The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven

The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven

The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Sherman Alexie's The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Sherman Alexie

Sherman Alexie, a Spokane/Coeur d’Alene Indian, was born in Spokane and grew up on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Wellpinit, WA. He has been a self-described “urban Indian” since 1994, when he moved to Seattle—he still lives there with his family. Over the course of his long and storied career, Alexie has published 26 books, including poetry, novels, collections of short stories, a young adult novel, a picture book, and a memoir. He also wrote and co-produced the movie Smoke Signals, which featured an all-Native cast, crew, and creative team, and was based on several of the stories collected in The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven. Alexie has won the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction (in 2010, for War Dances), the PEN/Malamud Award for Short Fiction (in 2001), and the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature (in 2007, for The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian). Alexie is known for his brutally direct, darkly funny, occasionally “blasphemous” writing about the Native American experience and the “small American traged[ies]” encapsulated therein.
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Historical Context of The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven

In 1990, the United States Congress passed the Native American Languages Act, which declared as policy that Native Americans were entitled to use their own languages, and declared the intention of the United Sates to “preserve, protect, and promote the rights and freedom of Native Americans to use, practice, and develop Native American Languages.” In the 19th century, legislation had been passed to mandate that English be used as the “exclusive” language of instruction on all American Indian reservations. The Spokane Reservation of Alexie’s youth is the reservation represented in these stories. Its creation in 1881 divided the larger Spokane Indian territory and separated the three bands of the tribe’s configuration—the Upper, Middle, and Lower Spokane Indians—along the Spokane River. The reservation is a little less than 160,000 acres; once, the Spokane’s ancestral territory sprawled across three million acres of land in what is now Washington and Idaho. The current population of the Spokane reservation is about 2,700, though it was, in the days of Alexie’s youth, closer to about 1,900.

Other Books Related to The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven

“In some sense, artists always betray their tribes,” Alexie says of being an Indian writer in the twenty-first century; “so an Indian artist’s betrayal is exponentially worse.” Carving out a unique space for himself and his stories within the overwhelmingly White landscape of American literature, Alexie writes alternately toward and against an idea of Native American literature established by Native American writers such as N. Scott Momaday (House Made of Dawn; The Way to Rainy Mountain) and Louise Erdrich (The Plague of Doves; The Round House). In The New York Review of Books, Joyce Carol writes that “Alexie is the bad boy among [these Native writers], mocking, self-mocking, unpredictable, unassimilable.”
Key Facts about The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven
  • Full Title: The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven
  • When Written: Early 1990s
  • Where Written: Spokane, WA
  • When Published: 1993; Reissued in 2003 to include two new stories
  • Literary Period: Contemporary fiction
  • Genre: Short story sequence; Literary fiction; Autobiographical fiction; Humor
  • Setting: Spokane Indian Reservation
  • Climax: Though the stories that comprise the narrative are nonlinear and often only loosely connected, we can see moments of revelation, high emotion, or the delineation of a “point of no return” in several stories, such as when Thomas Builds-the-Fire is incarcerated; when Samuel Builds-the-Fire lays his head down on train tracks as an oncoming train approaches; and when Victor and Thomas travel to Arizona to collect Victor’s father’s body and belongings.
  • Antagonist: White America; alcohol; the institution of the Indian reservation
  • Point of View: Various

Extra Credit for The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven

Smoke Signals. In 1998, Alexie adapted “This is What it Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona” into a script for an independent film. The movie, Smoke Signals, was an all-Native production, produced, directed, performed, and supported technically by a 100% Native cast and crew. It currently holds an 86% rating on the popular review-aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes.

Fiction or Non? A great deal of Alexie’s writing—in The Lone Ranger as well as his many other books—has been termed “autobiographical fiction” by critics, as well as by Alexie himself. On the experience of reading his past work years out from its completion, he himself remarked that he once declared: “that’s memoir.” Now, Alexie has finally written a true memoir: You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me is a memoir of Alexie’s relationship with his mother, written alternatingly in prose and verse. There are 78 pieces written in each style, meant to signify the 78 years of his mother’s complex life.