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.