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This is what it means to say Phoenix, Arizona

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Alien Blohm

on 8 January 2014

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Transcript of This is what it means to say Phoenix, Arizona

This is what it means to say Phoenix, Arizona

Course: Sherman Alexie's Reservation Blues
Winter term 2013/14
Tutor: Dr. phil. Stefanie Hundt
Presented by Judith Sturm, Nora Chihabi, Kristina Patermann and Alien Blohm
Date: 11th of December

Alexie’s The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven

Collection of short stories
Published 1993 and 2005
Interconnected stories
2 main characters: Victor Joseph and Thomas Builds-the-Fire
Alexie‘s reaction to common stereotypes of Native Americans

Storytelling Traditions of Native Americans

• Native Americans relied on their verbal language (oral tradition) to share their history, customs, rituals, and legends through vivid narratives

• Tales were often told by the tribal elders to the younger generations

• Mythology plays an important part in Native American religion

• Storytelling included songs, music, poetry and dance as a way to connect tribe members and illustrate their history


"Native Americans needed to use their imagination and their creativity to survive in a world where circumstance changed and the forces of nature could turn suddenly hostile, and the trickster helped show them how to be
in all situations." (Teacher Certification)

An animal with human characteristics
Tricksters play tricks with a purpose (e.g. to help create a new and better order)
Break down conventional categories and violate societal restrictions
Live between change and tradition
Dislike hard categories and rigid thinking
Help human beings see through their limited ways of thinking
(Teacher Certification)
"Frequently he is accompanied by a companion who either serves as a stooge or ultimately tricks the trickster." (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2013)

(Where) can you find these aspects in Thomas?

Thanks for your attention and participation!
Alexie, S. (1998),
I Hated Tonto (Still Do).
Los Angeles Times. Retrieved December 04, 2013, from articles.latimes.com/1998/jun/28/entertainment/ca-64216
Alexie, S. (2005).
The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven
. New York: Grove Press.
National Radio Hall of Fame (2013).
Fran Striker
. Retrieved December 04, 2013, from http://www.radiohof.org/fran_striker.htm
Alexie, S. (2012).
. New York: Grove Press.
Dippie, B. W. (2008).
American Indians: The Image of the Indian
. National Humanities Center. Retrieved December 04, 2013, from http://nationalhumanitiescenter.org/tserve/nattrans/ntecoindian/essays/ indimage.htm
Encyclopaedia Britannica (2013).
Trickster Tale
. Retrieved December 06, 2013 from http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/605010/trickster-tale
Oxford Dictionary (2013).
Racial Stereotypes.
Oxford: University Press. Retrieved December 04, 2013, from http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/stereotype
Teacher Certification.
Storytelling Traditions of Native Americans
. Retrieved November 15, 2013 from http://www.teachercertification.org/generalteaching/storytelling-traditions of-native-americans.html
The Telegraph (2011).
The Lone Ranger: 10 things you never knew
. Retrieved December 04, 2013, from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/film/8552851/The-Lone-Ranger-10-things-you-never-knew.html
Tillett, R. (2007). Contemporary Native American Literature. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Victor’s father died in Phoenix, Arizona
Victor lives on an Indian Reservation near Spokane, Washington
Victor needs to go to Phoenix to claim the remains, the pickup truck and the money in the savings account of his father
The Tribal Council gives him $100 for the trip but it’s not enough
Thomas Builds-the-Fire offers Victor to lend him the rest. His only condition is that he accompanies Victor on the trip

Small stories/recollections of the past in between
Victor and Thomas had been friends as children
Remembers many (positive) stories of Thomas and him when they were children (e.g. p.78ff.)
Liked to listen to Thomas' stories when they were younger (p.79)
Drunkenly attacked Thomas when they were 15 (p.80)
Often feels embarrassed of Thomas (p.81)
Cannot really be friends with Thomas again (p.89)
Feels ashamed for his attitude towards Thomas (p.89)
Watches out for Victor/ helps him (e.g. p.78,84)
Tries to cheer Victor up (p.82)
Forgives Victor for beating him (p.83)
Is aware of the fact that Victor cannot be his friend (p.89)
“Forget the usual stereotypes of a downtrodden people going through the slow motions on some Godforsaken land. There is, to be sure, too much booze and too little hope on the reservation in Alexie’s work, but also resilient real people – living and loving, and above all, laughing.”

Seattle Post-Intelligencer
, Washington)

Public Perception of Alexie’s collection “The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven”
What are stereotypes?

“A person or thing that conforms to a widely held
but oversimplified image of the class or type
to which they belong.”
Racial Stereotypes
, Oxford Dictionary, 2013)

Certain Self-serving ideas about a specific group of people
Self-serving -> promote the group’s interests and form its reality
(Historian B. W. Dippie, University of Victoria, British Columbia)

Differentiation of two main categories:
Nobility/ Ignobility
-tribe princess or drudge
-admirable brave or fiendish warrior
-state of social development is below European civilization
-e.g. logbook of Columbus, 1492
Brevísima relación by Las Casas
, 1552

Historical Perception of Native Americans
Discovery of America, 12th of May, 1492 – copper engraving by
Theodor de Bry

American writer and producer
Stems from Buffalo, New York
Famous Works:
The Lone Ranger and Tonto
The Green Hornet
Pioneer in radio adventure shows
-> 1988: Inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame

Francis Hamilton Striker
(1903 – 1962)
Duo composed of Lone Ranger and Tonto who battle the evil in the old west

1933: Radio program aired by Detroit station WXYZ
1940: First novel
-Comic series
1950s: TV show broadcasted by ABC
-Cartoon series
-> Lone Ranger and Tonto was an instant national success!

Striker’s The Lone Ranger and Tonto
Lone Ranger (Clayton Moore)

Only survivor of a deadly ambush
Uses only silver bullets
Loyal horse Silver
-catchphrase: „Hi Ho, Silver“
Moral standards
Tonto (Jay Silverheels )

Native American Indian
Spanish meaning: „stupid“ or „dump“
Speaks only pidgin English
Lone Rangers‘ sidekick
Refers to Lone Ranger as „Kemosabe“ („trusty scout“)
Striker‘s Characters
Think of the stereotypes presented by Striker‘s original characters Lone Ranger and Tonto.

What is Alexie‘s response to these characters?
Do you see a connection to the short story „This is what it means to say Phoenix, Arizona“?
Group work
“I watched the movies and saw the kind of Indian I was supposed to be. […] I mean,
I knew I could never be as brave, as strong, as wise,
as visionary, as white as the Indians in the movies.
I was just one little Indian boy who hated Tonto
because Tonto was the only cinematic Indian who looked like me.”

Alexie, S. (1998).
I Hated Tonto (Still Do)
. New York Times.

Alexie’s critique of Striker’s Tonto
Trickster features

Plays tricks with a purpose
Helps others to see through their limited ways of thinking
Dislikes hard categories and rigid thinking
Breaks down conventional categories and violates societal restrictions
Lives between change and tradition
Accompanied by a companion
...in Thomas

Lends Victor the money in order to accompany him
Predicts future events, has visions
Makes jokes about himself, does not take his identity too serious
Is an outcast (often talks to himself, tells stories over and over again)
Sticks to traditions but is also open for new experiences
Is accompanied by Victor? Tricked by Victor?

As tricksters usually appear as animals, which animal would you choose for Thomas?
"Once, when they were seven years old, when Victors father still lived with the family, Thomas closed his eyes and told Victor this story: [...] He wants to run and hide. He doesn't want to be found. Thomas Builds-the-Fire had known that Victor's father was going to leave, knew it before anyone." (Alexie, 2012:77)

"I'm half magician on my mother's side and and half clown on my father's" (ibid., 82)

"Victor knew that Thomas would remain the crazy story-teller who talked to dogs and cars. who listened to the wind and pine trees." (ibid., 89)

"Thomas, that crazy Indian storyteller [...] was flirting with a beautiful Olympic gymnast. Nobody back home on the reservation would ever believe it." (ibid., 82)

"He owed Thomas something, anything." (ibid., 89)
Victor waved his arms to let Thomas know that the deal was good. It was fair trade, and that was all Victor had ever wanted from his whole life." (ibid., 90)
Examples in the text

History stories
document and illuminate the physical past while creation stories establish origin of life and values
Education stories
teach etiquette, lessons and morals including wisdom teachings from animal masters
Instructional stories
about the evolution of survival skills, such as hunting, farming, or building
Healing stories
make an impact on the wounds caused by the past or present and seek to make a positive return back to strength, faith, tradition and family.
Humour stories
entertain and captivate audiences but also are a coping mechanism
for natural phenomena

The Purpose of Storytelling
“Thomas Builds-the-Fire was persistently ignored by his fellow Spokane Victor. Yet the story of Thomas’ 'trial' is the focal point of the text, where Alexie traces the connections between historical events and contemporary Indian lives, and reiterates the power of story and storytelling within a fiercely funny tale.” (Tillett, 2007:142)
Thomas Builds-the-Fire as a Storyteller
• “Thomas was a storyteller that nobody wanted to listen to. That’s like being a dentist in a town where everybody has false teeth.” (Alexie, 2012:77)

• When Victor asked Thomas about how he knew about his dead father, he replied: “I heard it on the wind. I heard it from the birds. I felt it in the sunlight.” (ibid.)

• “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.” (ibid., 79)

• When the woman on the plane asked Victor and Thomas if they were Indians, Thomas replies: “I’m half magician on my mother’s side and half clown on my father’s side” (ibid., 82)

• “I have only my stories which came to me before I even had the words to speak. I learned a thousand stories before I took my first thousand steps. They are all I have. It’s all I can do.” (ibid., 88)
Thomas Builds-the-Fire as a Storyteller
Interpret the story told by Thomas Builds-the-Fire and figure out the purpose that might be lying behind it.
Group Work
Group Work
Full transcript