Sherman Alexie's stories deal with marginalized people, often from dysfunctional backgrounds, in contemporary society, and "Family Portrait" in The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven is no exception. The unnamed narrator describes a childhood in which almost all his family memories are of television, which drowned out any interaction between parents and children. Even when his father taught him to drive, their conversation was all about television, as his father gave a detailed description of the first television sets he saw.
"Family Portrait" is relevant in today's society because the story depicts some of the most common social problems in contemporary America. The family members are deracinated, having little connection to each other, the landscape around them, or the country in which they live. They become passive and helpless, entirely dependent on electronic media for entertainment and for escape from a life which has no excitement or enjoyment in it. The family is poor, and their lives are hard. They try to find whatever distractions they can, and one summer, the narrator remembers that he and his brother and sisters became addicted to sniffing gas from the lawnmower. However, television is the most potent drug of all, and it acts as a narcotic to numb the pain of a dull and directionless life.