The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven

The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven


Sherman Alexie

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Memory, Bearing Witness, Storytelling, and Imagination Theme Analysis

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.
Memory, Bearing Witness, Storytelling, and Imagination Theme Icon

In the face of a ravaged cultural landscape, Alexie stresses in nearly each story the importance of four vital acts to the Native American community of his youth: remembering, witnessing, telling stories, and imagining the future. Many stories take place within characters’ memories, and are constructed so that the characters the reader encounters are not actually present within the action of the narrative but only as memories or distant figures. The tension between action and memory demonstrates the erosion of Native American culture, and the idea that the gatekeepers of so much of that culture exist now only in memory. Memories are kept close, and their presence is often a difficult one; one character keeps the memory of a violent car crash “so close that she [has] nightmares for a year.” In “Flight,” Alexie’s narrator refers to memory as “a coin trick, dropping out of sight, then out of existence” and “an abandoned car, rusting and forgotten though it sits in plain view for decades.” Memory is vital in this community, but its importance is a double-edged sword; though important to the preservation of cultural life and the learning of lessons, most memories experienced by Alexie’s characters are rife with pain and trauma.

Bearing witness is one of the text’s most potent themes not only on a narrative level, but also on a meta-narrative level. Alexie’s work as a writer is centered around making visible both a cultural perspective and a world that are often deliberately made invisible through oppression, shame, or neglect. In “Every Little Hurricane,” as Victor’s uncles beat one another, the narrator refers to the party guests as “Witnesses…Witnesses and nothing more. For hundreds of years, Indians were witnesses to crimes of an epic scale. This little kind of hurricane was generic. It didn’t even deserve a name.” During Thomas Builds-the-Fire’s trial, he serves as his own witness, and ultimately indicts himself through his grand storytelling, which references events hundreds of years gone by; events that may or may not have actually happened. In “Witnesses, Secret and Not,” an unnamed 13-year-old narrator—possibly Victor—accompanies his father to a Spokane police station after he’s called upon to provide information about a disappearance that took place ten years ago. Though the narrator’s father tells the officer that he’s been questioned several times and cannot remember any new details, his position as a witness—whether he is a reliable one or not—is a synecdoche (a part of a thing that stands in for its larger whole) for the larger problem of being a “witness and nothing more” that Alexie explores throughout these stories.

“Imagine a story that puts wood in the fireplace,” the narrator commands the reader in the final lines of “Imagining the Reservation.” We’re asked to imagine a world in which storytelling—such a crucial aspect of Native life—is enough. “I know the story because every Indian knows the story,” Victor’s father tells him on the way to the Spokane police station in “Witnesses, Secret and Not.” Storytelling is another theme that works as a meta-narrative device—Alexie himself is telling several stories that are delivered to the reader out of order, and require a readjustment with each new tale. Many of his characters, similarly though in a more exaggerated way, are almost possessed by the stories they have to tell, and use stories alternately as currency, as punishment, and as a kind of salve.

In “A Drug Called Tradition,” Victor, Thomas, and their friend Junior drive out to a nearby lake in order to take drugs. “It’ll be very fucking Indian. Spiritual shit, you know?” Victor tells Thomas in order to convince him to come along. The boys “all want to have their vision,” and, after they take the drugs, they do. The experience is a rite of passage, but one that the boys have claimed for themselves in a way very different from their ancestors.

In “Distances,” Alexie creates a vision of the future inspired by a quote—or a vision—from Wovoka, the Paiute Ghost Dance Messiah. Wovoka was the leader of a religious movement which began in the late 1800s and which predicts a time when the Great Spirit will arrive to bring back “game of every kind” and “all [the] dead Indians.” Visions of the future—and of the past—are vital to Alexie’s characters; they press on in the face of dire circumstances powered by their hopes for a better life for themselves and for future generations.

Related Themes from Other Texts
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Memory, Bearing Witness, Storytelling, and Imagination 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 Memory, Bearing Witness, Storytelling, and Imagination.
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
Related Symbols: Alcohol, Crazy Horse, Basketball and Television
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:
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)
Related Symbols: Dreams and Visions, Basketball and Television
Page Number: 106
Explanation and Analysis:
A Good Story Quotes

It is warm, soon to be cold, but that’s in the future, maybe tomorrow, probably the next day and all the days after that. Today, now, I drink what I have, will eat what is left in the cupboard, while my mother finishes her quilt, piece by piece. Believe me, there is just barely enough goodness in all of this.

Related Characters: Junior Polatkin (speaker)
Page Number: 144
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

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