How does Alexie's work The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven help readers understand the social fabric of the community, and very importantly, how does the collection address the proud yet often conflicted troubled sense of Native identity?
There is struggle within The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven. This struggle is embedded in what it means to be Native American. The identity of Native Americans is shown as one of struggle in the modern setting. Little becomes clear and even less is absolute. This condition is reflected in the proud, yet conflicted and troubled sense of Native American identity.
Such an experience can be seen in "Crazy Horse Dreams" and “The Only Traffic Signal on the Reservation Doesn’t Flash Red Anymore." Native American identity is filled with proud and yet conflicted realities. Victor is infatuated with the girl from the Powwow. It becomes clear that she envisions him as her "Crazy Horse." This dynamic of expectation succeeded by disappointment is reflective of the proud and yet conflicted nature of Native American identity in the modern setting. Alexie develops the troubled sense of Native American identity as one where the realities of the modern setting fly in the face of traditionalist notions of the past. Victor will always be chained to this reality. He will never be "Native American" enough and he will never be seen as part of White society. The failures he experiences with the girl is reminiscent of how Native American identity is constructed throughout the book: "Your past is a skeleton walking one step behind you, and your future is a a skeleton walking one step in front of you. Maybe you don't wear a watch, but your skeletons do, and they always know what time it is.” This reality shows how the social fabric of the Native American community is woven with a sense of pain in the past and uncertainty in the present and future. This provides the basis for the proud and yet troubled sense of identity for Native Americans.
Alexie shows the embrace of basketball as reflective of the challenges in both past and present for Native Americans. The reverence that the reservation has for its upcoming basketball stars become weights that pin down those who are forced to carry such a burden. Victor recognizes this in his own experience and then sees it in the praise that Julius experiences. The pain of Victor's past is matched with the path that he sees Julius taking. The social fabric of the community is revealed with how much weight and expectation is placed on those who have athletic talent. The result crushes the life out of the individual, as it did for Victor and as it does for Julius. The social fabric is one that brands individuals from "hero" to "bum" in an alarmingly rapid rate. This dynamic reveals the proud and yet troubled sense of Native American identity. It is a troubling dynamic that shows how Native Americans on the reservation are never able to establish their community and its praise without causing incredible damage to its young members who possess talent. The way in which Victor, Julius, and presumably, Lucy, are absorbed by the community and then regurgitated from it reflect the challenges that exist within modern Native American identity. Such an experience forms the crux of Alexie's construction of both the social fabric of identity as well as its proud and yet often conflicted reality.