single car driving across the desert

This Is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona

by Sherman Alexie

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Student Question

In "This is What it Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona," what does Thomas think about, and why does it bother Victor?

Quick answer:

Thomas thinks about the meaning of America's Independence Day, and Victor accuses him of thinking too much.

Expert Answers

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When they were boys, Thomas and Victor went to see the fireworks for the Fourth of July. Thomas remarks that it is odd for them, being Indians (Native Americans), to celebrate America's independence:

"You know," Thomas said, "it's strange how us Indians celebrate the Fourth of July. It ain't like it was our independence everybody was fighting for."

Hearing this, Victor tells Thomas that he thinks too much. Thomas was clearly a deep thinker even at a young age. Victor is annoyed because he is just a kid and doesn't want to consider the historical and cultural implications of fireworks. He just wants to have fun. Thomas, on the other hand, wants to understand things on a more profound level, and he will continue to be this way for the rest of his life. That's why everyone shuns him; he just appears too odd to them. Thomas is much more in touch with his culture's history and the people and environment around him. Therefore, he makes it a point to be more aware of things; and in this case, it is the real meaning of the Fourth of July.

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In, "What it Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona", Victor makes fun of Thomas for thinking to much. Why? What does Thomas think about?

One common theme in Sherman Alexie novels is the relationship of the Native American to the rest of American society. Most characters in his novels are insulated in their communities. They are not encouraged to leave the community, to rise above it, or to succeed. Thomas Builds a Fire is made fun of, is ostracized for his adventurous spirit, and his desire to associate with people outside of the reservation.

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