This Is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona cover image

This Is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona

by Sherman Alexie
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Native American writing styles in "This Is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona"

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In "This Is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona," Sherman Alexie’s writing style is as prominent in the literature as any of his other works. Alexie is wry and cutting in his writing. The humor that he implements is used as a reflection of the lived reality of his protagonists. Alexie’s characters are often “rez” kids, and are a segment of the US population that is largely marginalized and forgotten. People outside of these reservations do not truly understand that, but the kids on the reservations do. Alexie’s characters use that cutting humor to assert themselves and take some ownership over the lives they are born into.

Beyond this humor, Alexie’s writing in the novel is agile. This exchange between Victor and Thomas is an excellent example.

“Victor, I’m sorry about your father,” Thomas said.

“How did you know about it?” Victor asked.

“I heard it on the wind. I heard it from the birds. I felt it in the sunlight. Also, your mother was just in here crying.”

The final part of the exchange is truly worth noting. Alexie’s character plays on the stereotyped notion that Thomas, as a Native American, is somehow connected to the natural world in a spiritual sense. Then, Thomas reveals he learned about the death in a non-spiritual way. This is not only humorous writing, but agile in its cadence and pacing. The staccato lines build to the truth. This agility in the writing is something Alexie is known for in many of his works. It is at the forefront in “This Is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona.”

Ultimately, Alexie's writing style is reflective of how he was raised, and the immediate world he was born into. Without describing the immense history and tragedy of the US's treatment of Native Americans, it is worth noting how Alexie uses his writing style to take ownership of his heritage, and of his people's marginalization.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
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