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The main conflict is in Victor's mind. He is a modern Native-American who is dismissive of and frustrated with his Native-American traditions. Being caught between those traditions and the more modern American culture, Victor feels lost. In addition, his father has just died which increases that sense of loss. He has also lost his job at the BIA, the Bureau of Indian Affairs. His journey with Thomas provides him with an opportunity to rekindle his connection to his father, to Thomas, and to his Indian heritage. Over the course of the trip, Victor finds himself again by reconnecting with his past.
The phoenix is symbolic because in Greek mythology, the bird dies in flames but then rises from the ashes and is reborn. Similarly, a part of Victor has died as a a result of his father's death, the loss of his job, and his general alienation from his Indian heritage. Victor rises again and this has everything to do with reconnecting with Thomas. Thomas is the catalyst for Victor's mental transformation. It is fitting that his name is Thomas Builds-the-Fire because he symbolically builds the fire from which Victor rises again. Victor gives Thomas some of his father's ashes as a symbolic gesture. Victor is at a crucial point in his life. This story is about how Thomas helps him make a positive turn in his life.
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