The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven

The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven


Sherman Alexie

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Themes and Colors
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
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Cultural Pain vs. Personal Pain Theme Icon

Cultural pain and personal pain, in Alexie’s estimation, are inextricably linked. The personal pain his characters experience is, of course, often born of strife between family members, friends, and partners, but Alexie renders his characters’ pain in such a way that highlights its connection to an inherited cultural or generational pain that comes from loss of land, tradition, and agency.

“When children grow up together in poverty, a bond is formed that causes so much pain.” This quote, from “Every Little Hurricane,” ties together themes of love, poverty, loss, and pain both cultural and personal. The pain that many of Alexie’s characters have experienced is a result of a cultural void that comes from the oppression and decimation of Native cultural life. This creates a bond on the personal level, though it is one that is heavy with pain, loss, and even, for some characters, deep resentment.

Alexie describes a “genetic pain” in one of his stories—and though he doesn’t use the term repeatedly, its effects are felt deeply and resonate throughout the collection as his characters navigate that specific and difficult kind of pain. A pain that’s inherited from one’s parents or ancestors carries with it the weight of oppression, loss, and expectations that that pain will somehow, in some way, be soothed—but the institutional restrictions on Native people coupled with personal pain make it difficult to escape from the vortex of deep, inherited cultural suffering.

“There is just barely enough goodness in all this,” says Victor of reservation life. The pain and suffering that have permeated nearly every aspect of his childhood, and even his adult life, are nearly insurmountable. Small moments of “goodness” or happiness are “barely enough” to make a dent in the experience of that suffering, though they’re present. The inability to fully inhabit moments of goodness is another result of the personal pain that haunts most all of Alexie’s many characters.

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Cultural Pain vs. Personal Pain Quotes in The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven

Below you will find the important quotes in The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven related to the theme of Cultural Pain vs. Personal Pain.
Every Little Hurricane Quotes

Victor could see his uncles slugging each other with such force that they had to be in love. Strangers would never want to hurt each other that badly.

Related Characters: Victor, Arnold , Adolph
Related Symbols: Alcohol
Page Number: 2
Explanation and Analysis:
A Drug Called Tradition Quotes

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.”

Related Characters: Thomas Builds-the-Fire (speaker), Victor, Junior Polatkin
Related Symbols: Dreams and Visions
Page Number: 21-22
Explanation and Analysis:
Only Indian Who Saw Jimi Hendrix Play… Quotes

During the sixties, my father was the perfect hippie, since all the hippies were trying to be Indians.

Related Characters: Victor (speaker), Victor’s Father
Page Number: 24
Explanation and Analysis:
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
Page Number: 49
Explanation and Analysis:

Ain’t no children on a reservation.

Related Characters: Adrian (speaker), Victor, Julius Windmaker
Related Symbols: Alcohol
Page Number: 50
Explanation and Analysis:
This is What it Means to Say Phoenix Quotes

The fireworks were small, hardly more than a few bottle rockets and a fountain. But it was enough for two Indian boys. Years later, they would need much more.

Related Characters: Victor (speaker), Thomas Builds-the-Fire
Page Number: 63
Explanation and Analysis:

“Wait,” Thomas yelled from his porch. “I just got to ask one favor.”
Victor stopped the pickup, leaned out the window, and shouted back. “What do you want?”
“Just one time when I’m telling a story somewhere, why don’t you stop and listen?” Thomas asked.
“Just once?”
“Just once.”
Victor waved his arms to let Thomas know that the deal was good. It was a fair trade, and that was all Victor had ever wanted from his whole life.

Related Characters: Thomas Builds-the-Fire (speaker), Victor
Page Number: 75
Explanation and Analysis:
All I Wanted To Do Was Dance Quotes

He counted his coins. Enough for a bottle of wine in the Trading Post. He walked down the hill and into the store, grabbed the bottle, paid for it with nickels and pennies, and walked into the parking lot. Victor pulled the wine from its paper bag, cracked the seal, and twisted the cap off. Jesus, he wanted to drink so much his blood could make the entire tribe numb.

Related Characters: Victor
Related Symbols: Alcohol
Page Number: 90
Explanation and Analysis:
The Trial of Thomas Builds-the-Fire Quotes

Your honor, if I may continue, there is much more I need to say. There are so many more stories to tell.

Related Characters: Thomas Builds-the-Fire (speaker)
Related Symbols: Dreams and Visions
Page Number: 98
Explanation and Analysis:
Distances Quotes

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

Related Characters: Thomas Builds-the-Fire (speaker)
Page Number: 106
Explanation and Analysis:
Imagining the Reservation Quotes

Survival = Anger x Imagination. Imagination is the only weapon on the reservation.

Related Symbols: Dreams and Visions
Page Number: 150
Explanation and Analysis:

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.

Related Symbols: Crazy Horse, Dreams and Visions
Page Number: 149-153
Explanation and Analysis:
Indian Education Quotes

There is more than one way to starve.

Related Characters: Junior Polatkin (speaker)
Page Number: 177
Explanation and Analysis:
The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Victor (speaker), Victor’s Father
Related Symbols: Dreams and Visions
Page Number: 190
Explanation and Analysis:
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:
Somebody Kept Saying Powwow Quotes

Sometimes it feels like our tribe is dying a piece of fry bread at a time.

Related Characters: Junior Polatkin (speaker), Norma
Related Symbols: Fry Bread
Page Number: 199
Explanation and Analysis:
Witnesses, Secret and Not Quotes

I’m always asking myself if a near-accident is an accident, if standing right next to a disaster makes you part of the disaster or just a neighbor.

Page Number: 214
Explanation and Analysis:
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
Page Number: 242
Explanation and Analysis: