How do the different settings of "This Is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona" by Sherman Alexie influence Victor and Thomas?

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amarang9 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

After Victor and Thomas exit the plane, Thomas notes that the white gymnast they met (Cathy) was nice. Victor says: 

"Yeah, but everybody talks to everybody on airplanes," Victor said. "It's too bad we can't always be that way." 

The idea of rising and flying are significant to the story. The two of them are traveling to "Phoenix" to settle Victor's father's affairs. The phoenix was a mythological bird which was said to be able to rise from its ashes. It is fitting that while they are literally rising (flying in the plane), the two Indians (Native Americans) find something in common with a white girl. In this state of rising (metaphorical and literal in this case), there is the idea of transcending. 

Thomas once had a dream that inspired him to go to Spokane to wait for a vision. Victor's father showed up and took him out to eat and then brought him home. Thomas concluded that Victor's father was the vision he was waiting for. Since Victor's father took care of him, Thomas concluded, "Take care of each other is what my dreams were saying. Take care of each other." Victor's father then asked Thomas to look after Victor. So, Spokane represents a place of vision and insight for Thomas. It is a reminder to care for one another.

When Victor gives Thomas some of his father's ashes, Thomas says he will take them to Spokane. "And your father will rise like a salmon, leap over the bridge, over me, and find his way home." The theme of rising from the ashes emerges again here. These visions and experiences are tied to certain places. For Thomas, Spokane has this aura of community and rising up. 

In Phoenix, they retrieve Victor's father's ashes. This is a clear allusion to the mythological Phoenix. Victor also plans to take his share of the ashes to Spokane. Although Phoenix is their destination and has the significant tie to the myth, Spokane has become symbolic of tribal connection for Thomas and Victor. "Spokane" means "children of the sun" or "children of the stars." This supports that idea of being reborn of fire and the idea of rising (the sun being in the sky). It suggests a place where this kind of transcendent and unifying "rising" can occur. 

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