How does the narrator feel about being Native American in "The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven"?

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The narrator is not at ease with his Native American ethnicity outside of the reservation. He appears painfully aware of the prejudices he might suffer because of his race. For instance, when he walks into the Third Avenue 7-Eleven for a creamsicle, the clerk “looks him over so he could describe him to the police later.” When the clerk asks him whether he needs help with anything, he reads anxiety in the clerk's voice. In his view, the clerk “was searching for some response that would reassure him that he was not an armed robber” for he knows that the narrator's “dark skin and long black hair” is dangerous. From these passages, we infer that the narrator expects to be treated in a certain way because of his ethnicity: suspiciously, almost like a criminal of sorts. This idea is further elucidated by his memory of a conversation he once had with a police officer after being pulled over for driving aimlessly through a “nice residential neighborhood.” The police officer had explained that it was important for him to be careful with where he drove, as he “did not fit the profile of the neighborhood and was making people nervous.”

Also, the narrator feels isolated as a Native American living away from the reservation. Note that when he travels back to the reservation, he says that his family was not surprised to see him back. He cites an old Native saying that goes “Indians can reside in the city, but never live there.” Also, after some time living on the reservation, the narrator is able to pick up the pieces of his life and even quits drinking. He lands a job at the high school exchange program and appears to be doing quite well. However, even within the reservation, he still thinks of the prejudices he has faced as a Native American; while answering telephone calls, he wonders whether “the people on the other end of the line would react differently to him if they knew that he was Indian.”

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As a Native American, the narrator in “The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven” suffers from a sense of alienation in an America where “he didn’t fit the profile.” This sense of alienation results in anger, which reveals itself through the narrator’s damaged relationships and overall sense of apathy.

The story begins with the Indian narrator wandering around Seattle after a break-up with his white girlfriend. He explains that he doesn’t know what he’s looking for and says he often feels like he’d “spent his whole life that way, looking for anything I recognized.” A few paragraphs later, he explains that despite knowing where he wants to be at times there are “none he was supposed to be.” The narrator makes several mentions of how this sense of not belonging because of his ethnicity has made him angry to the point of his girlfriend saying that’s the cause of their breakup.

The narrator finds his place of belonging when he returns to his Spokane reservation. After months of sitting around and doing nothing, not even looking at the job postings his mother circles for him, the narrator symbolically returns to his roots and begins playing basketball, something that helped forge his identity as a youth. He responds positively when he finds himself inferior to a white basketball player, while earlier in the story he took a liking to a white man who worked the late shift at 7-Eleven only because he felt superior to him. Immediately after his symbolic rebirth on the basketball court, the narrator wakes up the next morning and explains that he “woke up tired and hungry” and “drove to Spokane to get the job I wanted.”

This idea of alienation because he's Native American is a motif Alexie employs throughout many of his stories. Usually Alexie explores this motif using his Victor or Junior personas, but not always. His Indian protagonists often end up accepting their roles in America or the community by the story’s or novel’s end (see: “This is What it Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona” and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian).

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