1. What does the hurricane symbolize in this story?
2. What is the role of the storytelling as seen here, and what makes this role so difficult?
3. How do sensory images from Victor’s childhood contribute to themes of this story?
4. Which experiences finally bring the community together, and how is this communal bond ironic?
5. What does the end of the story portend for Victor’s future, and thus, for the themes of other stories in the book?
1. The hurricane refers to the emotional turmoil experienced by Victor as well as the social chaos experienced by his community; it is symbol of the threats faced by the Native American community both from outside and within the Reservation in the story.
2. The storyteller must record his own experiences as well as those of the tribe. This act is difficult because it involves remembering the past clearly, and thus truthfully, even if it contains painful memories.
3. Depiction of images that evoke the senses help to underscore the difficulty of Victor’s childhood. The primary sensory experiences of his childhood, at least as seen in this story, are of alcohol abuse, hunger, and emotional conflict.
4. The shared experience of suffering finally brings the partiers together at the end of the story. It is ironic that such negative, rather than positive, experiences provide strong bonds between individuals and hope for the survival of the group.
5. The conclusion suggests that Victor must remember, and perhaps even accept, his past. The emphasis on memory, storytelling, and survival in this story suggests that these issues will be continue to be important to and cause conflict in subsequent stories.
1. How does the style of the story, especially the repeated shifts in time and place, impact its themes?
2. Which attitudes toward the ritual of earning one’s adult name are apparent in the story?
3. How do the three visions address the past and present situation of the American Indian tribes?
4. What does the plotline foretell for the futures of the three main characters?
5. What does the “tiny drum” symbolize at the end of the story?
1. The shifts between past and present highlight generational differences in the coming-of-age rituals of young American Indian men. This disparity between the experiences of the young and the old speaks to a broader loss of identity, or a sense of tradition, among young American Indian men.
2. It seems that the ritual is important, but not crucial, to establishing a sense of identity and culture. Alexie is clearly skeptical that this ceremony will solve all of the problems facing men such as Victor, Thomas, and Junior.
3. The three visions correspond to instances of suffering after contact with white Europeans, including the loss of horses, spread of smallpox, and violence of the Indian Wars. Alexie provides a new ending to these events in the vision by overturning their outcomes. The horse is stolen, the settlers return to Europe, and the Indians win the war with the whites.
4. Thomas is expelled from the group; he must learn how to better communicate with his peers, so that they will begin to learn from him. Victor and Junior remain doubtful; they must learn to use tradition in new ways in order to change.
5. The drum symbolizes the power that a “little tradition” might have, if the boys only can learn to use it in less destructive and more beneficial ways.
1. What is the significance of the comparison between Crazy Horse and Victor?
2. What fears finally separate Victor from the girl at the powwow, and what do they suggest about his development as a character?
3. How does Alexie reclaim basketball for Native Americans in “The Only Traffic Signal on the Reservation Doesn’t Flash Red Anymore,” and what is the impact of this claim on the storyline?
4. Why is it so difficult to believe in heroes on the Reservation?
5. What is the mood of the final scene, and what does it suggest about “The Only Traffic Signal on the Reservation Doesn’t Flash Red Anymore”?
1. Victor wants to be brave and fearless like Crazy Horse, the epitome of the Indian war hero. Yet he finally cannot “play” the warrior and fight for the girl he meets, as the end of the story makes clear.
2. Victor fears that he cannot provide a future that suits her; she is a girl of the suburbs, while he is a boy of the Reservation. He still fears that the poverty and hardship of his childhood will be repeated in his own adult life.
3. Alexie suggests that basketball heroes emerged in Native American culture long before whites “invented” the sport. He ultimately attempts to reclaim not only the sport, but also its heroes, for the characters in this story.
4. The racism that American Indians face in white culture leaves them with few heroes or other reasons to hope. Alexie makes the interesting suggestion that “small,” seemingly insignificant, daily experiences of racism offer the most difficult obstacles to either becoming or believing in a hero.
5. The story ends on a hopeful note, as Victor and Adrian toss a coffee cup into the air and the sun rises on a new day. This “happy ending” suggests that their willingness to believe in a new hero will be worth the possible cost of disappointment.
1. Which role does music play in Victor’s childhood?
2. Why does Victor agree to accept help from Thomas, and how is his decision significant to “This is What it Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona”?
3. How are Victor’s and Thomas’s attitudes toward their Native American identity different?
4. To what extent are these attitudes changed or resolved by the end of these stories?
5. How do childhood memories affect the meaning of both stories?
1. Experience of music brings the family together despite the conflicts that often divide them. Victor associates Jimi Hendrix’s music in particular with moments of connection or understanding that he shared with his father.
2. Victor agrees to help Thomas after remembering a scene from their childhood. His decision indicates that the friendship will be rekindled, at least to some extent, during the trip to Arizona.
3. Victor is uncertain of his identity; his abandonment symbolizes the damage caused to Native American home life by the infiltration of white customs. Thomas, by comparison, is certain of his identity; he cannot help but play the role of storyteller as both a child and adult, a clear symbol of Native American tradition.
4. Both men remain steadfast in their convictions and traits, although they more directly recognize and understand the significance of their life histories, a sign that they are beginning to affirm their identities.
5. Childhood memories help to develop these characters and explain the conflicts that they face in these, and other, stories. They merge past and past as a way to address Native American identity, a common technique in Alexie’s writing.
1. What are the apparent motivations for the humiliation of Dirty Joe?
2. What does the imagery during the roller coaster ride suggest about the moral judgment of Victor and Sadie?
3. What are the implications of the final scene of Victor in the fun house for the themes of “Amusements”?
4. Why is Samuel’s isolation particularly tragic?
5. How is the “craziness” of both white and Native American cultures compared in “A Train is an Order of Occurrence Designed to Lead to Some Result”
1. Victor and Sadie are afraid of sharing Dirty Joe’s shame; they decide to betray Joe and join in the disapproval of the white crowd....
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1. What does the beaded dress symbolize in "The Fun House"?
2. What do the struggles and triumphs of the Aunt demonstrate about women’s roles?
3. Why does the mother in "A Good Story" ask her son to tell “a good story"?
4. What kid of mood is created by the images that close "A Good Story," and how does this atmosphere contribute to the overall meaning?
5. What does the baby symbolize at the end of "The First Annual All-Indian Horseshoe Pitch and Barbecue," and how is that meaning significant?
1. The dress symbolizes strength. It is too heavy for anyone to wear, that is, except the strongest of women.
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1. Why does the relationship between Victor and his white girlfriend fail?
2. Which role does the contrast between past and present play in "All I Wanted to Do Was Dance"?
3. How is the trial foreshadowed in "The Trial of Thomas Builds-the-Fire," and what is the significance of that sign?
4. What is the irony associated with the naming of the golf course after the warrior Qualchan?
5. How does Thomas’s sentence contribute to the satirical tone of “The Trial of Thomas Builds-the-Fire”?
1. Victor and his girlfriend cannot forget the long history of conflict between whites and Native Americans. They are like Custer and Crazy...
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1. How does the story “Distances” seek to overturn white domination?
2. What is the structure of the post-apocalyptic society, and how is that structure problematic?
3. How does “Imagining the Reservation” offer a different answer to the same problem?
4. Why is the equation, “survival = anger x imagination” important, and which challenges does it address?
5. What is the significance of the images that conclude "Imagining the Reservation"?
1. This story seeks change by destroying white society; its action begins after an apocalypse that has resulted in the deaths of almost all whites and the destruction of much of...
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1. What is the meaning of the title “Jesus Christ’s Half Brother is Alive and Well on the Spokane Indian Reservation,” and what does it suggest about James?
2. What does fatherhood teach the narrator in “Jesus Christ’s Half Brother is Alive and Well on the Spokane Indian Reservation"?
3. What does Jimmy help Norma to understand in “The Approximate Size of my Favorite Tumor,” and how is her realization significant?
4. How are Norma’s special talents important to the final story?
5. Why does Norma call Junior “Pete Rose,” and how does the nickname impact the end of “Somebody Kept Saying Powwow”?
1. The title...
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1. Why does the narrator of the title story decide to leave his girlfriend, and what is the significance of this decision?
2. What is the primary result of Junior’s education “The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven”?
3. What is problematic about memories in “Family Portrait”?
4. Who is Jerry Vincent and what is learned from his story in “Witnesses, Secret and Not”?
5. What does “Witnesses, Secret and Not” suggest about the experience of being a “witness,” both in the narrator’s family and culture?
1. A nightmare of punishment for their interracial romance prompts his departure. His decision stems...
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