Spokane/Coeur d'Alene tribal member Sherman Alexie published "This Is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona" in Esquire magazine in June 1983. The story is told from the point of view of a third-person limited narrator. The narrator is only able to report on the actions of Thomas-Builds-the Fire and Victor and the various conversations that occur between them or events in their pasts. The narrator does not know the state of mind of either of the Native men other than what is discernible in his words. In this way, the reader is required to construct meaning, making informed guesses about what each man is thinking and feeling but not expressing in his words.
Because the narrator's point of view can be thought of as objective, the readers' interpretation is subjective. Readers bring their own experiences, attitudes, beliefs, and biases to what transpires between Thomas and Victor. The readers' own notions about male friendships, the dynamics of reservation relationships, and broken families fills in what the removed stance of the narrator omits. The poignancy of what Victor experiences and the loyalty of Thomas in his hour of need emerges from readers' ability to sympathize, empathize, or feel compassion. Paradoxically, it makes the dispassionate delivery of the story freighted with emotion.