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"Distances" - The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven

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Andrea Shintani

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Transcript of "Distances" - The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven

"Distances" Answers Study Guide Context Sherman Alexie is a Spokane/Coeur d'Alene Indian poet and author born in 1966 on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Wellpinit, Washington. Alexie was born with hydrocephalic, a medical condition where an abnormal amount of cerebrospinal fluid is stuck in the cavities of the brain. At six months of age it was assumed he would not survive but surgery changed the outcome of his life. Throughout his childhood Alexie suffered from seizures but his academic genius landed him admission into Spokane Jesuit Gonzaga University. Alexie transferred to Washington State University in 1987 where he began to write his short fiction and poetry.
The Long Ranger and Tonto Fistfighter in Heaven, published in 1993, is composed of twenty-four short stories. “In his short-story and poetry collections, Alexie illuminates the despair, poverty, and alcoholism that often shape the lives of Native Americans living on reservations” (Poetry Foundation, “Sherman Alexie”). Alexie had the goal of informing the public about the life of Native Americans living on reservations. He seeks to emphasize the differences between the Native Americans that live on the Indian reservations and the white Americans, men and women Indians on reservations, Native Americans and the outside world, and their misunderstood culture. Within each of the short stories Alexie gives a different story and interpretation on the life of a Native American in white America. The title of this collection, “is derived from one of the collection's stories,” (Alexie, "The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven”) and the titles for the stories come from the author’s own personal experiences.
The narrator (unnamed) – The narrator is the man who is telling this short story. He burns the houses of the white men because the Tribal Council believes that all things that belong to the white men should be destroyed. The Indians who burn the houses do so naked and take all the furniture out. In one of the closets of the houses that the narrator burns he found a transistor radio and listens to it at night. The narrator is in love with Tremble Dancer but is not allowed to marry her because she’s an Urban.

Tremble Dancer – The woman that the narrator loves. She is part of a group of Indians called the Urbans because she left the reservation. Tremble Dancer has burns and scars on her legs when she returned back to the reservation. She dances around the fire at night but does not last very long because of her injuries. The name Tremble Dancer must come from the fact that while she dances she is in pain and falls shortly after. She waits for the narrator at the tree where they remove their clothing, climb up the tree, and hold each other looking for the Tribal Council. Her skins flakes off while they are in this tree but the narrator does not care. Tremble Dancer explains to the narrator that her legs are leaving her and the she is jealous of the working limbs that the narrator has. After the Others arrived, Tremble Dancer was abducted by one of the Others take returned pregnant. After returning pregnant she smells of salt and old blood and gives birth to a “salmon.” Her baby cannot be considered a real baby but instead is a monster because she is an Urban woman. When Tremble Dancer passes away seawater secretes from her palms. Based upon the only description that the narrator gives about Tremble Dancer it can be assumed that she is bitter toward her injuries. The only two lines where she speaks are about her losing her legs and her jealousy over the narrator’s able limbs. The narrator gives no other description about Tremble Dancer only what is seen as a “sickness” to him and the rest of the Skins. This also shows that although the narrator is in love with Tremble Dancer he only sees what is wrong with her appearance. Custer – Custer is mentioned once throughout the whole short story. Custer’s gender is never explained or who he is exactly.

Tribal Council – The council in charge of the reservation where the Skins live. They believe that the Urbans carry the white men’s disease back to the reservation. They dictate what happens on the reservation and what is considered right.

The Urbans – The city Indians from the reservation that left. There used to be one hundred Urbans when they left the reservation initially but when they returned to the reservation only a dozen remained alive. The Urbans are sick because they left and the Tribal Council forbid the Urbans from marrying the Skins. It is believed on the reservation that the Urbans have a sickness.

The Skins – The Indians who stayed on the reservation when their land was taken. The Skins are forbidden to marry the Urbans because of the Urbans’ sickness.

The Others – Another tribe of Indians who raided the Skins’ village. They abduct children, women, and materials. They have grey braids and came a thousand years ago with arrow bow, stone ax, and large hands.

Noah Chirapkin – The only Skin Indian to travel off of the reservation since their land was taken by the white men. He explains to the narrator about what he saw outside of the reservation and his experience. He died by the hands of the Others and was drowned with water.

Judas WildShoe – Gave the Tribal Chairman a wristwatch at the Tribal Council meeting.

The Tribal Chairman – He receives a wristwatch from Judas WildShoe and calls it a “white man’s artifact” and refers to it as a sin. Character List Plot/Overview The narrator, Thomas Builds-The-Fire, is a Spokane Indian who tells stories to the other Indians on the reservation even when nobody listens to him. Thomas is put on another reservation by the white men and he suspects that Custer is the person responsible. His story continues with the Tribal Council of the reservation declaring that all items created or owned by the white men have to be destroyed. The narrator is part of the group of men that burn down the white’s houses, but while investigating the houses Thomas finds a small radio transmitter. Thomas then begins to wonder what he will hear from this radioThe narrator is in love with a woman named Tremble Dancer who is an Urban Indian. The Urbans had left the reservation as a group of one hundred but when they returned only ten survived. However, to Thomas she does not look diseased like the rest of the Urban Indians. He explains how when she dances her legs give way but he was there to catch her. Thomas also explains how the Tribal Council forbids the Skins to marry the Urbans because of a past event where an Urban woman gave birth to a monster. The narrator’s friend, Noah Chirapkin, is the only Skin Indian to set foot off of the reservation and into the real world. He explains his journey to the outside world as having no life. Thomas dreams about televisions and cries. As the weather changes on the reservation more of the older folks die from the cold and the Tribal Council decided to burn their bodies because they are “evil.”Tremble Dancer waits for Thomas at the tree where they take off their clothes, climb the tree, hold each other, and watch the Tribal Council. They know that they only have each other left. Tremble Dancer’s skin flakes and Thomas can taste her. Tremble Dancer tells the narrator that her legs will give away soon and soon will the rest of her body parts. She points to him telling him about her jealousy of his able limbs and functions. Thomas is burning another house and this time he sees a picture of Jesus Christ on the floor burning. He notes that Jesus is white and the flames continue to consume the picture. The flames are many colors but white, leading the narrator to be confused about everything he knows. He dreams of television and cries. Thomas is laying in his tipi pretending to sleep when he hears screams from outside. The Others have come to the village and sing taking and killing whatever they please. Thomas runs to climb to the top of the tree in order to watch what is happening. The tallest of the Others runs as fast as the wind and stays in the mind of the narrator. The Others return to the narrator’s home and they bring salmon and water. Noah Chirapkin died at the hands of the Others. They tied him to the ground and drowned him. The tallest Other came back with Tremble Dancer, pregnant. She smelled of salt water and blood and gave birth to a salmon, until her death seawater ran from her hands. The narrator attended a Tribal Council meeting where a man named Judas WildShoe gave the tribal chairman a wristwatch the he found. The tribal chairman calls the watch “a white man’s sin” and the narrator remembers what the watch is used for. It tells the time but while the narrator uses his breath and his hands to tell the time the watch tells time coldly. He makes mistakes. Thomas looks carefully at his radio in order to find an imperfection but can find none. He turns the radio on but he can only hear his breath. Major Quotes “Last night I dreamed about television. I woke up crying.” (Alexie 106)The narrator is speaking in this quote where he tells the reader that after having a dream about television he wakes up in tears. This shows that the narrator has a fear of white men’s technology and the power of that technology. At the beginning of the story the narrator found a small radio transmitter in one of the homes he burned down. The narrator has already been exposed to white technology but his understanding is lacking on how to use it. This fear of technology comes from how the Native Americans view the white culture and their unwillingness to incorporate that culture into their own. “The Tribal Council decided it’s a white man’s disease in their blood. It’s a wristwatch that has fallen between their ribs, slowing, stopping. I’m happy my grandparents and parents died before all of this happened. I’m happy I’m an orphan.” (Alexie 107)

In this quote the narrator hears about the Tribal Council’s decision to burn the dead and the older folks. There was also talk about how they might burn the people who have caught the white man’s disease or otherwise known as being off of the reservation. Because the Tribal Council believes that the disease the Urbans have is from the whites they believe it is an internal disease. The Urban Indians have been exposed to the white culture and time has stopped who they are and where they came from. A wristwatch in white culture symbolizes telling time and knowing how much time you have, but this wristwatch ends of slowing a person down. In Native American culture they tell time with their bodies but in white culture a watch tells the time. The narrator is experiencing this now and he’s happy that his grandparents and parents do not have to experience the changes the narrator faces currently.
“I make mistakes.” (Alexie 109)This quote is said when the narrator is looking at the radio transmitter he found in a house and he is trying to find flaws. Sadly, the narrator looks hard but finds nothing wrong with the transmitter. The narrator admits that he makes mistakes but finds in incredible that an object from a white man can have no flaws. The white men where the people who moved the Native Americans from their homes to reservations and foreign lands and that gives the thought of are the whites the ones who are right and the Native Americans the mistake in society. Theme Motif Symbol Segregation in a reservation:In the short story “Distances” there are two groups of Indians that live on the same reservation: the Skins and the Urbans. The Skins are the Indians of the reservation that were moved from their home territory to a reservation and never decided to leave. The Urbans are the Indians that left the Spokane tribe when they were being moved to a reservation and decided to go live in an urban city. The Urban Indians are thought of to have the “white men’s disease” in their blood because they left the reservation and came back sickly. There is a clear division between the two Indians on the reservation. Although the Urbans are Spokane Indians they are considered to be the minority and the Indians that are looked down upon. The Urban Indian women are also not allowed to give birth to children and the Urbans are not allowed to marry the Skins. Throughout the short story the narrator is always with Tremble Dancer or talking about the Skins and Urbans, this shows that although he is in love with an Urban he continues to mention the differences between the two. Distances of cultures:
In the short story “Distances” and the novel The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven the theme of the differences in the Native American culture an white culture occur in most of the stories. In “Distances” the Tribal Council orders that the houses and objects created by white men be destroyed because they are evil. The Native Americans are angry at whites because they removed the natives from their homeland. Because of this the Native Americans are not willing to integrate and except anything from white culture. This shows distances between cultures through the whites not caring about Native American culture and the Native Americans not wanting to understand white culture. This distance is created through the hatred the two races have for each other.
Water: Water is a symbol in “Distances” at the end of the short story. When the Others invade the reservation the take what and who they want. When they return to the reservation they bring water and salmon with them. First, they take the life of Noah Chirapkin, the only Skin to ever step foot off of the reservation, through drowning him. Second, Tremble Dancer returns pregnant with the tallest Other’s child and she smells of seawater. When giving birth the story says that she gives birth to a salmon instead of a child and the seawater is leaking from her palms as she dies giving birth. Water in this short story symbolizes death since it took two lives from the reservation Water is also a symbol for where the Others come from, somewhere near the ocean or a large body of water. Analysis of Major Theme/Motif/Symbol The Narrator Tremble Dancer Analysis of Major Characters The narrator is the man who is telling this short story. He burns the houses of the white men because the Tribal Council believes that all things that belong to the white men should be destroyed. The Indians who burn the houses do so naked and take all the furniture out. In one of the closets of the houses that the narrator burns he found a transistor radio and listens to it at night. The narrator is in love with Tremble Dancer but is not allowed to marry her because she’s an Urban. The narrator is the one who keeps and find the radio transmitter but instead of giving it to the Tribal Council he keeps it for himself. This shows his interest in the white culture in his efforts to understand. He is a man in love but rarely takes action when trouble arises. He seems more like a wallflower viewing life from afar instead of participating in it. The woman that the narrator loves. She is part of a group of Indians called the Urbans because she left the reservation. Tremble Dancer has burns and scars on her legs when she returned back to the reservation. She dances around the fire at night but does not last very long because of her injuries. The name Tremble Dancer must come from the fact that while she dances she is in pain and falls shortly after. She waits for the narrator at the tree where they remove their clothing, climb up the tree, and hold each other looking for the Tribal Council. Her skins flakes off while they are in this tree but the narrator does not care. Tremble Dancer explains to the narrator that her legs are leaving her and the she is jealous of the working limbs that the narrator has. After the Others arrived, Tremble Dancer was abducted by one of the Others take returned pregnant. After returning pregnant she smells of salt and old blood and gives birth to a “salmon.” Her baby cannot be considered a real baby but instead is a monster because she is an Urban woman. When Tremble Dancer passes away seawater secretes from her palms. Based upon the only description that the narrator gives about Tremble Dancer it can be assumed that she is bitter toward her injuries. The only two lines where she speaks are about her losing her legs and her jealousy over the narrator’s able limbs. The narrator gives no other description about Tremble Dancer only what is seen as a “sickness” to him and the rest of the Skins. This also shows that although the narrator is in love with Tremble Dancer he only sees what is wrong with her appearance. Time to study! Discussion Questions 1. Why does the narrator keep the small radio transmitter when he knows that the Tribal Council bans all white men’s objects? How is the radio symbolic?2. Noah Chirapkin is the only Skin Indian that has ever stepped foot off of the reservation, but the Urbans are thought of as being “diseased” because they left the reservation. Why is Noah not an Urban Indian but still considered as a Skin? Do you believe that this is fair?3. When the short story introduces the Others to the Spokane Indians the words “saltwater,” “seawater,” and “salmon” are used frequently. For example, Tremble Dancer gave birth to a salmon after returning pregnant with the tallest Other Indian. What is the symbolic nature of the salmon to the Others? Study Guide
1. Explain why a group of the Indians burn down house.

2. Who are the Urbans and why does the Tribal Council put so many restrictions on them?

3. Why does the narrator not believe that Tremble Dancer even though she is an Urban Indian?

4. The Tribal Council wants all white men’s objects destroyed because they are “evil.” Why does the Tribal Council think this way?

5. What happened when an Urban woman gave birth on the reservation?

6. Explain why the narrator dreams about televisions and wakes up crying.

7. Why is Tremble Dancer jealous of the narrator? What might be the real reason behind her jealousy?

8. Why does the narrator bring up the picture of the burning Jesus when he is out burning another house?

9. Who are the Others?

10. At the end of the short story what does the narrator discover?
Quiz Quiz 1. Who is Custer?a. The narrator’s brother.b. The narrator’s father.c. The narrator’s uncle.d. None of the above. 2. Who is the narrator in love with?a. Noah Chirapkinb. Custerc. Thomas Builds-the Fired. Tremble Dancer3. What does the Tribal Council decide?a. To leave the reservation.b. Let the Urbans marry the Skins.c. That all of the white men’s objects will be burned.d. None of the above. 4. What does the narrator do as a living for the Tribal Council?a. Burns houses.b. Collects objects from the white men’s houses. c. Negotiate with the Urbansd. Tell stories.5. Who are the Urban Indians?a. The Indians who live on the reservation.b. The Indians that moved the Skins to a reservation.c. The group of Indians that left the reservation and have “diseases.”d. Native Spokane Indians.6. What is the meaning behind Tremble Dancer’s name?a. She has a disease.b. Her legs are burned causing her wobble when dancing.c. She trembles when she hears music.d. All of the above. 7. What does the Tribal Council not allow? a. The Urbans to marry the Skins.b. The Skins to marry the Urbans.c. The Indians to keep white man’s objects.d. All of the above. 8. Who is Noah Chirapkin?a. The narrator’s best friend.b. The only Skin Indian who has left the reservation.c. Tremble Dancer’s husband.d. The Tribal Council chairman. 9. Who are the Skin Indians?a. The enemies of the Urbans.b. The Indians put on the reservations. c. The Indians not allowed to marry the Urbans.d. Both b and c.10. What are the white man’s objects considered to be by the Tribal Council?a. Evil.b. A blessing.c. An omen.d. The answer to life.11. What happens one day while the narrator is in his tipi?a. The Others invade the village.b. Tremble Dancer dies.c. The Tribal Council finds the radio.d. None of the above.12. What does the narrator find in one of the houses?a. A wristwatch.b. A radio.c. A doll.d. A white man.13. What does the narrator dream of?a. Tremble Dancer.b. Television.c. His radio.d. All of the above.14. What happens to Tremble Dancer when she returns to the reservation with the tallest Other?a. She is pregnant.b. She never returns.c. Her parents passed away.d. None of the above.15. What can’t the narrator find in the radio?a. A mistake.b. The on switch.c. The volume switch.d. He cannot use it. 1. D
2. D
3. C
4. A
5. C
6. B
7. A
8. B
9. D 10. A
11. A
12. B
13. B
14. A
15. A 1. The reason why a group of Indians burn down houses is because the Tribal Council orders that all objects owned by the white men have to be destroyed. These homes are abandoned on the reservation and the Tribal Council deemed all white men’s objects to be evil and a white man’s sin so they get destroyed.

2. The Urbans are the Indians that left the original Spokane tribe to live in the city instead of living on a reservation. These Indians left in a group of 100 but when they returned to the reservation only 10 survived and they returned with health problems. The Tribal Council puts so many restrictions on them because they are tainted with white man’s blood. Since the Urbans have been exposed to the white culture their blood has become tainted by that culture. The Tribal Council also believes that the Urbans carry a sickness so they forbid the Urbans to marry the Skins.

3. The narrator is in love with Tremble Dancer and although her legs have burns he sees no faults in her.

4. The Tribal Council thinks this way because of what the whites did to the Indians. The Indians were displaced from their homes and sent to live on reservations on foreign soil by the whites. The past dictates how the Tribal Council views anything from white culture.

5. When an Urban woman gave birth on the reservation she had given birth to a monster. This monster was probably half Native American and half white, making it a monster to the Indians on the reservation. 6. The narrator dreams about television and wakes up crying because of his fear of what is outside of the reservation. He is afraid that he will be influenced by television and the other technology of white culture.

7. Tremble Dancer is jealous of the narrator because he has fully functioning limbs while hers are giving way. The real reason that Tremble Dancer is jealous of the narrator is because of his limbs as well as how he is treated on the reservation compared to how she is treated.

8. The narrator brings up the picture of the burning Jesus because he watched as the picture burned and no matter how big the flame got the narrator never saw white. Jesus himself is white but the flames were not, there were many other colors, but white. This shows that the narrator is questioning why the white people have so much power and control when they are not shown in the flames of something as simple as fire.

9. The Others are another tribe of Indians who invaded the reservation.

10. At the end of the story the narrator discovers that the radio did have a flaw, it would not work. The Long Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven Andrea Shintani
Mrs. Lamons
AP Lit. A Period
23 March 2012 A Guide for AP Lit. student
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