Summary and Analysis: Because My Father Always Said He Was the Only Indian Who Saw Jimi Hendrix Play ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ at Woodstock and This Is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona
Norma Many Horses: a neighbor who breaks up a childhood fight between Victor and Thomas in these stories and appears in later tales opposite Jimmy and Junior.
Alexie adapted these stories into the main plotline for his film Smoke Signals. They focus on the relationships between Victor, his father, and Thomas. Victor narrates the action from a first-person point of view in “Because My Father Always Said He Was the Only Indian Who Saw Jimi Hendrix Play ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ at Woodstock,” the events related in the story all center on the relationship between Victor and his father.
Victor’s father was a hippie who attended demonstrations in the Vietnam era; his participation in the antiwar movement was even documented with a photograph printed on the cover of Time magazine. His father’s identity caused both excitement and confusion among protesters and the media. He was indistinguishable among the hippies, who were enamored with Native American culture, and an anomaly for the reporters, who emphasized his role as a “warrior” in the fight against the war. His political sympathies also resulted in a brief prison stint and a trip to Woodstock.
Evidence of these times lives on for the family in the sound of Jimi Hendrix’s music. In fact, the playing of “The Star Spangled Banner” is the common element in many of Victor’s childhood memories. It becomes a ceremony that the son performs to soothe his father after a night out drinking, and a conversation piece that prompts a discussion about the participation of Indians in past and present wars.
These experiences convince Victor that music is “powerful medicine” that can form bonds between people. He recalls conversations with his father, about the first dance with his mother, and his mother, about the times that his father played his drums, that support this claim. Victor associates the memory of his parents’ lovemaking, audible throughout the house at night, with the role that music played in their lives together.
Yet the story suggests that bonding over music does not create perfect relationships. Victor remembers arguments and conflicts, especially one that broke out between his father and mother over the death of Jimi Hendrix during a pilgrimage to his grave. This argument is associated with a growing rift between the couple that finally breaks the marriage apart.
The moment that Victor’s father left is a memory that each member of the family recalls differently. Yet, the facts are the same no matter how they are remembered. The difficulty, for Victor and his mother, is in understanding and accepting the reality of his father’s absence. Victor questions his mother about the situation; his mother looks regretfully at old family photographs. The grief and pain of the family is symbolized by a vision that Victor has one night. He thinks his father is outside, and he runs outside to ride with him on his motorcycle, but only sees the empty street. The story ends as mother and son comfort one another and eat breakfast.
“This Is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona” resumes the family saga years later with news of the death of Victor’s father in his last known place of residence, Phoenix, Arizona. This story is told in a third-person omniscient voice; the overall mood of the narrative is accordingly less personal than that of the first story.
Victor is a young, unemployed adult at this time. He meets Thomas in the Trading Post after hearing the news and receives an offer of help. Thomas will finance a trip to Phoenix so that Victor can claim his inheritance: his father’s belongings, savings, and pick-up truck. All Thomas asks in return is to be taken along on the trip. Victor remembers the friendship he once had with Thomas and reluctantly agrees to this new partnership.
The narrative that follows alternates between the present journey and the past childhood of the two men. The memories help to fill in the gaps of their long history...
(The entire section is 1,396 words.)