An unnamed narrator asks us to “imagine Crazy Horse invented the atom bomb in 1876 and detonated it over Washington, D.C.; Imagine Columbus landed in 1492 and some tribe or another drowned him in the ocean.” He wonders if such an event would have saved Indians from strife, pain, poverty, violence, and crime.
The story’s title gives readers a way into the fragmented narrative of this story, in which vignettes (small scenes) showing imagination’s importance in reservation life will be explored. Alexie demonstrates the necessity of imagination in the face of violence and cultural pain.
The narrator describes working the graveyard shift in a Seattle 7-11, “until one night a man locked [him] in the cooler and stole all the money [and] pulled the basketball shoes off [his] feet.” Survival, the narrator says, is an equation; “Survival = Anger x Imagination. Imagination is the only weapon on the reservation.”
The narrator tells of an Indian child he and his friend “took to the bar” in order to “read futures by touching hands.” The child told the narrator’s friends and tribesmen of visions of missing relatives, and instructed the narrator to “break every mirror in [his] house and tape the pieces to [his] body.” The narrator, upon returning home, does so, and when the child sees him, he laughs and laughs.
The visionary child—which may or may not be James Many Horses—encourages the narrator, after securing his trust through relating a series of visions, to literally destroy and make anew a reflection of himself. The reflection is, apparently, not good enough, and inspires the child’s amusement.
The narrator wonders if “every Indian depend[s] on Hollywood for a twentieth-century vision.” He remembers watching The Tonight Show on television with his sisters, eating potatoes with food coloring and dreaming of “the food [they] wanted most.” “Imagination,” the narrator says, “is the politics of dreams,” and he imagines “a story that puts wood on the fireplace.”
The narrator wishes stories could be good enough; could “put wood on the fireplace,” so to speak. We’ve seen how stories and their power fall short, or go unrecognized, in the tales of Samuel and Thomas Builds-the-Fire, and the ways in which they are good enough; in “A Good Story.”