Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Often an outspoken advocate for Native Americans, Alexie explores in “The Toughest Indian in the World” a typical theme of Native American writers—the yearning of the assimilated professional to make some sort of contact with his primal native heritage. The protagonist’s continuation of his father’s “ceremony” of picking up only Native American hitchhikers reflects his sense of connection with those twentieth century “aboriginal nomads” who refuse to believe that the salmon are gone. Much as the buffalo was a destroyed mainstay of Plains Indians, the salmon is a symbol of the lost hope of the Spokane Indians. Everyone in the Northwest—Indian and white—is haunted by the salmon, the narrator says. The mythic power of the salmon is also suggested by the narrator’s recalling how, as a boy, he leaned over the edge of a dam and watched the ghosts of the salmon rise from the water up to the sky to become constellations.

When the narrator picks up the Native American fighter, he wants him to know that he grew up on the reservation, “with every Indian in the world,” so he uses Native American slang and shares the hitchhiker’s jerky with him. Having moved off the reservation twelve years before to work in the city as a feature writer on a newspaper, the narrator takes pleasure in driving down the road chewing on jerky, talking to an indigenous fighter, feeling “as Indian as Indian gets.”

This narrator’s admiration for...

(The entire section is 448 words.)