single car driving across the desert

This Is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona

by Sherman Alexie

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What is the plot of "This Is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona"?

"This Is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona" describes a journey taken by two men, Victor and Thomas, from the reservation where they live to Phoenix, Arizona and back again. They go to Phoenix to collect the ashes of Victor's father, who has just died there, and come to understand and respect one another over the course of the journey.

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"This Is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona" includes several flashbacks as the protagonist, Victor, remembers his childhood. The plot of the story is as follows:

Victor has just lost his job and discovered that his father has died of a heart attack in Phoenix, Arizona. He wants to go to Phoenix to collect his father's ashes and sort through his possessions, but he has no money. He applies to the Tribal Council on his reservation, but they can only give him a hundred dollars. However, the tribal storyteller, Thomas, a childhood friend from whom Victor has become estranged, offers to lend him the money, on the condition that he takes Thomas with him.

Victor thinks back to his childhood friendship with Thomas. He also remembers when they were fifteen years old, and had ceased to be friends, when he beat Thomas badly in a fistfight. The two men fly to Phoenix and go together to Victor's father's trailer. On the journey, Victor apologizes for beating Thomas. They collect the ashes of Victor's father and drive back to the reservation in his father's pickup truck.

On the long drive back, the two men become closer, though they realize that they will never really be friends again. Victor gives Thomas half of his father's ashes, and Thomas says that he will travel to Spokane Falls and scatter the ashes over the water. The two men part at the reservation, and Victor promises to stop and listen one day when Thomas is telling a story.

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