How and why did the stories told by Thomas impact his friendship with Victor in "This Is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona" by Sherman Alexie?

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carol-davis | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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“This Is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona” by Sherman Alexie follows the story of two young Indian men who live on a reservation in Washington state.  The main character, Victor, has just lost his job and has received word that his father has just passed away in Phoenix, Arizona.  The other young man was once a close friend of Victor: Thomas Builds-the-Fire.  Thomas and Victor had left their boyhood friendship behind them because of Thomas’s odd persona. 

Since Victor only has one hundred dollars, Thomas offers to pay the way to Phoenix. Victor needs to pick up his father’s things. There is one condition: Victor has to allow Thomas to go also. Victor had to think about letting Thomas help him.

Thomas was a story teller.  There were stories constantly going on in his head.  He also knew things that were going to happen.  When they were seven, Thomas had told Victor about his father leaving.  His father wanted to run away and hide. Eventually, this is what the father did.

When they were fifteen and no longer friends, the two had a fist fight. Victor was drunk and beat up Thomas for no reason.  One of the girls stopped the fight and helped Thomas.

When they were ten years old, Victor and Thomas went to the July the 4th fireworks show.  Afterwards, Victor has Thomas tell him a story.  He told of two boys that wanted to be warriors.  There were no more horses.  So they stole a car and parked it in front of the police station. When they returned home, they were considered heroes and everyone cheered for them.

Another incident occurred when the boys were twelve in which Thomas saved Victor’s life. Victor stepped in an underground wasps’ nest.  He could not get his foot out.  Thomas pulled Victor’s foot out and told him to run.  Victor counted his stings.  Only seven--this became Victor’s lucky number.

Their lives were inextricably intertwined throughout their youth.  During the trip to Arizona, Victor discovers that his father had once helped Thomas.  When Thomas was thirteen, something had told him to go to Spokane and wait for a sign.  He walked all day and night.  He waited by a bridge for an hour until Victor’s father came along and picked him up.  He took him to eat and drove him home to the reservation.  From this encounter, Thomas was told in his head that he and Victor were to take care of each other. The father had made Thomas promise that he would watch out for Victor. 

Toward the end of the story, Thomas explains his story telling and why he talks to himself.

We are all given one thing by which our lives are measured, one determination.  Mine are the stories that can change or not change the world.  I have only my stories. My father died at Okinawa. My mother died giving birth to me.  I learned a thousand stories before I took my first thousand steps. They are all I have.

After their trip, Victor promises that he would let Thomas tell him a story and Victor would actually listen.

Initially, the stories Thomas told Victor pushed the latter away, either out of fear or embarrassment of his friend's odd powers. But by the resolution of this tale, Victor finds comfort in Thomas' storytelling and recognizes how the two boys, now young men, are inextricably linked.

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