What are the main ideas of the story “This is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona” by Sherman Alexie? 

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litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The main idea of the story is that two young Native American men are going to claim the legacy of the father of one of them, who died.

The story is about a young man named Victor whose father has died.  Victor is a disenfranchised, disenchanted Native American Indian who does not seem to belong anywhere, but he is going to his father’s home to claim his ashes and anything else he has.

Victor cannot afford the trip, so his friend Thomas Builds-the-Fire goes along with him.  Thomas is the opposite of Victor.  He is very close to his Native American roots, and he loves his culture and feels connected to it.

Victor and Thomas Builds-the-Fire were the same age, had grown up and played in the dirt together. Ever since Victor could remember, it was Thomas who always had something to say.

Victor has recently lost his job with the BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) and he and his father are estranged.  His father had to be cremated because “things were kind of ugly” when the body was not found for a week in the summer heat and began to decompose.

Victor is surprised when Thomas tells him that he knows about his father already.  When he asks how, Victor is told that Thomas “heard it on the wind” and from the birds, and in the sunlight.  Of course, he admits, he also heard Victor’s mother crying.

They go to the trailer and get the money, then return home. Victor gives Thomas half of his father’s ashes, and they go to a waterfall to drop the ashes because Thomas told Victor he had a vision about it when they were children.

"I remember when I had this dream that told me to go to Spokane, to stand by the Falls in the middle of the city and wait for a sign. …Your dad was my vision. Take care of each other is what my dreams were saying. Take care of each other."

This vision is the moral of the story.  Thomas believes that he needs to take care of Victor, and that the Indians need to take care of one another.

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