The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven

The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven

Basketball and Television Symbol Analysis

Basketball and Television Symbol Icon

Basketball, in these stories, symbolizes hope for the future and the opportunity for change, advancement, and even escape from the reservation. Alexie himself was a gifted basketball player as a child, and he endows his characters with a reverence for the sport born of a kind of magical thinking that elevates success in basketball to represent potential success in life—both for an individual and for the tribe. Victor describes himself as a “former basketball star,” and he and his friend Adrian have high hopes for a rising star named Julius Windmaker, though Julius ultimately falls victim to alcoholism, and his potential is both immediately erased and immediately forgotten—not mourned or lamented. “Our basketball team drives into the river and drowns every year,” Victor jokes in one story; “It’s tradition.” His dark, facetious remark actually reflects the cyclical failure and hopelessness of many promising young basketball stars on the reservation. The swiftness with which the opportunity for escape, either physical or emotional, is taken away from children on the reservation parallels the competitive nature of the sport itself—the dog-eat-dog mentality present in all aspects of reservation life, which Alexie has described as a “locked room on fire” from which the only escape is to stand upon the bones of his ancestors and climb his way out.

Television as a symbol functions throughout the narrative in largely in the same way as basketball; anytime television is mentioned, a character is thinking of, dreaming of, or longing for escape. Television is a limited resource on the reservation—there are certain times of day it functions and certain times it does not—and, as such, it acts as an oft-desired portal between the “locked room” of the reservation and the larger world beyond it. The difference between basketball and television within the narrative is the omnipresence of television. When characters are in their homes, it is almost always left on in the background, with the volume turned low; during the early hours of the morning, characters watch the white noise that replaces programming in the middle of the night. In a description of his childhood, Victor notes that “the television was always too loud, until every emotion was measured by the half hour” and that he would wake “from nightmares to hear the television pounding the ceiling above [his] bed.” Later in his life, when Victor’s existence in Seattle—and his relationship with a white woman—fall into disrepair, he returns home to the reservation and attaches himself to the television, “search[ing] for answers.”

Alexie has referred in interviews to the public’s willingness to ignore the second half of his hyphenated Indian-American identity; through lifting up basketball and television to revered, symbolic status in these stories, Alexie acknowledges the unique place both basketball and television hold in traditional American life, and how their simplicity, comfort, and escapism are desired and valued commodities on the reservation as well.

Basketball and Television Quotes in The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven

The The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven quotes below all refer to the symbol of Basketball and Television. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Violence, Poverty, and Loss Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Grove Press edition of The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven published in 2013.
Only Traffic Signal on the Reservation… Quotes

It’s almost like Indians can easily survive the big stuff. Mass murder, loss of language and land and rights. It’s the small things that hurt the most. The white waitress who wouldn’t take an order, Tonto, the Washington Redskins. And, just like everybody else, Indians need heroes to help them learn how to survive. But what happens when our heroes don’t even know how to pay their bills?

Related Characters: Victor (speaker), Julius Windmaker, Adrian
Related Symbols: Alcohol, Crazy Horse, Basketball and Television
Page Number: 49
Explanation and Analysis:

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Distances Quotes

Last night I dreamed about television. I woke up crying.

Related Characters: Thomas Builds-the-Fire (speaker)
Related Symbols: Dreams and Visions, Basketball and Television
Page Number: 106
Explanation and Analysis:

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Indian Education Quotes

I picked up a basketball for the first time and made my first shot. No. I missed my first shot, missed the basket completely, and the ball landed in the dirt and sawdust, sat there just like I had sat there only minutes before. But it felt good, that ball in my hands, all those possibilities and angles. It was mathematics, geometry. It was beautiful.

Related Characters: Junior Polatkin (speaker)
Related Symbols: Dreams and Visions, Basketball and Television
Page Number: 174-175
Explanation and Analysis:

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Family Portrait Quotes

The television was always loud, too loud, until every emotion was measured by the half hour. We hid our faces behind masks that suggested other histories; we touched hands accidentally and our skin sparked like a personal revolution. We stared across the room at each other. We were children; we were open mouths. Open in hunger, in anger, in laughter, in prayer. Jesus, we all want to survive.

Related Symbols: Basketball and Television
Page Number: 198
Explanation and Analysis:

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Junior Polatkin’s Wild West Show Quotes

Junior hung up the phone and walked down the highway toward the reservation. He wanted to imagine that he was walking off into the sunset, into a happy ending. But he knew that all along the road he traveled, there were reservation drive-ins, each showing a new and painful sequel to the first act of his life.

Related Characters: Junior Polatkin
Related Symbols: Dreams and Visions, Basketball and Television
Page Number: 242
Explanation and Analysis:

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Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

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Basketball and Television Symbol Timeline in The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven

The timeline below shows where the symbol Basketball and Television appears in The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
The Only Traffic Signal on the Reservation Doesn’t Flash Red Anymore
Violence, Poverty, and Loss Theme Icon
Memory, Bearing Witness, Storytelling, and Imagination Theme Icon
Cultural Pain vs. Personal Pain Theme Icon
Community vs. Isolation Theme Icon
...“off to cause trouble somewhere.” Adrian recognizes one of the boys as Julius Windmaker—“the best basketball player on the reservation though he [is] only fifteen.” Victor and Adrian remark that Julius... (full context)
Violence, Poverty, and Loss Theme Icon
Memory, Bearing Witness, Storytelling, and Imagination Theme Icon
Cultural Pain vs. Personal Pain Theme Icon
Community vs. Isolation Theme Icon
...down the road, “drunk as a skunk.” Adrian and Victor know that Julius has a basketball game that evening, and they muse aloud about whether or not he’ll sober up in... (full context)
Violence, Poverty, and Loss Theme Icon
Memory, Bearing Witness, Storytelling, and Imagination Theme Icon
Cultural Pain vs. Personal Pain Theme Icon
Community vs. Isolation Theme Icon
Later that night, Adrian and Victor go to watch Julius play in his basketball game, but he is not “the ball player [they] remembered or expected.” He plays poorly,... (full context)
Memory, Bearing Witness, Storytelling, and Imagination Theme Icon
Cultural Pain vs. Personal Pain Theme Icon
Community vs. Isolation Theme Icon
...the porch, Victor and Adrian watch another group of Indian children walk by, “all holding basketballs.” They recognize one child as a girl named Lucy, a “little warrior” who plays for... (full context)
The Fun House
Memory, Bearing Witness, Storytelling, and Imagination Theme Icon
Community vs. Isolation Theme Icon
Love and Hatred Theme Icon
...the one to save them all. One morning, sewing while her husband and son watch television, a mouse crawls up her pant leg. She struggles to get her pants off while... (full context)
Violence, Poverty, and Loss Theme Icon
Memory, Bearing Witness, Storytelling, and Imagination Theme Icon
Community vs. Isolation Theme Icon
Love and Hatred Theme Icon
...husband is concussed, and she sleeps on a cot beside his hospital bed, leaving the television on all night. Thirty years later, the narrator says, their hospital bill from that night... (full context)
All I Wanted To Do Was Dance
Cultural Pain vs. Personal Pain Theme Icon
Community vs. Isolation Theme Icon
...tells himself that he’ll go running later that day. Instead, though, he turns on the television, and watches as a “pretty blond woman” delivers the local news. Suddenly overwhelmed by his... (full context)
Distances
Violence, Poverty, and Loss Theme Icon
Memory, Bearing Witness, Storytelling, and Imagination Theme Icon
Cultural Pain vs. Personal Pain Theme Icon
Community vs. Isolation Theme Icon
Thomas repeatedly “dream[s] about television [and wakes] up crying.” (full context)
Jesus Christ’s Half-Brother is Alive and Well on the Spokane Indian Reservation
Memory, Bearing Witness, Storytelling, and Imagination Theme Icon
Community vs. Isolation Theme Icon
Love and Hatred Theme Icon
A year later, in 1968, the narrator’s television has exploded and left a hole in the wall, and he hasn’t replaced it. The... (full context)
Violence, Poverty, and Loss Theme Icon
Memory, Bearing Witness, Storytelling, and Imagination Theme Icon
Cultural Pain vs. Personal Pain Theme Icon
Community vs. Isolation Theme Icon
Love and Hatred Theme Icon
...it was five hundred years of tears.” The season has changed, and the narrator plays basketball in the heat while James watches from the shade on the side of the basketball... (full context)
Violence, Poverty, and Loss Theme Icon
Memory, Bearing Witness, Storytelling, and Imagination Theme Icon
Cultural Pain vs. Personal Pain Theme Icon
Community vs. Isolation Theme Icon
...James still doesn’t speak, but kicks violently while dreaming. The narrator breaks his leg playing basketball, but is unable to afford an operation. At the hospital, doctors inquire about James; they... (full context)
Memory, Bearing Witness, Storytelling, and Imagination Theme Icon
Cultural Pain vs. Personal Pain Theme Icon
Community vs. Isolation Theme Icon
On James’s birthday, the narrator watches the Vietnam War on television in a local bar. He goes to a Christmas party and leaves James with a... (full context)
Violence, Poverty, and Loss Theme Icon
Memory, Bearing Witness, Storytelling, and Imagination Theme Icon
Cultural Pain vs. Personal Pain Theme Icon
Community vs. Isolation Theme Icon
...The narrator lies in jail, drunk and experiencing visions of snakes, Nazis, the KKK, and TV dinners. (full context)
Violence, Poverty, and Loss Theme Icon
Memory, Bearing Witness, Storytelling, and Imagination Theme Icon
Cultural Pain vs. Personal Pain Theme Icon
Community vs. Isolation Theme Icon
...day not to drink but doesn’t know “who [he’s] praying to, and if it’s the basketball gathering ash on the shelf or the television.” Sometimes the narrator wants to drink “so... (full context)
Memory, Bearing Witness, Storytelling, and Imagination Theme Icon
Community vs. Isolation Theme Icon
...believes James said “potato,” but thinks that “maybe he said I love you or college basketball.” He takes James to the doctor, and the doctor tells the narrator that he has... (full context)
Violence, Poverty, and Loss Theme Icon
Memory, Bearing Witness, Storytelling, and Imagination Theme Icon
Community vs. Isolation Theme Icon
Love and Hatred Theme Icon
The narrator shoots hoops with some younger Indian boys and girls. When he plays, he says, he doesn’t feel... (full context)
A Good Story
Memory, Bearing Witness, Storytelling, and Imagination Theme Icon
Cultural Pain vs. Personal Pain Theme Icon
Community vs. Isolation Theme Icon
...Arnold is pale and large, and, though teased by the other children, is “the best basketball player in the reservation grade school.” Moses thinks of the words “We are all given... (full context)
The First Annual All-Indian Horseshoe Pitch and Barbecue
Memory, Bearing Witness, Storytelling, and Imagination Theme Icon
Community vs. Isolation Theme Icon
Love and Hatred Theme Icon
...ordinary carnival.” One man, Simon, wins the horseshoe pitch, the storytelling contest, and the one-on-one basketball tournament. He suggests that basketball should become the tribe’s “new religion.” All across the carnival,... (full context)
Imagining the Reservation
Violence, Poverty, and Loss Theme Icon
Memory, Bearing Witness, Storytelling, and Imagination Theme Icon
Cultural Pain vs. Personal Pain Theme Icon
Community vs. Isolation Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Violence, Poverty, and Loss Theme Icon
Memory, Bearing Witness, Storytelling, and Imagination Theme Icon
Cultural Pain vs. Personal Pain Theme Icon
Community vs. Isolation Theme Icon
Love and Hatred Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
The Approximate Size of My Favorite Tumor
Memory, Bearing Witness, Storytelling, and Imagination Theme Icon
Love and Hatred Theme Icon
...instantly, and, after the tavern closed, they went back to James’s house where they watched television and “kissed until the [TV] broke into white noise.” After a while, James offered to... (full context)
Indian Education
Violence, Poverty, and Loss Theme Icon
Memory, Bearing Witness, Storytelling, and Imagination Theme Icon
Community vs. Isolation Theme Icon
In fifth grade, Junior plays basketball “for the first time.” He misses his first shot, but the ball in his hands... (full context)
Memory, Bearing Witness, Storytelling, and Imagination Theme Icon
Cultural Pain vs. Personal Pain Theme Icon
Community vs. Isolation Theme Icon
In ninth grade, Junior plays a long, tiring basketball game in an overheated gym. Later that night, there is a dance held in that... (full context)
Violence, Poverty, and Loss Theme Icon
Cultural Pain vs. Personal Pain Theme Icon
Community vs. Isolation Theme Icon
The morning after losing a basketball game for his eleventh-grade team, the Indians, Junior reads the sports page of the local... (full context)
The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven
Violence, Poverty, and Loss Theme Icon
Memory, Bearing Witness, Storytelling, and Imagination Theme Icon
Cultural Pain vs. Personal Pain Theme Icon
Community vs. Isolation Theme Icon
Love and Hatred Theme Icon
...was unsurprised by his return. Listless and sad, he did little at first but watch television. When he got tired of watching TV so much, he started playing basketball again, shooting... (full context)
Family Portrait
Violence, Poverty, and Loss Theme Icon
Memory, Bearing Witness, Storytelling, and Imagination Theme Icon
Cultural Pain vs. Personal Pain Theme Icon
Community vs. Isolation Theme Icon
Love and Hatred Theme Icon
An unnamed narrator recalls his childhood; the first thing he remembers is that “the television was always too loud.” He mishears the words he can hear coming out of it,... (full context)
Violence, Poverty, and Loss Theme Icon
Memory, Bearing Witness, Storytelling, and Imagination Theme Icon
Cultural Pain vs. Personal Pain Theme Icon
Community vs. Isolation Theme Icon
Love and Hatred Theme Icon
...passage of time and the dissolution of his memories, able to remember little but the television. He has one memory of a time “the reservation disappeared” during a game of playing... (full context)
Violence, Poverty, and Loss Theme Icon
Memory, Bearing Witness, Storytelling, and Imagination Theme Icon
Cultural Pain vs. Personal Pain Theme Icon
Community vs. Isolation Theme Icon
Love and Hatred Theme Icon
...remembers his father teaching him how to drive while describing the story of “the first television he ever saw,” and how he and his friends would walk again and again to... (full context)
Somebody Kept Saying Powwow
Memory, Bearing Witness, Storytelling, and Imagination Theme Icon
Community vs. Isolation Theme Icon
...the tribal newspaper. He saved a clipping of a story she wrote about a winning basketball game he played in high school, and keeps it tucked in his wallet to this... (full context)
Violence, Poverty, and Loss Theme Icon
Memory, Bearing Witness, Storytelling, and Imagination Theme Icon
Cultural Pain vs. Personal Pain Theme Icon
Community vs. Isolation Theme Icon
Love and Hatred Theme Icon
...asks Junior what the “worst thing [he] ever did” was, and he describes a college basketball game during which he chanted hateful things at a player from another team who’d at... (full context)
Witnesses, Secret and Not
Violence, Poverty, and Loss Theme Icon
Memory, Bearing Witness, Storytelling, and Imagination Theme Icon
Cultural Pain vs. Personal Pain Theme Icon
Community vs. Isolation Theme Icon
Love and Hatred Theme Icon
...mother has fry bread waiting for them to eat. The narrator’s brothers and sisters watch television and play cards. The narrator’s father sits at the table and cries into his food... (full context)
Junior Polatkin’s Wild West Show
Memory, Bearing Witness, Storytelling, and Imagination Theme Icon
Cultural Pain vs. Personal Pain Theme Icon
Community vs. Isolation Theme Icon
Love and Hatred Theme Icon
...trust[s] Lynn immediately.” Junior imagines that their ongoing, hours-long conversation is one out of a movie. Lynn and Junior flirt, leave the restaurant, and, outside, they kiss. (full context)