story.
4. The racism that American Indians face in white culture leaves them with few heroes or other reasons to hope. Alexie makes the interesting suggestion that “small,” seemingly insignificant, daily experiences of racism offer the most difficult obstacles to either becoming or believing in a hero.
5. The story ends on a hopeful note, as Victor and Adrian toss a coffee cup into the air and the sun rises on a new day. This “happy ending” suggests that their willingness to believe in a new hero will be worth the possible cost of disappointment.
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Questions and Answers: 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
1. Which role does music play in Victor’s childhood?
2. Why does Victor agree to accept help from Thomas, and how is his decision significant to “This is What it Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona”?
3. How are Victor’s and Thomas’s attitudes toward their Native American identity different?
4. To what extent are these attitudes changed or resolved by the end of these stories?
5. How do childhood memories affect the meaning of both stories?
1. Experience of music brings the family together despite the conflicts that often divide them. Victor associates Jimi Hendrix’s music in particular with moments of connection or understanding that he shared with his father.
2. Victor agrees to help Thomas after remembering a scene from their childhood. His decision indicates that the friendship will be rekindled, at least to some extent, during the trip to Arizona.
3. Victor is uncertain of his identity; his abandonment symbolizes the damage caused to Native American home life by the infiltration of white customs. Thomas, by comparison, is certain of his identity; he cannot help but play the role of storyteller as both a child and adult, a clear symbol of Native American tradition.
4. Both men remain steadfast in their convictions and traits, although they more directly recognize and understand the significance of their life histories, a sign that they are beginning to affirm their identities.
5. Childhood memories help to develop these characters and explain the conflicts that they face in these, and other, stories. They merge past and past as a way to address Native American identity, a common technique in Alexie’s writing.
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Questions and Answers: Amusements and A Train is an Order of Occurrence Designed to Lead to Some Result
1. What are the apparent motivations for the humiliation of Dirty Joe?
2. What does the imagery during the roller coaster ride suggest about the moral judgment of Victor and Sadie?
3. What are the implications of the final scene of Victor in the fun house for the themes of “Amusements”?
4. Why is Samuel’s isolation particularly tragic?
5. How is the “craziness” of both white and Native American cultures compared in “A Train is an Order of Occurrence Designed to Lead to Some Result”
1. Victor and Sadie are afraid of sharing Dirty Joe’s shame; they decide to betray Joe and join in the disapproval of the white crowd. As such, they make his humiliation even more painful and complete.
2. The image of an unconscious and helpless Joe tumbling about on the roller coaster contrasts with the cruel laughter and mockery of the crowd; the cruelty of laughing at someone so helpless is emphasized by this image.
3. Like his image, Victor’s feelings and morals have been distorted. He has lost “something good” in himself.
4. Samuel is a renowned storyteller that might share much experience and knowledge with his tribe; instead, his family and friends have chosen to ignore him in his old age.
5. Both cultures isolate their elders in this story, a tragic trend that limits cultural knowledge.
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Questions and Answers: The Fun House, A Good Story and The First Annual All-Indian Horseshoe Pitch and Barbecue
1. What does the beaded dress symbolize in "The Fun House"?
2. What do the struggles and triumphs of the Aunt demonstrate about women’s roles?
3. Why does the mother in "A Good Story" ask her son to tell “a good story"?
4. What kid of mood is created by the images that close "A Good Story," and how does this atmosphere contribute to the overall meaning?
5. What does the baby symbolize at the end of "The First Annual All-Indian Horseshoe Pitch and Barbecue," and how is that meaning significant?
1. The dress symbolizes strength. It is too heavy for anyone to wear, that is, except the strongest of women.
2. The Aunt’s struggles demonstrate that women’s contributions to family and social life are often unrecognized and unappreciated. Her triumph in the story, the ability to wear the beaded dress, suggests that this fact must change.
3. The mother requests a “good” story because so many stories told about Reservation life are “bad”; they often emphasize only the worst, not the best, experiences in the lives of Native Americans.
4. The final images, of the mother sewing and the narrator drinking Pepsi, are devoid of negative emotion; they create a sense of peace. These images suggest that contentment might be found in everyday activities and experiences.
5. The mixed-race baby is called “beautiful”; recognition of its beauty suggests that white and Native American cultures might merge more easily and successfully if Reservation life could foster the kind of camaraderie experienced on this day more often.
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Questions and Answers: All I Wanted to Do Was Dance and The Trial of Thomas Builds-the-Fire
1. Why does the relationship between Victor and his white girlfriend fail?
2. Which role does the contrast between past and present play in "All I Wanted to Do Was Dance"?
3. How is the trial foreshadowed in "The Trial of Thomas Builds-the-Fire," and what is the significance of that sign?
4. What is the irony associated with the naming of the golf course after the warrior Qualchan?
5. How does Thomas’s sentence contribute to the satirical tone of “The Trial of Thomas Builds-the-Fire”?
1. Victor and his girlfriend cannot forget the long history of conflict between whites and Native Americans. They are like Custer and Crazy Horse at the Battle of Little Bighorn, doomed to oppose and battle one another.
2. The contrast demonstrates the challenges that Victor still faces in his life as well as the behaviors that he uses to cope with those problems. The primary behaviors are drinking and dancing. Drinking, a self-destructive pattern inherited from his parents, brings him little solace. His love of dancing, however, finally offers promise that he will survive the present and continue into the future.
3. The trial is foreshadowed as Esther leaves her husband David, the former tribal chief. This decision is significant because it correlates with a growing spirit of rebellion within the entire tribe. They will not “walk along” with government policy anymore by the end of the story.
4. Qualchan is the name of a warrior murdered during the wars between the Spokane tribes and white armies. It is assumed that if city officials knew about the history behind the name, they would not dedicate a place of recreation to such a bloody history.
5. The sentence is imposed far too late, more than a century after the crimes were committed, and imposed on the wrong person and group. Thomas is clearly a victim, not perpetrator, of the crimes committed against the Spokane tribe.
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Questions and Answers: Distances and Imagining the Reservation
1. How does the story “Distances” seek to overturn white domination?
2. What is the structure of the post-apocalyptic society, and how is that structure problematic?
3. How does “Imagining the Reservation” offer a different answer to the same problem?
4. Why is the equation, “survival = anger x imagination” important, and which challenges does it address?
5. What is the significance of the images that conclude "Imagining the Reservation"?
1. This story seeks change by destroying white society; its action begins after an apocalypse that has resulted in the deaths of almost all whites and the destruction of much of their culture; only Native Americans survive.
2. Society after the apocalypse is divided into two groups: the survivors from cities and from the reservations. These groups are called the Urbans and Skins. Because a mysterious illness plagues the Urbans, they are prohibited from marrying and breeding with the Skins. The unequal power structure created by this system is problematic; it directly resembles that between whites and Native Americans before the apocalypse.
3. "Imagining the Reservation" seeks answers in the reorganization, rather than destruction, of contemporary culture. These answers might be found if Native American culture were to play a new, more prominent and powerful, role in dominant culture.
4. The equation is the centerpiece of the story; it provides the narrator’s answer to the denigration of his culture. The inclusion of both anger and imagination in this solution suggests that Native American must be motivated and inspired to seek new answers to old problems.
5. The images all ascribe magical powers to everyday objects; they point toward the need to see possibilities in the future that seem to be unlikely, or even impossible to achieve, in the present.
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Questions and Answers: Jesus Christ’s Half Brother is Alive and Well on the Spokane Indian Reservation, Approximate Size of my Favorite Tumor and Somebody Kept Saying Powwow
1. What is the meaning of the title “Jesus Christ’s Half Brother is Alive and Well on the Spokane Indian Reservation,” and what does it suggest about James?
2. What does fatherhood teach the narrator in “Jesus Christ’s Half Brother is Alive and Well on the Spokane Indian Reservation"?
3. What does Jimmy help Norma to understand in “The Approximate Size of my Favorite Tumor,” and how is her realization significant?
4. How are Norma’s special talents important to the final story?
5. Why does Norma call Junior “Pete Rose,” and how does the nickname impact the end of “Somebody Kept Saying Powwow”?
1. The title refers to the circumstances of James’s birth; his mother claimed that she was a virgin, and thus, that his birth was a miracle. The title therefore suggests that the baby could be a brother to Jesus Christ. The actual miracle of the story, however, is that James changes his father’s life.
2. Fatherhood brings new joy to the seemingly mundane tasks of everyday life, such as caring for his son or listening to his thoughts; the narrator realizes that his son will teach him something new each day and even care for him in old age.
3. Jimmy helps Norma to accept his mortality; her realization helps each character in their personal struggles. Norma will help Jimmy with the physical experience of dying, and Jimmy will help Norma with the emotional struggle of grieving.
4. Norma is literally a “cultural lifeguard”; she is a wholly positive symbol of Native American culture. Moreover, she possesses the ability to heal others of their pasts, a problem central to many stories in this book.
5. Norma suggests that Junior, like Peter Rose, shouldn’t let one mistake dictate his life or reputation. The joke allows Junior to move on and reinstates his friendship with Norma.
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Questions and Answers: The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, Indian Education, Family Portrait and Witnesses, Secret and Not
1. Why does the narrator of the title story decide to leave his girlfriend, and what is the significance of this decision?
2. What is the primary result of Junior’s education “The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven”?
3. What is problematic about memories in “Family Portrait”?
4. Who is Jerry Vincent and what is learned from his story in “Witnesses, Secret and Not”?
5. What does “Witnesses, Secret and Not” suggest about the experience of being a “witness,” both in the narrator’s family and culture?
1. A nightmare of punishment for their interracial romance prompts his departure. His decision stems from the larger conflict between white and Native American cultures in his life, a conflict that the story fails to resolve.
2. He shows promise as an athlete and scholar, culminating in attendance of a white high school; these experiences bring awareness that his education has only isolated him from life on the Reservation.
3. The narrator learns that memories vary amongst individuals and shift over time. He has difficulty ascertaining the facts of childhood because each member recalls it differently. Even his own bias has tainted his feelings and perceptions.
4. Jerry Vincent was a friend of the narrator’s father. He is accordingly a person of interest in the ongoing investigation of Jerry’s murder. The narrator learns, however, that the story surrounding the murder is finally more important (to his father, family, and tribe) than the details of his death.
5. The act of bearing witness provides the only way of addressing his experiences, even if it might be an unreliable method of remembering and communicating about the past. This experience allows him to explore the different meanings that his Native American identity might have over the years.
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Alexie employs postmodern practices of writing to tell his stories. Some of these practices include weaving historical figures and figures from popular culture with characters created by Alexie. For example, in "Crazy Horse Dreams" he uses the Sioux warrior Crazy Horse as a symbolic presence to explore how the imagination effects ways in which people in the present respond to one another. In other stories, he uses Jesus Christ, Jimi Hendrix, the Lone Ranger, and Pete Rose as cultural icons that serve as touchstones of personal meaning. Alexie also challenges readers' ideas as to what makes a story by cobbling together diary entries, dream sequences, aphorisms, faux newspaper stories, multiple narrators and stories within stories to tell his tales. One of the most obvious examples of this occurs in the story, "The Trial of Thomas Builds-the-Fire," in which Thomas takes on the persona of a number of historical figures, human and animal, to relate events occurring more than a century earlier.
In postmodern writing such as Alexie's, the lines between fiction and fantasy, reality and dream are erased, and the storyline—if there is one—is often blurred. Alexie also mixes tones, moving from comedy in one sentence to tragedy in the next. Such rapid shifts of tone create a playful linguistic surface that at times mocks the very story he is telling. Alexie mocks whites and Native Americans alike. For example, in "Indian Education," Victor...
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Sherman Alexie proves himself an outstanding literary artist in The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven. He writes unconventional, nonlinear stories steeped in poetry, full of humor, and inhabited by unforgettable characters. Alexie acknowledges that storytelling, dreams, and visions are motifs in his book, and it is often hard to tell the "real" from the imagined. Frequently, one finds stories wrapped within other stories, filled with flashbacks or flashing forward in time, as hard to pin down as real life. Alexie told Dennis and Joan West in an interview in Cineaste (1998), "I'm rarely interested in traditional narrative. My beginnings are as a poet. My first form of writing was poetry." Thus, these twentytwo short stories have numerous poetic qualities worth relishing. The imagery, metaphors, symbolism, sounds, and rhythm of Alexie's language are captured in the following ending from the story "Family Portrait":
The television was always loud, too loud, until every emotion was measured by the half hour. We hid our faces behind masks that suggested other histories; we touched hands accidentally and our skin sparkled like a personal revolution. We stared across the room at each other, waited for the conversation, watched wasps and flies battering against the windows. We were children; we were open mouths. Open in hunger, in anger, in laughter, in prayer. Jesus, we all want to survive.
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Because of the language, some sexual scenes, and its literary sophistication, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven is appropriate only for older adolescents. Alexie opens the reader's eyes to the drinking, unemployment, bad nutrition, and discrimination still experienced by many Native Americans in America. Although clearly critical of American history and current society, Alexie does not play the "victim" theme, however. The characters are strong human beings with unique personalities, and their humor and caring lift the work above mere polemic. These stories respect the Native American characters without portraying them as either perfect martyrs or helpless objects. Racism and its effects are complex and sometimes subtle. The stories open up possibilities for serious, ongoing thought and discussion about diversity, identity, and prejudice.
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Topics for Discussion
1. Identify which story you liked best and why.
2. There is a lot of humor in The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven. Give several examples. What effect does the humor have? Why would the author include it? What does humor do for the characters? The plots? The themes?
3. Alexie uses interesting, unusual titles for his stories. What effects do these titles have on you? Describe the impact the following titles have and how they fit their stories: "Crazy Horse Dreams," "Somebody Kept Saying Powwow," and "The Only Traffic Signal on the Reservation Doesn't Flash Red Anymore"? What about "The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven"? Do you find any symbolic meanings in these titles?
4. It is difficult to be Native American in contemporary society. List evidence from the following stories that supports the charge of racism against white society: "Amusements," "A Train Is an Order of Occurrence Designed to Lead to Some Result," and "Indian Education."
5. Compare and contrast the characters of Victor and Thomas.
6. The point of view among the stories is shifting. Sometimes it is first person, told by one character and then in another story by another character. Sometimes the point of view is limited third person. In one or two stories it is hard to pin down the point of view. How does the shifting point of view affect you as a reader? Why do you think the author changes point of view as he does?...
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Ideas for Reports and Papers
1. Explore the history of Native Americans by reading a book like Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown. Based on history, why should Native Americans be critical of white America?
2. Research the place of dancing in Native American culture, at powwows, ceremonials, etc. Focus on one area, such as the American Northwest, or one group of Native Americans such as the Pueblo Indians. How did dancing function in the traditional culture? Today?
3. Investigate a social problem that often exists on the reservation today—alcoholism or unemployment, for example. What do the statistics tell? What are the reported causes, and what are some possible solutions?
4. Read several of Sherman Alexie's poems, and compare them, in language and theme, to the short stories in The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven.
5. Find out about the storytelling tradition in Native American culture. Locate and describe one traditional story from Native America, such as a story about Coyote.
6. For years, many Native Americans were taken from their homes and sent off to boarding schools to make them "American." Find out more about these schools, where they were, how they worked, and what young Native Americans experienced in these schools.
7. Modern Native American authors include Leslie Marmon Silko, Joy Harjo, James Welch, and many others, as well as Sherman Alexie. Write a biographical essay on...
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Topics for Further Study
Read Leslie Marmon Silko's "The Storyteller," and then compare and contrast it with stories from Alexie's collection. Describe how each of them describes the value of storytelling as a tradition and a survival skill. Provide specific examples from the respective texts.
Research the relationship between the Coeur d'Alene Indians and the Spokane Indians and present your findings to your class.
Alexie's characters often respond to the way in which Native Americans have been stereotyped in popular culture. Research films and novels for illustrations of these stereotypes and list them on the board. Next, construct a list of the ways in which Alexie's stories respond to these stereotypes. Discuss as a class.
Alexie frequently describes how the Bureau of Indian Affairs has humiliated Native Americans. Research the BIA, and write a short essay about the ways it has changed in the last twenty years.
Argue for or against the idea that The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven can be considered a memoir.
The idea of the "authentic Indian" appears frequently in Alexie's stories. What does this term mean, and how is Alexie using it? Discuss as a class.
Analyze the films Dancing with Wolves and The Last of the Mohicans in terms of how they do or do not perpetuate stereotypes of Native Americans. Discuss as a class.
Research the Native-American ritual of the Ghostdance, and...
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Although Alexie does not intentionally write for young adults, readers may enjoy the author's other works which include his first novel, Reservation Blues (1995); his second novel, Indian Killer (1996); his collection of short stories, The Toughest Indian in the World (2000); or one of his books of poetry, including First Indian on the Moon (1993), Old Shirts and New Skins (1993), Water Flowing Home (1995), The Summer of Black Widows (1996), and The Man Who Loves Salmon (1998).
Especially worthwhile is the film made from one short story and parts of several others in The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven—Smoke Signals. Called the "first Indian-produced, Indian-directed, Indian-written feature film" with Native American actors and filmed on location, Smoke Signals premiered at the Sundance Film Festival where it won the audience award for most popular film. Later distributed by Miramax in 1998, the film received a Christopher Award in 1999, an award "which affirms the highest values of the human spirit," and Alexie was nominated for the Independent Feature Project/West 1999 Independent Spirit Award for Best First Screenplay. The film also received numerous positive reviews. The story line is more conventional than usual for Alexie and follows Victor and Thomas's road trip to Phoenix to obtain the things left by Victor's dead father. The language is cleaned up, but the humor is...
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What Do I Read Next?
Alexie's novel Reservation Blues (1995) solidified his reputation as one of America's strongest writers. Alexie draws on the Faust legend in telling the story of an Indian blues band called Coyote Springs.
N. Scott Momaday's Pulitzer Prize-winning first novel, House Made of Dawn (1968), helped pave the way for other Native-American writers such as Alexie. The novel tells the story of a Tano Indian named Abel who returns from World War II army service to his home in New Mexico. Momaday charts Abel's struggles to reaffirm the ways of his people while living in a world often antagonistic towards those ways.
Megatrends 2000: Ten New Directions for the 1990s (1990), written by John Naisbitt and Patricia Aburdene, provides a social forecast for the 1990s, describing trends and their contexts, including the emergence of free-market socialism, global lifestyles, and cultural nationalism.
American Indian Myths and Legends (1985), edited by Alfonso Ortiz and Richard Erdoes, gathers 160 tales from 80 tribal groups to survey the rich Native-American mythic heritage.
Manners & Customs of the Coeur d'Alene Indians (1975), by Jerome Peltier, is a useful introduction to the customs of Alexie's tribe.
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For Further Reference
Alexie, Sherman. "I Hated Tonto (Still Do)." Los Angeles Times (June 28,1998). Alexie satirizes the Hollywood version of Native Americans in novels and movies like "Billy Jack" and "The Searchers."
"White Men Can't Drum." New York Times Magazine (October 4, 1992): 30. Alexie discusses how the use of Native American traditions in the men's movement, which involves mostly white men, is inappropriate.
Benlante, John, and Carl Benlante. "Sherman Alexie, Literary Rebel." Bloomsbury Review, vol. 14 (May/June 1994): 14-15, 26. This article is an interview with Sherman Alexie.
Gillian, Jennifer. "Reservation Home Movies: Sherman Alexie's Poetry." American Literature, vol. 68 (1996): 91-110. Alexie's regret in not being born in the real American landscape before Hollywood started misrepresenting Native Americans is expressed in these poems.
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Bibliography and Further Reading
Alexie, Sherman, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, Atlantic Monthly Press, 1993.
Bellante, Carl, and John Bellante, "Sherman Alexie, Literary Rebel," in Bloomsbury Review, No. 14, May-June 1994, pp. 14-15, 26.
Low, Denise, Review of The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, in American Indian Quarterly, Vol. 20, No. 1, Winter 1996, p. 123.
Millard, Kenneth, Contemporary American Fiction, Oxford University Press, 2000, pp. 96-103.
Schneider, Brian, Review of The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, in the Review of Contemporary Fiction, Vol. 13, No. 3, Fall 1993, pp. 237-38.
Steinberg, Sybil S., Review of The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, in Publishers Weekly, Vol. 240, No. 29, July 19, 1993, p. 235.
Tokuyama, Gramyo, Review of The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, in Whole Earth Review, No. 86, Fall 1995, p. 57.
Velie, Alan R., Review of The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, in World Literature Today, Vol. 68, No. 2, Spring 1996, pp. 407-408.
Cline, Lynn, "About Sherman Alexie," in Ploughshares, Vol. 26, Issue 4, Winter 2000, pp. 197-202.
Cline's essay succinctly covers the major developments in Alexie's life and writing career.
Donahue, Peter, "New...
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Bibliography (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
Alexie, Sherman. Interview by Dennis West and Joan M. West. Cineaste 23 (1998): 28-32. Alexie responds to questions about the similarities and differences between his novel The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven and his movie Smoke Signals. His comments on the autobiographical elements of both are particularly interesting.
Egan, Timothy. “An Indian Without Reservations.” New York Times Magazine, January 18, 1998, 16-19. Profiles Sherman Alexie and his Indian background. Covers Alexie’s comedic look into the hardships of being a Native American; his vocal attacks on author Barbara Kingsolver; the making of film versions of his books; and the life on the reservation where he was raised.
Low, Denise. Review of The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, by Sherman Alexie. American Indian Quarterly 20 (Winter, 1996): 123-125. Low discusses the postmodern characteristics of Alexie’s novel, focusing on his use of humor and irony. She praises the book for its deft mingling of popular and Native American cultures.
Price, Reynolds. “One Indian Doesn’t Tell Another.” The New York Times Book Review, October 17, 1993, 15-16. Price, a short-story writer himself, finds moments of monotony and obsessive gloom in some of Alexie’s stories. He also expresses...
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