single car driving across the desert

This Is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona

by Sherman Alexie

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What is the significance of Thomas's warrior story in "This is What it Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona"?

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Sherman Alexie's story "This is What it Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona" centers around the idea of escaping the reservation. Victor, the primary character in the story, is forced to confront this idea after his father leaves and then dies much later in Phoenix. However, this idea of escape is present throughout the entire story (and is actually present in most of this collection's stories).

The story about the Indian boys who wanted to become warriors occurs in a flashback. Victor is thinking about his childhood friendship with Thomas Builds-the-Firewho loves telling stories. Here is the story Thomas tells Victor:

"There were these two Indian boys who wanted to be warriors. But it was too late to be warriors in the old way. All the horses were gone. So the two Indian boys stole a car and drove to the city. They parked the stolen car in front of the police station and then hitchhiked back home to the reservation. When they got back, all their friends cheered and their parents’ eyes shone with pride. You were very brave, everybody said to the two Indian boys. Very brave."

This story illustrates this desire for escape, even if it's only temporary. In Indian tradition, tribes often looked to warriors for leadership. Crazy Horse, the Lakota Indian who led the Battle at Little Big Horn, is an example. However, hardly anyone in these stories leaves the reservation. In Thomas's story, the boys commit three acts of rebellion: they steal a car, mock the police, and hitchhike. These acts of defiance against a system that seems set against them are inspiring to the boys because defiance is the only way they know how to be warriors.

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