One review of this collection refers to it as a series of “cultural love stories,” and Alexie himself, in the foreword, writes that “[in] trying to figure out the main topic, the big theme, the overarching idea, the epicenter” of the collection, he arrived at “the sons in this book really love and hate their fathers.” The line between love and hatred—for many of Alexie’s characters, not just the sons and fathers in the text—is a fine one that is traversed back and forth time and time again. On the reservation, care and community are important but often overlooked, and treasured friendships and partnerships are similarly both valued and easily or thoughtlessly discarded. By the same token, hate and resentment spring up in many small or unexpected ways; pockets of reservation communities are again and again torn asunder by violence and ill will.
In “Every Little Hurricane,” Victor’s uncles “slug each other which such force that they had to be in love”—the narrator describes how, during the fight, “Victor watched as his uncle held his other uncle down, saw the look of hate and love on his uncle’s face.” In another story, Victor says of his parents’ tumultuous marriage that his mother loved his father “with a ferocity that eventually forced her to leave him. They fought each other with the kind of graceful anger that only love can create.” In one of Victor’s major romantic relationships, things come to a close on a note of both love and resentment. “I love you. And don’t ever come back,” one of his girlfriends tells him as he prepares to leave their home in Seattle and return to the Spokane Indian Reservation. Victor and his classmates, growing up, “hate” Thomas Builds-the-Fire “for his courage.” Thomas is an important person in Victor’s life, and Victor does seem to, in a way, grow to love him throughout the course of these stories. However, the foundation of hatred and jealousy speaks to the complicated emotions that define so many of the relationships that appear in these pages.
Because the narrative isn’t linear, the rise and fall of love and hatred throughout the book doesn’t necessarily resolve itself or point to any kind of conclusion. Rather, the chopped-up, ever-changing narrative acts as a metaphor of sorts for the tumultuous nature of human relationships, and especially of relationships whose surroundings and foundations are calibrated by an atmosphere of poverty, violence, cultural loss or pain, and personal isolation. Alexie demonstrates the volatility of both familial and romantic relationships that come to fruition within the borders of the reservation.
Love and Hatred ThemeTracker
Love and Hatred Quotes in The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
The family portrait delivered in this story, which recounts an unnamed narrator’s distorted, disjointed childhood memories, is not a very flattering one at all. The overall tone of the story is a chaotic one, and the feeling of shouting to be heard over the television, an intense, tangible memory from the narrator’s childhood, gives us a different view of a symbol we’ve come to see as a shorthand for pleasure, escape, or distraction. The television in this story is an adversary to be contended with, an unchangeable force in the narrator’s troubled home. The narrator and his siblings remember clamoring for attention, for food, and to be heard and seen. This quote displays the desperation of their symbolically “open” mouths (like baby birds fighting for attention and food), ready to receive anything that might nourish them—physically, emotionally, or spiritually. The finality of the quote’s end—“Jesus, we all want to survive”—returns the story to the present tense, as if the power of the narrator’s memories has whisked him back to his childhood, to the immediacy of that time.
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.
Junior Polatkin reappears as the subject of the book’s final story, in which Junior is in college at a small Jesuit school in Spokane, where he is the only Indian student. Obsessed with movies and frequently visited by dreams of Wild-West-style shootouts, Junior has a brief affair with a woman named Lynn. The affair results in a pregnancy and Lynn, who is Irish Catholic, elects to keep the baby. Junior is not permitted to be involved in the child’s life except through intermittent phone calls, and Lynn’s parents deny the child—who is given the name Sean Casey—any recognition of his Indian heritage. Junior drops out of school, though Lynn implores him not to, and plans to return to the reservation. In the last lines of the story—and the entire book—we watch as Junior travels a long and lonely road back to the reservation, where he knows deep down that each “reservation drive-in” he encounters will only feature a “new and painful” vision of his present and future.
The filmic motif that recurs throughout this story mirrors the symbolic importance of television, but also incorporates a dreamlike, visionary weight. Junior’s decision to abandon his studies and return home to the reservation is isolating, difficult, and painful, and despite knowing all these things, he marches on into a future that really represents a cyclical, ritualistic return to the past. This moment recalls Thomas Builds-the-Fire’s speech about the “skeletons” of the past and the future that follow every Indian throughout his or her life: the tension between the awareness of a cyclical, inescapable past rife with repetition, violence, and loss, and an unsteady, idealized, often unattainable ideal of the future.