Summary and Analysis: Amusements and A Train Is an Order of Occurrence Designed to Lead to Some Result
Sadie: Victor’s sidekick in this story.
Dirty Joe: the drunken man that Victor and Sadie humiliate on the carnival ride.
Samuel Builds-the-Fire: Thomas’s grandfather, who suffers an emotional decline culminating in death in this story.
“Amusements” and “A Train Is an Order of Occurrence Designed to Lead to Some Result” both relate the experiences of minor characters who suffer humiliation.
“Amusements” is an exceptionally short story, just over four pages long, about a cruel joke played on Dirty Joe one night at a carnival in Spokane. Dirty Joe, a drinker infamous for sneaking into bars and finishing the leftover drinks at the end of the day, becomes the victim of Victor and Sadie. The friends find him unconscious along the midway, become distressed at the attention he draws from white tourists, and decide to resolve the situation by giving him a ride on the roller coaster.
This solution causes great mirth at Joe’s expense; a crowd gathers to watch him ride the roller coaster. Victor and Sadie become aware of the possible consequences of their actions only after Joe awakens, vomits on the platform of the ride, and receives a kick from the carnival operator. The fun ends with the arrival of a few security guards and the flight of the perpetrators.
Victor finds himself in a fun house in the final scene, where he contemplates the crazy mirrors that distort his reflection. These distortions become metaphors for his betrayal of “another Indian,” whom he “offered up . . . like some treaty.”
Samuel Builds-the-Fire is the victim of humiliation in “A Train Is an Order of Occurrence Designed to Lead to Some Result.” He is fired from his job as a maid at a motel in Spokane on his birthday. Although the news shocks Samuel, he seems to take it in stride, picking up his check and departing without complaint.
The injustice of this treatment is revealed as Samuel walks home. Samuel is the grandfather of Thomas Builds-the-Fire and a respected storyteller in his tribe; he is surely the source of his grandson’s talent. His skills are evident in his renowned ability to compose stories on request, from his observations of the immediate environment.
Yet these skills seem out of place in a white culture that grants neither money nor recognition for them. Samuel accordingly gives up on his future after being fired and takes his first drink at a local bar. The alcohol prompts reflections on past experiences with, and stories told to, his children. The story of coyote’s accidental creation of white people from nail clippings stands out in Samuel’s mind. After hearing this tale, Samuel’s children claim that white people must be crazy. Yet Samuel wonders whether his own tribe is not just as crazy. His life story justifies this concern. Samuel’s family has followed the customs prevalent in white culture and abandoned him at the end of his life. He is completely alone during his days at work and nights at home in a small apartment. Nevertheless, Samuel repays neglect with kindness. He even occasionally gives the prostitutes at the motel money and begs them not to work for the day.
The story ends suddenly and tragically. Samuel’s reverie ends as the bar closes. He stumbles through the city, wanders onto railroad tracks, and falls onto the rails. Samuel closes his eyes, a train nears, and the tale ends with a cryptic, but ominous, line: “Sometimes it’s called passing out and sometimes it’s just pretending to be asleep.”
Together these stories explore the experience of humiliation. The emphasis, in particular, is on the possible causes for humiliation in the Native American community. The plotlines of both tales demonstrate that these causes range from the racism of whites to the despair of American Indians. Humiliation is inflicted from both outside and within the tribal community.
Victor and Sadie humiliate an unconscious and helpless Dirty Joe in “Amusements.” The motivations for their...
(The entire section is 1,170 words.)