Summary and Analysis: All I Wanted to Do Was Dance and The Trial of Thomas Builds-the-Fire
Victor’s former white girlfriend, who is unnamed in this story.
David and Esther WalksAlong: the tribal chief, who “walks along” with BIA policy, and his wife.
In “All I Wanted to Do Was Dance” and “The Trial of Thomas Builds-the-Fire”, Victor and Thomas each play the role of protagonist for the last time in the book.
In “All I Wanted to Do Was Dance,” Victor is in Montana after a break-up with his white girlfriend. He begins one night of drinking on the dance floor of a bar and ends it in a car on the roads of an unnamed reservation.
Once in bed, he doesn’t sleep; instead, Victor entertains himself by remembering his girlfriend. He imagines that they stand by a river. He asks her if she knows about Custer. She asks him if he knows about Crazy Horse. The vision only exacerbates his insomnia, and the night stretches into morning. Victor ends the night by rising and remembering another scene from their time together. The memories are his only companion now.
He goes running in the morning and returns to watch television. He wishes that the color images could be transmuted into black-and-white scenes; the absence of color would make life “clearer,” less “complicated” for him. He sips a cup of coffee and regrets his sobriety that morning.
The action shifts to two scenes of dancing, in childhood and then adulthood. As a child, Victor fancydances at a performance, watched by his drunk parents. As an adult, a drunk Victor sways across the dance floor of another bar. He takes a woman home and tries to pass out, but sleep still eludes him.
The new relationship doesn’t last either. A lone Victor returns home to work odd jobs on the Reservation and buy beer at the Trading Post. One morning he gives a bottle of wine to a stranger in the parking lot, instead of drinking it himself, and walks home with visions of dancing into the future.
In "The Trial of Thomas Builds-the-Fire," Thomas is on trial for “a storytelling fetish accompanied by an extreme need to tell the truth.” He begins to speak just before the trial after taking an oath of silence for more than twenty years; the reemergence of his voice is celebrated by Esther WalksAlong, who leaves her husband David, the tribal chief infamous for “walking along” with BIA policy. This rebellious act foreshadows the turmoil of the impending trial.
The trial begins with Thomas’s testimony. He tells a story of the 800 horses first stolen from his tribe and then killed by invading white armies in 1858. Thomas speaks in the voice of a horse that lived to tell the story by escaping the slaughter. Upon a request for additional evidence, Thomas tells another tale, this one of a Spokane warrior named Qualchan who is captured and hanged by the same troops. Chaos erupts in the courtroom after Thomas ends the story with a protest; a new golf course is to be built in this valley and named after the fallen warrior by city officials. After order is restored, Thomas offers one more story; he speaks in the voice of a warrior named Wild Coyote who killed two white soldiers during wars between the Spokane tribes and white armies. The trial ends as Thomas takes responsibility for these murders.
A newspaper article reveals the penalty for this crime: two life terms in the state penitentiary for “racially motivated murder.” The story ends as Thomas rides to the prison on a bus and tells another story to the men who ride with him.
These stories are the last tales that focus on the experiences of Victor and Thomas. As such, they provide a final comparison between these two men and the directions their lives have taken.
Victor has returned to the Reservation, first to Montana and then to Spokane, to lose himself in working and drinking. Scenes from his present escapades alternate with memories of past experiences from his childhood and a relationship with a white woman. This technique allows us to compare his past and present lives and determine where Victor...
(The entire section is 1,367 words.)