“Nobody dreams all the time,” one of Alexie’s unnamed narrators says, “because it would hurt all the time.” Throughout this text, dreams represent an alternate reality, and symbolize either an escape from the present or simply an improvement on it. In one dream Victor has as a child, he and his family visit a restaurant, and it is warm inside. Victor describes his alcoholic parents, on nights in his youth when he sleeps between them, as “dreamless”—their dreamlessness symbolizes a resignation, a loss of drive, an acceptance of the mundanity and predestination of their lives. In “This is What it Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona,” Thomas Builds-the-Fire describes a dream he had of journeying to Spokane—in the dream, he knew he would receive a vision if he waited by the Falls. Once he walked there, though, in his real, waking life, Victor’s father came upon him and chastised him for foolishly awaiting a vision, and brought him home to the reservation. “Your dad was my vision,” Thomas tells Victor; “Take care of each other is what my dreams were saying.” In “Distances,” Alexie’s dystopic alternate vision of an Indian-only American society, the narrator repeatedly dreams of television “and [wakes] up crying.”
In “A Drug Called Tradition,” Victor, Junior, and Thomas Builds-the-Fire “all want to have their vision, to receive their true names, their adult names.” As we see at several points throughout the collection, receiving a vision is seen by many of Alexie’s characters as a rite of passage; this line of thought seems to be connected to the same idea his characters have when imagining Crazy Horse. It’s both an imposed line of thought and a deeply culturally internalized one, and one that’s morphed as the tribe itself has changed. “Does every Indian depend on Hollywood for a twentieth-century vision?” one character asks. Visions symbolize a yearning toward an identity and a way of life that may or may not be long gone; toward an emergence into adulthood that may not be an option for young Indians anymore. Alexie’s characters’ rites of passage are much more mundane than receiving spiritual visions, or going off on vision quests, and their reckoning with this fact is a thread throughout the entire collection.
Dreams and Visions Quotes in The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven
Your past is a skeleton walking one step behind you, and your future is a skeleton walking one step in front of you... Indians never need to wear a watch because your skeletons will always remind you about the time. See, it is always now. That’s what Indian time is. The past, the future, all of it is wrapped up in the now. That’s how it is. We are trapped in the now.”
Survival = Anger x Imagination. Imagination is the only weapon on the reservation.
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… Imagine every day is Independence Day. Imagine that your own shadow on the wall is a perfect door. Imagine a song stronger than penicillin. Imagine a spring with water that mends broken bones. Imagine a drum which wraps itself around your heart. Imagine a story that puts wood in the fireplace.
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.
These days, living alone in Spokane, I wish I lived closer to the river, to the falls where ghosts of salmon jump. I wish I could sleep. I put down my paper or book and turn off the lights, lie quietly in the dark. It may take hours, even years, for me to sleep again. There’s nothing surprising or disappointing in that. I know how all my dreams end anyway.
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.