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“The lone ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven” by Sherman Alexie is a collection of short stories that comprise of reappearing characters.  The main characters in the book are Thomas Builds-the-Fire, junior and Victor, three Native-Americans who live in the Indian Reservation. The stories feature on the relationships of these characters, their desires and past lives with relatives and other people living in the reservation as well. The “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” on the other hand gives the childhood history of a young boy who goes to learn in a school meant for whites because he wants to better his future. Sherman successful uses characters, symbols and imagery to develop the plots and themes in the stories. This work is purposed to give a comparison between these texts and determine Sherman’s overall idea on what the Native Americans have endured in the reservation. The work will also analyze one theme which is common in both the short stories.

Summary of “The lone ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven”

This is a collection of approximately twenty-two short stories in which Sherman pours his own experiences as he lives in the reservation. He uses characters such as Victor, Junior and Thomas Builds-the-Fire as the main characters and everything that they do or go through is in one way or the other reflecting his own life as a child and as he grows up. In the first short story, he describes how people in the reservation would get drunk and fight (Alexie 8). They can not plan for their future and the only thing they do is drink so as to run away from reality. Most of the characters are pictured as hopeless and desperate fellows who have basically nothing to do but staying idle, abusing drugs and drinking. This is illustrated in the second short story when we see the main characters using a new drug so as to get stimulated and see things from a different perspective (Alexie 14). Sherman also introduces poverty as one of the things that the Indians have to endure in the reservation. Poverty is illustrated in the short story “This is what it means to say phoenix, Arizona”; Victor learns of his father’s death in Phoenix but he is unable to go and retrieve his ashes because he does not have the money to. He is eventually given the money by Thomas Builds-the-Fire and the two take the trip to Phoenix where he gets the ash and other belongings. The collection of short stories also gives a picture of how the Indians were treated with a lot of injustice. In the “the trial of Thomas Builds-the-Fire”, we find that he is taken in for trial for crimes that are not even specified (Alexie 162). Most of the stories in this collection have their focus revolving on almost the same subjects. Sherman has greatly emphasized on the things that are affecting the Indians in the reservation which include; drug abuse, alcoholism, poverty, crimes and fight. There is also discrimination, misunderstanding between couples and the poor Indian education.

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Analysis of “The lone ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven”

Sherman describes the real life situations that have devastated the Native Americans who have endured the hardships in the reservation (Alexie 10). They are all filled with anger and bad memories from the crimes they have witnessed in the past and have therefore resolved into alcoholism as a way of drowning their frustrations and release the anger and desperation. They also drink so much so as to forget the things that they have been experiencing since their childhood. Characters use drugs to experience hallucinations so as to escape from their daily lives reality. The visions seen by the characters when they are on the drug are used symbolically to signify the things that they desire in life. For instance, Victors sees himself riding on a horse called flight (Alexie 16). Flight is used symbolically to imply how he wishes to escape from the terrible life in reservation and fly to more conducive places. By him talking about the skeletons, Victor tries to illustrate how he is stuck in unpleasing situations in his life.  Most people in the reservation do not want to look at their past because the memories are painful, neither do they want to look at the future because they fear the same things might happen as well (Alexie 21).

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Summary and analysis of “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian”

The story describes the childhood of Junior who is born with a lot of fluid in the brain. He grows up in the reservation but he is not pleased with the kind of life his people live (Alexie 18). He thus decides to join a better school that is about twenty-two miles from his home. Junior however has to cope with assaults both from in and outside the reservation. His people see him as a traitor because he is attending a school that is not meant for his class. The white children also discriminate him in school (Alexie 82). He eventually endures this and becomes the best basketball player. Throughout his struggles, he does not give up but he is determined to achieve that which he desires (Alexie 94). He comes from a poor family and his father lacks fuel for his small car or lacks money to repair it and Junior is forced to walk to school.    

A common theme in the two texts

Throughout his writings, Sherman is in a way trying to bring up a scenario that affects the Indians living in the reservation. Most of the short stories share one or more things in common and they all picture some truth about the life in the reservation. One of the themes that have been repeated severally in these stories, which also appear in the two stories above, is the theme of poverty. Sherman describes in details how the Indians live in poverty. In the short story “Every Little Hurricane”, Victor describes how his father is poor; he does not have enough money to sustain his family. The family struggles to survive and as young as he is, Victor could not get a Christmas present because of his father’s financial status (Alexie 4). In the “A Drug Called Tradition”, poverty is illustrated when we see that it is only Thomas Builds-the-Fire who can afford to buy alcohol because he has leased the land that he inherited from his ancestors to a large organization (Alexie 13). Victor calls this an economic development because it is not the kind of life that their forefathers used to live. Living conditions have been poor and there are no hopes of improvement. Indians are continuing to struggle day in day out. Victor has to be given money by his friend, Thomas Builds-the-Fire, in order to go and pick his father’s ash in Phoenix. Junior on the other hand explains painfully how his father could not afford his school fees and how he could not even fuel their small car to take him to school (Alexie 43).

Alexie's overall idea of that which the Spokane tribe has endured

Alexie writes these short stories from his own experience as he grows up in the reservation. He asserts that every character that is presented in the story represents his life both as a child and as a grown up. The overall idea that Sherman is bringing to the public is that of hardships and struggles that the Indians in the reservation have to endure in order to live. Indians are discriminated by their hosts, the whites, and they are not given the same opportunities in terms of education and employment as the whites are. Most of the Indians live in small villages that are congested and their children are forced to school in poor schools different from the white’s children (Wagner 83). A similar scene is illustrated in “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” when Junior is forced to cope with all the assaults he receives simply because he is an Indian and he attends a school meant for whites only to look for better education (Peterson and Swartz 119). His own people accuse him of being an apple; appearing red from outside while it is white inside. On the other hand, the whites are looking at him as a confused boy who does not really know what he is doing (Alexie 83). This is the kind of discrimination that most of the Native Americans experience because of their difference in skin color.

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Continuation of Alexie’s idea

The Indians also have to struggle through poverty. They do not have reliable jobs and all they can do to earn a living is to work in work in companies as manual laborers and earn very little wages. With this little in their pockets, they can not take their children to better schools or live in better houses (Wagner 61). Their poverty however does not start at present since it was there before even their ancestors were born. Many live in alcoholism and poverty and are successors of lives where dreams and hopes have been taken away. Children live with abusive parents who do not encourage them to work hard in school. Drinking is the order of the day since most of them feel that it is through drinking that they forget their past (Wagner 37).

Literary Criticism

Sherman has had very little critics since his works are almost unanimously characterized as ground-breaking, bold and practically reflective of the experiences of the Native Americans. However, his realism sounds racist and harsh as he shows his burning anger against the Anglo Americans and their way of life. His fiction reinforces all the stereotypes desired especially by the white audience. Regarding structure, his innovative narrative and poetic forms are to some extent undeveloped, though this is a unique style and has complemented his arguments and themes.

In most of his works, Sherman pictures the struggles and hardships that the Indians living in the reservation have to endure in their lives. In the collection of short stories, “The lone ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven”, he uses the characters as a mirror image of himself to explain the tough situations that he has had to endure as an Indian living among the whites. He illustrates the life in the reservation as full of struggles and people have to live with the painful truth in their hearts. Most people living in the reservation are alcoholics and drug addicts because this is the only way they can forget the memories of the past. Most of his work has undeveloped structure but it is a reflective of the real life experiences that the Indians have endured.

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