Summary and Analysis: Indian Education, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, Family Portrait and Witnesses, Secret and Not
Unnamed clerk at a 7-11; he sells the narrator of “The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven” a Popsicle.
Jerry Vincent: a former friend of the narrator’s father and murder victim whose case remains open in “Witnesses, Secret and Not"
An unnamed character again narrates the action, which begins in adulthood and ends in childhood, in “Indian Education,” “The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven,” “Family Portrait,” and “Witnesses, Secret and Not.”
The collection's title story follows the narrator’s return from a sojourn in the city back to Spokane; the action alternates between events in the present and memories of the past, now a recurrent technique in the book. The narrator walks through the streets of Spokane in search of a Popsicle on a hot summer night. He enters a 7-11 store, where a suspicious clerk watches him carefully.
The feeling of being watched reminds the narrator of his past experiences with racial profiling in Seattle, both inflicted by him while he was working in a convenience store, and on him while driving through white neighborhoods at night. The action resumes at the cash register, where the narrator manipulates the nervous employee; he changes his requests several times to see how the clerk will react. The interlude ends with laughter as the clerk catches onto the game and offers the Popsicle as a token of peace.
A scene from the narrator’s life in Seattle again interrupts the action. He remembers a fight with his white girlfriend. She accused him of stupidity and drunkenness, and he threw lamps at her in response, both common elements of their frequent fights. The moment that he decided to leave her stands out in his mind. He awoke from a nightmare. In the dream, they were lovers over a century ago. She was the adulterous wife of a white missionary; he was a treacherous Indian warrior. The punishment for the relationship, once discovered, was a massacre of the indigenous tribe that began with his death. The terror of the dream finally convinced him to leave.
As the narrator finishes eating the Popsicle, he remembers the events that immediately followed his departure from the city. His parents expected his return and welcomed him back into their home. After a short time just watching television and playing basketball with the Reservation kids, he finally found a job in Spokane, with an exchange program for high school students. He remembers the day that his ex-girlfriend called him at work; he told her of the changes in his life, his new sobriety and work. The call ended with a mutual apology for the past. Back in the present, the narrator returns home and tries to sleep. His insomnia, however, no longer disturbs him. He “know[s] how all . . . [his] dreams end anyway.”
Each of the remaining stories offer vignettes from the narrator’s childhood. In “Indian Education,” the narrator recounts his progress through the educational system. The story is broken into segments by grade level, from first through twelfth. The narrator assumes the identity of Junior Polatkin, a Reservation boy who wears glasses and suffers constant torment from his classmates. Even the teachers punish him for being too good at spelling or drawing inappropriate, but creative, pictures. He remembers the “sweet, almost innocent choices that Indian boys were forced to make,” like that between sniffing glue and playing basketball. As early as grade school, he chooses the latter. Junior high brings the experiences of kissing girls, being diagnosed with diabetes, and playing in basketball games. In his white high school off the Reservation, he notes the irony that he is “probably the only actual Indian ever to play for a team with . . . [this] mascot.” He graduates as valedictorian and compares his accomplishments to those of his Native American peers. On the Reservation, graduation brings parties for the bad students and fear for the good students.
In “Family Portrait,” the...
(The entire section is 1,858 words.)