Victor, a Spokane/Coeur d’Alene Indian, is the protagonist of the majority of these stories, and is, in many ways, an emotional stand-in for Sherman Alexie himself. We follow the path of Victor’s life from his… read analysis of Victor
One of Victor’s childhood friends, Thomas Builds-the-Fire has the gift of storytelling, and his stories often seem to be visions of the past or the future. However, Thomas is described as “always talking to… read analysis of Thomas Builds-the-Fire
Another one of Victor’s childhood friends. Junior Polatkin is present for many of Victor’s childhood escapades, and he narrates a few of the stories throughout the text. He gives an account of his education… read analysis of Junior Polatkin
Victor’s father, who’s unnamed in the book, is an alcoholic and a complicated force throughout these stories. He drives much of the narrative, though he’s not always present—or alive. Alexie himself has claimed that… read analysis of Victor’s Father
An Indian of whom Victor and his friend Sadie make a spectacle when they find him passed out in an alcoholic stupor at a local carnival. Though knowing it’s a “shitty thing to do,” Victor… read analysis of Dirty Joe
Grandfather to Thomas, Samuel Builds-the-Fire is also in possession of “the gift of storytelling.” He works as a hotel maid in Spokane for many years before losing his job suddenly and without warning. On… read analysis of Samuel Builds-the-Fire
James Many Horses
Orphaned in a house fire that took his parents’ lives, James Many Horses is raised by the unnamed young man who saved his life, through whose eyes we see the early years of James’s life… read analysis of James Many Horses
Wife to James Many Horses and close friend to Junior Polatkin, Norma is described as a “warrior,” a “cultural lifeguard,” and “the world champion fry bread maker.” She grows intolerant of her husband James’s… read analysis of Norma
A white missionary teacher who instructs Junior during the second grade. She is bigoted, unfair, and continually punishes Junior throughout the year; she sends him home with a letter “that [tells his] parents to either… read analysis of Betty Towle
A young white woman of Irish heritage who attends Gonzaga University in Spokane with Junior Polatkin. The two of them have a one-night stand while both living in the dorms over Christmas break; their… read analysis of Lynn
Victor’s aunt; a “beautiful dancer” and a steadfast woman who remains strong in the face of forced sterilization, derision and ungratefulness from her husband and son, and several other traumas such as car crashes… read analysis of Nezzy
One of Victor’s friends. Together, they humiliate Dirty Joe and turn him into a spectacle for white carnival-goers by placing him on a roller coaster when he becomes intoxicated at a local fair.
Junior Polatkin’s son with a white woman, Lynn. Lynn’s parents deny the child’s Indian heritage, and Junior is only permitted to contact his son through sporadic phone calls.
A young Indian man who seems destined for basketball stardom, but who falls victim to alcoholism before he can achieve his potential and make it off the reservation.
A young Indian girl, and a promising basketball player, on whom Victor begins to hang his hopes after Julius Windmaker falls victim to alcoholism. Though she is in the third grade, she plays for the sixth grade boys’ team. Victor hopes she “makes it” against all odds.
Mother to James Many Horses. She perishes in a house fire that also claims Frank Many Horses’ life.
Frank Many Horses
Father to James Many Horses. He dies after succumbing to injuries sustained in a house fire.
Grandfather to James Many Horses, and uncle to Junior and John-John. He does not assume custody of James Many Horses after Rosemary and Frank’s deaths, as it is (supposedly) Indian tradition for the baby to be raised by the man who saved his life.
A young Indian man haunted by his brother Joseph’s disappearance after being taken prisoner during military service. He dreams of escaping the reservation, but has insufficient funds to do so.
A young Indian man taken prisoner while serving as a jet pilot in the military. His brother John-John dreams of him, and imagines scenario after scenario in which he miraculously returns home from the war.
One of Victor’s uncles and a character in a story that Junior Polatkin tells his mother.
An Indian man who was once a friend of Victor’s father. He died under mysterious circumstances, and his murder remains unsolved. Victor’s father is called into the Spokane police department “annually” to answer questions about Jerry’s disappearance.
The spiritual leader of the Spokane Tribe during Victor’s youth. She is in possession of “good medicine,” and she gives Victor a small, antique drum as a totem; she tells him it is her “pager.”
The tribal chairman and onetime tribal police chief whose wife, Esther, leaves him after listening to one of Thomas Builds-the-Fire’s stories. David orders Thomas’s arrest, and creates false charges to bring against him.
The wife of David WalksAlong, the tribal chairman. When she leaves him the day after listening to one of Thomas Builds-the-Fire’s stories, David blames Thomas, and has him arrested on trumped-up charges.
A character in one of Thomas Builds-the-Fire’s stories. In a vision of a future in which white people have gone extinct and Indians are charged with burning all vestiges of white America, Thomas loves Tremble Dancer, though she is an “Urban”—a city Indian who carries a deadly disease.
One of Junior Polatkin’s sixth-grade classmates, Randy is an “Indian kid from [a] white town” who gets into a fight on his first day at the reservation school. He teaches Junior a “valuable lesson about living in the white world: Always throw the first punch.”
A friend of Victor. He and Victor watch the children on reservation, such as Julius Windmaker, play basketball. They hope one of them will "make it all the way," but over and over see these children fall to alcohol or other things and squander their talent.
One of Victor's uncles.