This Is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona Questions and Answers
by Sherman Alexie

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What is the theme of the story "This Is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona" by Sherman Alexie?

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Victor Joseph is the main character in "This is What it Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona" by Native American author Sherman Alexie. The story revolves around a pivotal rite of passage, the death of a parent. By illustrating the theme of coming of age,  Alexie explores life within the Indian reservation.

Indian reservations are territories within the United reserved specifically for American Indians. Indian reservations are societies within the large mainstream America, without much socialization from the white culture. Unfortunately, according to Alexie, the reservation life breeds poverty, poor education, drug abuse and alcoholism. This is the setting for the beginning of the story. 

The story centers on Victor, whose father has just died and who has just lost his job and has no money. Victor needs to go to Phoenix to collect his father’s remains and his legacy. A childhood playmate named Thomas offers to help Victor get there, but only if he can go with him. 

The two men have been estranged since they were teenagers because of Thomas’s weird behavior.  Thomas considers himself the tribe’s storyteller.  He hears stories and constantly tells them to whomever will listen or even if they will not.

Victor had beaten Thomas up when they were fifteen.  Thomas has forgiven him. Victor has been among those who have treated Thomas badly. Everyone avoids Thomas and his stories.  

Victor has not had a close relationship with his father either, indeed he has seen little of him in the past years. Thomas serves to bridge the gap in Victor’s memory of his father and his childhood by recalling an occurrence which Victor did not know happened.

(The entire section contains 592 words.)

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