Sherman Alexie was born in 1966 in an Indian reservation near Seattle, Washington. His descent his half Spokane half Coeur dAlene. He started by writing poetry before writing prose. His writings describe the life of Indians today as it is, realistically, and depict the unvarnished truth. Despair, poverty and alcoholism are recurrent themes. His protagonists often struggle in their lives and with themselves, and what it means to be an Indian nowadays. Despite this, his works contain humor and irony.
The short story ‘This is what it means to say Phoenix, Arizona’ is part of a book named The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, which originally contained twenty-two interconnected short stories (the book was reissued in 2005 with two new short stories). This book was Alexie’s first prose work, published in 1993.
In ‘This is what it means to say Phoenix, Arizona’ , we follow the journey of two young Indians Victor, whose father has just died, and Thomas Builds-the-Fire. They grew up together in the Spokane Indian Reservation, in the state of Washington. When Victor’s estranged father dies, he decides to go to Phoenix to recollect his father’s belongings. Since he has not enough money, Thomas-Builds-the-Fire helps him to pay for the trip. The two young men undertake a 2000 kilometers journey to Phoenix, Arizona. Thomas Builds-the-Fire is a story-teller but no one listens to him any more, and he has become an outcast. For Victor and probably for the other members of the tribe, it is hard to accept Thomas’ stories and therefore a part of Native aAmerican history, as if they did not believe in their own culture any more.
Sherman Alexie wants to show how the Indian culture has been acculturated and kind of destroyed by European colonisation. He also wants to show what are the effects of this acculturation on Indians today, who are no longer Indians but do not belong to the white community either. They have been ripped of their culture, traditions and often leave their reservation or sink into alcoholism. Alexie himself used to drink but he quit after the success of his work in 1990 and has remained sober ever since. He portrays a non-exotic, desillusioned Indian community, not at all as we, Eastern readers, picture Indians. The main questions asked by Sherman Alexie in his works are what does it mean to live as an Indian in this time and what does it mean to live on an Indian reservation. 
In Indian culture, the names are very important, they are often linked with the totem animal of the individual. In order to discover it, one must take a “vision quest”. In the short story, we notice that if Thomas has found his Indian name, the narrator has not. This can suggest that one is not fully oneself if one has not discovered one’s name. Sherman Alexie has an Indian name but he keeps it a secret. We can guess that the narrator’s Indian name would have something to do with the salmon. This fish is indeed very important in Indian culture. As Alexie stated : “Salmon, it’s all about the salmon”.
Strangely enough, the narrator’s father has been cremated although the tradition for Indians is to be buried with all their possessions. We can ask ourselves what is the significance of this particularity. On one hand it probably denotes the acculturation, Indians tend to act as westerners and abandon little by little their traditions, but on the other hand, it might be a strong symbol, that of rebirth, as a phoenix rises from its own ashes. We cannot help but notice that the name of Thomas has to do with fire.
The work of Sherman Alexie, although dark concerning the issues of Indians nowadays, is also filled with humor and irony. At the beginning, when Victor asks Thomas how he found out about his father’s passing, he answers that he has “heard it on the wind” and then confesses that he just saw his mother crying. This destroys our romantic image of Indians.
In the reservation, Thomas is the only one who tries to make the traditions live on but it is not easy and he is cast away. The mystical side of his culture is not accepted by Victor and the other members of the tribe. This shows how the Native American have been acculturated and do not embrace their beliefs.
In Thomas’s vision, people are here to take care of each other. But as the Indians became more and more acculturated, they lost the sense of tribe and became more individualists. They have lost control of the symbols that represent them. 
The journey has an appeasing effect on Victor, he comes to peace with himself and gets closure in his relationship with his father. It is a kind of a rebirth. As a phoenix, Victor rises from his father’s ashes.
were friends in the past, victor turned his back on him
journey occasion to review past years and choices
two natives americans , around 20 years old,
news father’s death, journey to retrieve his remains, and ashes
one story with flashbacks inside â†’ provide explanations for the characters’ actions and understand how they might feel and why they feel that way. Stories or visions
Victor had a bad relationship with his father and with Thomas
thomas had promised to look after victor to his father
V apologizes to T
recreate bonds on the road, but must end as they come back to the reservation, might go on as before
Thomas builds the fire â†’ has started the fire under victor
SA has cut his hair in mourning of his late father
have a way of surviving. But it’s almost like Indians can easily survive the big stuff. Mass murder, loss of language and land rights. It’s the small things that hurt the most. The white waitress who wouldn’t take an order, Tonto, the Washington Redskins.
We have to believe in the power of imagination because it’s all we have and ours is stronger than theirs. Lawrence Thornton
Sherman Alexie’s website : www.fallsapart.com
Quirk, Sarah A. Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 278: American Novelists Since World War II, Seventh Series. Detroit: The Gale Group, 2003.
Klinkenborg, Verlyn. “America at the Crossroads : Life on the Spokane Reservation : RESERVATION
BLUES, By Sherman Alexie, Los Angeles Times, June 18.1995
“In His Own Literary World, a Native Son Without Borders”, Eric Konigsberg, The New York Times, October 20, 2009.
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