The short story "This Is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona" by Sherman Alexie tells of a young Native American man named Victor who lives on a reservation near Spokane, Washington. He hears that his father died in a trailer in Phoenix, Arizona, and he has to...
The short story "This Is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona" by Sherman Alexie tells of a young Native American man named Victor who lives on a reservation near Spokane, Washington. He hears that his father died in a trailer in Phoenix, Arizona, and he has to go collect his father's ashes and his pickup truck. His former friend Thomas Builds-the-Fire, a spaced-out storyteller that nobody listens to, lends him some money and accompanies him on the trip.
The story takes place in several settings, and each setting suggests something further about the impact of the trip on Victor. First of all, the setting of the reservation in the beginning focuses on the poverty and hopelessness of most of the Native Americans living there, but it also suggests how the residents help each other in times of distress. For instance, although the Tribal Council doesn't give Victor all the money he needs, it gives him a donation to help him on his way. Afterwards, Thomas Builds-the-Fire supplies the rest of the funds.
The next setting is the airplane. Victor and Thomas have now left the reservation and are on neutral ground. Thomas displays his depth in comfortably engaging in conversation with the white Olympic-class gymnast sitting next to him. Victor begins to realize that there may be more to Thomas than he had thought.
Victor and Thomas then arrive at Victor's father's trailer, the place where he died. It still stinks like a corpse because his father stayed there in hot weather for a week after he died before anyone found him. Thomas accompanies Victor into the smelly trailer to help him, and Victor learns that Thomas had a special relationship with Victor's father and had promised his father that he would look out for Victor. The impact on Victor here is twofold: he learns something new about his father and further bonds with Thomas.
There is a short scene in the midst of a barren stretch of Nevada while they are driving the pickup home. Victor has been driving for many hours, but as soon as Thomas takes the wheel, he runs over a jackrabbit. Victor learns that Thomas is too ethereal to handle practical things like driving.
The final setting is the same as the first. They are back at the reservation, and they feel the ennui setting in again. They realize that they will not be able to outwardly be friends as they were on the trip. Nevertheless, it is evident that inwardly they have become more intimate.
We see, then, that at each stage of the story, the various settings contribute to the impact of the trip on Victor in different ways.