Reflection Post 3: Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven

In Sherman Alexie’s “The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven”, storytelling serves as a major theme and is displayed as being a major part of Indian life and culture. Many characters in the cluster of short stories Alexie presents tell stories, with differing styles and methods among them. I will be looking at the differences in how Alexie’s main character, Victor, and how another character, Thomas Builds-the-Fire, tell stories and the significance of these differences in the context of the novel as a whole.  Both characters’ methods of storytelling reveal much about reservation culture, Native American history, and themes of the novel.

Victor, who is featured in the majority of the short stories in the book, tells his own stories in several instances. His stories are mainly grounded in reality and are often about the everyday life on the reservation. For example, in the chapter “A Good Story”, the narrator (presumably Victor) tells a nice story to his mother after she complains that all his stories too sad. Instead of his usual somber tale, he tells a story of a young boy named Arnold that skips a trip with his friends to visit an old man named Uncle Moses, reflecting the strong sense of community in the reservations. However, even after concluding this happy story and describing the pleasant activities of he and his mother, the narrator says, “believe me, there is just barely enough goodness in all of this” (pg. 199). This is because Victor’s stories paint a realistic picture of life on the reservation. Typical life on the reservation isn’t particularly full of happiness, so neither are Victor’s stories. They are grounded in reality, even if that reality is harsh.

One exception to this is when Victor and Adrian and recalling stories of past reservation basketball stars in the chapter “The Only Traffic Signal On The Reservation Doesn’t Flash Red Anymore”. In this chapter, Adrian recalls how Silas Sirius literally flew to dunk a ball. Victor recalls that he “believed
Adrian’s story more as it sounded less true” (pg. 85). While Victor may not literally believe that a man flew across a basketball court to dunk a ball, this chapter exhibits the function of storytelling to create heroes among the reservation. Such stories may become exaggerated as they are passed around, but they serve as a form of hope and escapism to get away from the struggles of the reservation, like Victor’s stories typically portray.

Unlike Victor’s stories, the stories of Thomas Builds-the-Fire are not grounded in reservation life.  His stories are often surreal, feature lessons or morals, and are historical, telling about past atrocities against Native Americans or about their past culture. For instance, Thomas tells a story in court about horses being captured and abused by white Americans, beginning it with “I was a young pony,strong and quick in every movement” (pg. 142 ). This captures the surrealism of his stories since he tells it from a horse’s perspective, but also it is meant to represent how Native Americans were subjected to atrocities much like the horses. He tells this story under oath and while this may not be something that literally happened to him, its historical context rings true.

Thomas is known to be a storyteller on the reservation, but no one ever wants to stop and listen to his stories. This could be because he seems to embrace a traditional view of storytelling with his tales of the past and everyone ignoring him could portray how reservation culture is moving away from traditional Native American culture. No one is following the old ways, just as no one wishes to hear Thomas’ stories. Stories like Victor’s, while they don’t reflect the same symbolism and historical greatness as Thomas’, are more accepted since they are grounded in the reality of the reservation. It is hard to hear a story such a Thomas’ that are so far removed from the dire straits of reservation life when that is all you are exposed to day in and day out.

Reflection Post 2: Shift

The short film “Shift“, directed by Jonathan Yi, is a slice of life film that follows a young man named Alex as he begins a new job working night shifts processing envelopes. Throughout the film, Alex experiences the way of life of a working class person and learns his co-workers’ outlooks on the world. By the end of the film, Alex has begun to recognize his privileged position and reject that lifestyle. In this way, “Shift” portrays differences in class and privilege between a young college student, like Alex, and the working class.  It provides a window into a side of life that many are not familiar with and forces them to look the disparity of wealth and privilege right in the face.

“Shift” exhibits the class differences between Alex and the workers in many ways throughout the film. Firstly,there is the issue of financial stability and hardship. The audience learns that Alex is just working the job in order to pay for head shots for his acting career so he can continue with acting school. Meanwhile, many of his co-workers are working both day shifts at other jobs and night shifts there just in order to make ends meet. This is contrasted with his female acquaintance that helps him get the commercial spot, who lives in a lavish home with hired help and a sports car that she received for her 16th birthday. It is also ironic that the envelopes that the men who must work day and night are working with are from men with over five million dollars, as Alex’s boss reveals at the beginning. Alex is able to see both sides of the spectrum of wealth in this way and seems to realize the unfairness of it all by the end.

The difference in mindset between Alex and his co-workers is also shown throughout the film. Many of them buy into stereotypes and judge each other accordingly, such as when they question Alex about not eating rice as a Korean. They also don’t recognize the value of artistry or academics as Alex does. They question how much Alex is spending on acting classes and dismiss his work and his costuming for the commercial (“Makeup is for girls”). Perhaps the most poignant example of the difference in mindset is when Alex is talking about how expensive his head shot photographs would be and a co-worker suggests letting Wang take them for a low price since Alex will look the same no matter what the pictures cost.  This really shows that to his co-workers, money is the only real concern and that quality is negligible. When Alex talks about his commercial, all the care about is if he made good money doing it. To them, it isn’t important to worry about artistry and artistic merit because money is the one constraining factor that dictates their existence.

Finally, the last main difference that the film shows between Alex and the other workers is their aspirations and views of the future. Alex has dreams and goals. He wants to finish his education, become an actor, and accomplish great things. This night shift job is just a stepping stone to larger goals for him. To the other workers, this job was their livelihood. There isn’t anything in life for them beyond working day and night to just get by each paycheck. They have no sense of a future or any aspirations. The one worker who sits in the background the whole film, reveals himself as Mark at the end and speaks with Alex. He tells Alex how he thought about driving his motorcycle off the road and killing himself on the way to work. To Mark, there is nothing to stop him from doing that, nothing to live another day for. He tells Alex, “That’s what life is, always getting stiffed”. Unlike Alex, who has dreams and aspirations for the future, Mark and the others have lost any aspirations they may have had and, in Mark’s case, may have lost faith in life itself.

Billy McCormick Post 1 – Craft Narrative

In his narrative,”Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom;
or, the Escape of William and Ellen Craft from Slavery“, William Craft documents the escape of himself and his wife from the bondage of slavery.  Throughout, he grapples with many of the social, political, legal, and even theological reasoning for the differences between whites and blacks in his time. Unlike many slave narratives set in similar times, Craft’s narrative contains few descriptions of violence to exhibit the cruelty of slavery. Instead, he makes use of second hand accounts, allusions to laws, poetry, and literature, and first hand experience to craft a compelling tale of how his divided society operated.

Craft’s experience escaping to the north in the company of his wife disguised as a master brings forth many interesting points of how  racial differences were perceived. Craft’s wife, Ellen, was of a very light complexion and was very nearly white. She was able to pass for an older white man with the help of a disguise. It is shocking to learn that in a society where the color of one’s skin can often determine the extent to which they are treated as a human being, such a simple disguise can change his wife from slave to an esteemed white gentleman. This portion of the story exhibits how flimsy racial distinctions can be, particularly with those who are not strictly light or dark in complexion, even in a society where race is correlated so closely with humanity itself.

Craft also includes a few stories of white people being sold into slavery. His inclusion of this is quite unique, as many other narratives would not include such a passage and it is not very widely known that whites were ever sold into slavery. This distinction shows that it was not always racial lines that created differences and injustice, but sometimes just the perceived social superiority and blatant disregard for human rights of the slave holder.

Throughout the narrative, Craft also includes laws regarding slavery. He makes it clear that African Americans were not just socially ostracized, but also treated as less than human by the law itself. Even in some cases where the law appears to give the slave protections, there are obvious loopholes and exploits to make them totally null and void. For instance, the Constitution of Georgia at the time outlawed the killing of slaves, but also included that any slaves that were killed on “accident” through the use of “moderate correction” were to be excused. Laws like this quite literally allowed slave holders to get away with murder and failed to grant slaves even a shred of humanity.

Finally, Craft discusses the hypocrisy of how slavery can exist in a southern society of seemingly devout Christians. In a religion that preached peace and tolerance they allowed the unjust and cruel institution of slavery. In many cases, religion was even used to justify slavery, as many slaveholders believe that God provided the negro to serve the white man and they were free to do what they wish with their slaves. In their view, any abolitionists were directly contradicting God’s will. In this way, religion served as yet another tool by which difference was cultivated in this society.