What does the proverb "Desperate times call for desperate measures" mean in in relation to "This Is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona"

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rogal eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Victor desperately needs some money so that he can travel to Phoenix, Arizona, to collect his father’s remains. He does not have any money to travel to Phoenix because he has just lost his job at the BIA. Also, his father has left behind some money in a savings account, money which Victor hopes to claim. Since all his neighbors and friends are as poor as he is, he decides to accept some money from the Tribal Council, which often has a fund set up to assist members of the tribe to bring back the remains of their dead relatives to the reservation. However, the Tribal Council is only able to give him one hundred dollars. This is barely enough to pay for his plane ticket. Thus, Victor is desperate for help of any sort from anybody.

Thomas Builds-the-Fire is the only person who offers to help Victor. However, Thomas is a square peg in a round hole, shunned by most people in the reservation because of his penchant for telling the same stories over and over again. The two had been childhood friends but went their separate ways in their teens. Victor is tormented by thoughts of the awful things he did to Thomas, after their separation; like when he totally beat him up for no reason at all. Thus, accepting Thomas’s help is a last resort for Victor.

Also, after they drive all the way back home, Victor does not really know how to thank Thomas for his help. He feels like he cannot repay Thomas’s kindness, and is even more embarrassed by his inability to rekindle their friendship after their trip. When he offers Thomas “the cardboard box which contains half of his father” as a gift, he is using an extraordinary option to address the problem at hand, so that it can be said that “desperate times call for desperate measures."

Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The thought "Desperate times call for desperate measures" is from a proverb that has no attribution to a specific author or speaker. This philosophical proverb, which is considered an English idiom, means that steps you would ordinarily not consider taking must be considered and taken when situations are of an extremely bad nature: In other words, it suggests that it is necessary to initiate extreme solutions for extremely bad problems.

In "This is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona," Victor takes the extreme measure of accepting Thomas Builds-the-Fire's money and allowing Thomas to accompany him on his trip to claim his father's cremated ashes and to salvage his father's few valuables. Another extreme measure Victor takes is to agree, after the subtly life-changing journey, to listen to one--"just one"--of Thomas's stories. The miracle is that Victor gained an understanding of his father returning home as a spiritual traveler in the spirit of a salmon and that Thomas, who had not told a new story since the night Victor beat him up, saw new stories when he shut his eyes following the receipt of Victor's promise.

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