single car driving across the desert

This Is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona

by Sherman Alexie

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In "This Is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona," what does the trailer setting reveal about Victor and his father?

Quick answer:

In "This Is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona," Victor’s father’s life and death in the trailer represent his separation from his Native American heritage. The setting indicates his apparent belief that the separation was temporary. The photographs he kept indicate he remained emotionally attached to his past.

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In Sherman Alexie’s story, Victor had been out of touch with his father and did not know what he might learn after finding out that he had died. He learned that he had inherited his father’s possessions and some money, which required him to travel from Washington to Arizona to claim this legacy. Victor’s emotional journey requires him to confront memories about his childhood and to acknowledge his complicated feelings toward the man who had left him.

Traveling with his childhood friend Thomas also reconnects Victor with his past. Together, Victor and Thomas stand for the permanence of Native American lifeways in the Northwest. Arizona had never formed part of Victor’s heritage, and the son is left to imagine why his father settled there.

A trailer is a temporary residence in the sense that it can be moved. The fact that Victor’s father preferred a temporary residence to a fixed one indicates that he did not consider himself fully settled in Phoenix. Although he did not return home to his son, he seems to have been ambivalent about his relationship to the place where he lived last. The emotional connection he had to his earlier life is succinctly symbolized by a photo album that he kept.

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