Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 490
The stylistic challenge Alexie faces in this story is to convince the reader that it is not merely a story of a homosexual encounter or even a story about a man who is a latent homosexual, but rather a story about the authenticity of the old world of the Indian warrior and its refusal to recognize false gender distinctions. To achieve this, Alexie establishes a first-person point of view to allow the narrator to identify his father’s allegiance to Native American hitchhikers with the primitive world of the Native American.
The style of the story is simple and straightforward, for although the narrator yearns nostalgically for a connection to the old mythic world of his forefathers, he is not a particularly philosophical or ruminative man. He often expresses this desire for connection in flippant terms, joking that because Indians believe that if you ignore white people enough they will vanish, perhaps a thousand white families are still waiting for their sons and daughters to return home because they cannot recognize them when they float back as mist and fog.
The narrator does not present himself (as Alexie often does) as a white-bashing polemical voice of his people. In fact, he does not take himself entirely seriously, admitting that he drives a 1998 Toyota Camry because it is the best-selling car in the United States. He also relates, with some humor, his short-term affair with a white woman he worked with, who talked like she was writing the lead of her latest story. The fact that he is not currently involved in a sexual relationship and lives alone in a studio apartment make him vulnerable to the sexual approaches of the fighter he picks up.
The narrator’s inability to understand and articulate why he has sex with the hitchhiker does not suggest that he is a homosexual who is unwilling to admit it. Rather, when he says he did it for reasons he could not explain then and cannot explain now, he suggests that he submits to the fighter for mythic rather than personal reasons.
To make the reader accept these mythic reasons for the sexual encounter, Alexie ends the story with a scene presented as reality but suggestive of dream. The narrator says he awoke the next morning and “went out into the world,” walking barefoot upriver toward the place where he was born and will someday die. Echoing a statement he made earlier about his father—that the old man wanted to break open the hearts of the hitchhikers he picked up and see the future in their blood—the narrator says that if you were to break open his heart at that moment, you would look inside and see the thin white skeletons of one thousand salmon. This ambiguous conclusion of the story marks a final transition between the everyday, real world to the world of wish, myth, dream; in short, the fantasy world of sacred reality.