The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven Summary

Sherman Alexie

The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven Summary

The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven collects twenty-two stories that Sherman Alexie wrote the Native American experience both off and on the reservation. These stories explore the themes of social inequality, poverty, hunger, and religion, and individual stories in the collection have been widely anthologized.

  • In the title story, Victor leaves the reservation with his white girlfriend and goes to live in Seattle. His drinking becomes problematic, and after the relationship showers he returns to the reservation and gets a job.

  • In "This is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona," Victor and his friend Thomas drive down to Phoenix to collect Victor's father's ashes. Along the way, the two men bond over their memories of Victor's father.

  • Alexie draws on traditional Native American legends and storytelling traditions in order to weave a portrait of contemporary Native American life.

Summary

(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Sherman Alexie’s initial foray into fiction (except for a few stories sprinkled among his poems), The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven appeared before his twenty-seventh birthday and was awarded a citation from the PEN/Hemingway Award committee for best first book of fiction in 1993. Praising his “live and unremitting lyric energy,” one reviewer suggested that three of the twenty-two stories in the book “could stand in any collection of excellence.”

Alexie grew up in Wellpinit, Washington, on the Spokane Indian Reservation; he is Spokane-Coeur d’Alene. Critics have noted that the pain and anger of the stories is balanced by his keen sense of humor and satiric wit. Alexie’s readers will notice certain recurring characters, including Victor Joseph, who often appears as the narrator, Lester FallsApart, the pompous tribal police chief, David WalsAlong, Junior Polatkin, and Thomas Builds-the-Fire, the storyteller to whom no one listens. These characters also appear in Alexie’s first novel, Reservation Blues (1995), so the effect is of a community; in this respect, Alexie’s writings are similar to the fiction of William Faulkner. One reviewer has suggested that The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven is almost a novel, despite the fact that Alexie rarely relies on plot development in the stories and does not flesh out his characters. It might more aptly be said that the stories come close to poetry, just as Alexie’s poems verge on fiction. The stories range in length from less than three to about twenty pages, and some of the best, like “The First Annual All-Indian Horseshoe Pitch and Barbecue,” leap from moment to moment, from one-liner to quickly narrated episode, much like a poem.

That story begins, “Someone forgot the charcoal; blame the BIA.” The next sentence concerns Victor playing the piano just before the barbecue: “after the beautiful dissonance and implied survival, the Spokane Indians wept, stunned by this strange and familiar music.” Survival is a repeated theme in Alexie’s work. The story then jumps to a series of four short paragraphs, each beginning “There is something beautiful about.” Then we are told that Simon won at horseshoes, and he “won the coyote contest when he told us that basketball should be our new religion.” A paragraph near the end is composed of a series of questions, each beginning “Can you hear the dreams.” The last paragraph features a child born of a white mother and an Indian father, with the mother proclaiming: “Both sides of this baby are beautiful.”

Beneath the anger, pain, and satiric edge of his stories, often haunted by the mythic figure of Crazy Horse and tinged with fantasy, Alexie offers hope for survival and reconciliation.

Overview

A loosely connected collection of twenty-two short stories, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven describes incidents from the...

(The entire section is 166 words.)