Poverty and Paternal Bonds

Sherman Alexie’s The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven portrays the numerous hardships Native Americans face in every aspect of their daily lives. From poverty and alcoholism to discrimination and lack of education, Native Americans are constantly facing obstacles that impact their lifestyle. The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven is a collection of anecdotes about the main character Victor, as well as other members of the community. In the poem “Whose Mouth Do I Speak With,” by Suzanne Rancourt, Rancourt describes the life of a Native American girl, possibly herself, and her family. Both pieces of literature demonstrate the speaker’s relationship with their fathers and the struggles of Native American families with poverty.

In the chapter titled “Because My Father Always Said He Was the Only Indian Who Saw Jimi Hendrix Play “The Star-Spangled Banner” at Woodstock,” Victor reminisces on his childhood and his relationship with his father. Similarly, in “Whose Mouth Do I Speak With,” by Suzanne Rancourt, the speaker looks back at her father’s actions during her childhood. In both pieces of literature, the speakers describe their fathers as being gone for extended periods of the day, although Victor’s father is away drinking and the speaker of the poem’s father is working. In addition, the children in both the poem and novel greet their father when he comes home by gathering at their father’s feet. Victor remembers how he “would fall asleep under the table with his head near his father’s feet,” and the speaker in “Whose Mouth Do I Speak With” describes “gather[ing] at this feet, around his legs.” I found this resemblance interesting because the habit of gathering at someone’s feet insinuates a feeling of excitement and eagerness among the children for their father’s arrival. In the case of Victor, his father often stumbles home intoxicated and proceeds to “weep and then pass out,” which does not appear to be something a child would be enthusiastic about. On the other hand, the speaker of the poem looks forward to her father’s arrival because she counts on him “bringing home spruce gum.” Although the fathers in the two works seem to be very different, both speakers enjoy seeing their fathers and cherish their time together with their fathers.

In addition, the theme of poverty is present throughout “The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven” and “Whose Mouth Do I Speak With.” In the chapter “Every Little Hurricane,” “Victor’s father wept because he didn’t have any money for gifts.” The speaker in “Whose Mouth Do I Speak With” states that her family “had no money for store bought gum,” which is why their father continued to bring them spruce gum. Spruce gum comes from the resin of spruce trees, which was originally chewed by Native Americans and later introduced to the Anglo-American pioneers. The mention of poverty in both these works demonstrates the common correlation among the Native American families. Although the speakers mention their situations of poverty, both Victor’s mother and the speaker of the poem attempt to look at the situation positively. Victor’s mother said “we’ve got each other” as a way to offset not having money for gifts. She may not have necessarily meant this, but her comment attempts to comfort Victor. Similarly, the speaker of the poem follows her statement about not being able to store bought gum by saying “but that’s alright” and “how many other children had fathers that placed on their innocent, anxious tongue the blood of tree?” The speaker of the poem makes it seem as if she is lucky to have a father that provides them with this gum that connects them to nature. She chooses to focus on what she has, rather than what she does not have, which helps her appreciate her family and nature in a greater sense.

Although Victor’s relationship with his father seems broken and unhealthy and the speaker in Rancourt’s poem demonstrates a stronger connection with her father, both works show how poverty impacts the lives of Native Americans and helps construct their family dynamics. I personally feel that the poem depicts life as a Native American in a more positive manner than the novel. Within the chapters mentioned above, Victor also addresses the serious issues of alcoholism in this family, as well as other problems in the community. Just by reading these two works, it is clear that Native Americans face many issues, most of which derive from colonization by the Anglo-Americans.

Alexie, Sherman, and Jess Walter. The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven. Grove Press, 2013.

Rancourt, Suzanne. “Whose Mouth Do I Speak With.” Poets.org, Academy of American Poets, 7 June 2017, www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/whose-mouth-do-i-speak.

“Spruce Gum Juice.” Trailer 605, 23 June 2015, trailer605.wordpress.com/2015/06/22/spruce-gum-juice/.