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Published: 13-12-2019

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The Trouble With Karma: Close Reading of The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven

Native Americans are frequently a forgotten minority, in history and in literature. The slaughter of native lives and the obliteration of their culture is an unfortunate American legacy. Luckily, writer Sherman Alexie has attempted to fill the cultural void and illuminate the plight of his men and women. He does this through a style of writing he labels “reservation realism.” Although natives are the opposite of immigrants, the knowledge of the Native American minority shares a lot of similarities with the discourse surrounding immigrants, for that reason rendering reservation realism a viable division of immigrant literature. This genre utilizes stories that are often “biased,” “exaggerated”, or “deluded” as a means of documentation and translation of the Native American encounter (Alexi). The notion right here is that the “story-truth” can be truer than the actual truth (TTC 203). Reservation realism combines the storytelling tradition practiced inside tribes with historical fact in order to capture the essence of reservation life. This is exemplified in “The Trial of Thomas Builds-The-Fire”, a story in Alexi’s collection The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven. This story incorporates the surreal theme of reincarnation into its triangulated structure combined with a variety of literary devices in order to document the Native American encounter, and to show the shared nature of their suffering.



Initially, Sherman Alexie utilizes a timeline divided into three tales, every single representing a different reincarnation of the protagonist, Thomas Builds The Fire. He creates this structure in order to demonstrate the progression in native resistance as time passes, and to reveal the similarities amongst the experiences of Thomas’s incarnations. The 3 stories told by Thomas are also buttressed with specifics relating to his present predicament as a supposed felon. Thomas starts as an alleged criminal on trial in Spokane Washington. The reader is not informed as to what he is on trial for particularly because Thomas himself his unsure. Although he is in a holding cell, the white officers discuss Thomas’s “future,” “immediate present” and “past” (93). Right here is an additional example of the triangulation of time. Thomas’s previous, future, and present are all connected. His history is shared with those who came just before him. This theme of connectivity continues all through the story as Alexie explores the notion of a collective, ancestral consciousness via reincarnation.

Alexie utilizes damaging diction when describing Thomas’s propensity for telling stories, and exploits his protagonist’s present silence as a symbol, to demonstrate the destruction of Native American culture caused by white Americans. The guards at the prison exactly where Thomas is being held, mention that he has a “dangerous” “storytelling fetish” The damaging connotation of the word “fetish” implies that storytelling is somehow taboo, and this is further emphasized by the labeling of the fetish as “dangerous.” Considering that storytelling is a staple of native culture, treating it as a crime shows how caucasian Americans violated native traditions. In addition, the word “dangerous” illuminates the worry felt by those who believed that native culture threatened the colonial way of life. Damaging diction is also manipulated in order to evince the impact of white Americans on native culture. For instance, a native man named Walks Along labels his wife as a “savage in polyester pants” (94). The way in which Walks Along treats his wife is an example of a phenomenon referred to as assimilation, which is the label provided to the way minorities conform to a new way of life, maybe losing their prior identities in the processes. He has conformed to mainstream American life to the extent that he now labels his own wife as a “savage”. Assimilation is a trend frequent to the immigrant encounter. Colonials and pioneers marginalized Native Americans severely and it resulted in a loss of their cultural identity. Alexie is implying that this is 1 of the several negative effects that has resulted from the imposition of American conventions on native individuals.

In this story, silence is used as a symbol of oppression for the protagonist and for his folks. The officers reveal that Thomas had “agreed to remain silent” and has not “spoken in almost twenty years” (94). Thomas will not tell stories anymore simply because of the unfavorable consequences that he, and these equivalent to him, have faced for performing so. His silence is an adaptation, gained from these before him who spoke and suffered the consequences. The reveal of this “adaptation” aids Alexi relate Thomas Builds A Fire suppression of the minority voice indicative of the immigrant knowledge. Silence in the face of oppression connotes defeat, victimizing Thomas and the native individuals. The reluctance to speak, or the loss of voice represents a loss of liberty. However, Thomas does not stay silent. The narrator informs the reader that Thomas started generating “small noises that contained much more emotion and meaning than entire sentences” (94). At some point, Thomas breaks his silence when he defends himself at his trial. The slow progression that assists Thomas locate his voice parallels the progression the natives in Thomas’s story makes from passive resistance to active retaliation. Discovering his voice is a way for Thomas to find solidarity in the face of his oppressors.

Alexie also employs animal diction in his first tale to represent the inhumane treatment of natives, to infuse his story with the concentrate on animals and nature pervasive in Native American culture, and to interject a fantastical aspect, thus exemplifying reservation realism. His very first story begins in 1858 and Thomas is a “young pony” who is taken captive (96). An American general writes a letter describing the stolen “captured animals” the “poor creatures” that he regrets killing in order to avert a “stampede” (97). Even though the general is referring to actual horses, in the dialogue describing racial conflicts, members of the offending party frequently view the minority in animal terms. Native Americans have been herded onto reservations as if they have been horses or cattle. The metaphor is then extended as Alexi personifies the “mother” horses who “cried for their dead young children.” Native Americans traditionally believe that humans share a brotherhood with animals. Here, Sherman Alexie is exemplifying 1 of the staples of reservation realism, an infusion of native culture into American literature.

The structure of this story enables Alexi to show the techniques in which the native response to American oppression evolved more than time. The story continues as Thomas describes how, as a pony, he let a man “saddle” him but then “suddenly rose up and bucked him off and broke his arm” (98). This single act of defiance marks the beginning of the progression of natives from hopeless victims that transformed into worthy adversaries. Nevertheless, it is crucial to note that the defiance happens as the response to imposed hardships and oppression. This parallels the experience of the natives in regards to their colonial captors. Native Americans were exploited and slaughtered by European settlers, and forced to vacate communities they had occupied for centuries. Just like the “young pony” they did not commence the conflict. In addition, in Thomas’s second story, he is a man named Qualchan fighting in an Indian war. Qualchan was a actual Yakima chief and Thomas’s version of his story is precise (“Spokane History Timeline”). This is an instance of the actual history that infiltrates Alexie’s fictional story the “realism” portion of reservation realism. Qualchan was hung with six other “Indians…who had never raised a hand in anger to any white” (98). The hanging is another instance of the native reluctance toward violence, compared with the brutality of the whites. It emphasizes that Thomas, although on trial for some unidentified crime, is a victim considering that he shares a past with his suffering ancestors. Lastly, in Thomas’s third story he is a man named Wild Coyote who is also engaged in a conflict with the whites. Even even though he desires peace among “white and Indians”, he notices that the whites have “cannons and had lied before” so he decides to attack the guys rather than brokering peace (one hundred). This signifies the total escalation from passive resistance to violent conflict. Though the murder and scalping of the white males by Wild Coyote is brutal, Alexi tends to make the reader sympathetic to the plight of the natives with the earlier stories. He shows that this crime committed by Thomas as Wild Coyote, is a response to the the earlier atrocities he has suffered.



The author also manipulates imagery in order to portray these who desire Thomas’s incarceration in a unfavorable light. It is prudent to bear in mind that this unusual story is Thomas’s testimonial for his trial. Alexie desires the reader to be the jury and to make a decision that the plaintiff is innocent. When the judge asks Thomas what his point is in telling this story, he informs the judge that Spokane is “building a golf course” named soon after Qualchan positioned in the exact same valley where he was hanged (99). He’s saying that the predecessors of the guys who hung him are now publicly commemorating him. Nonetheless, this seems like a weak try of repentance. The reality that the monument is a golf course, cheapens the action. Golf is a sport synonymous with the white upper class. White, privileged males are undoubtedly creating this golf course and they are putting Qualchan’s name on it as a consolation prize. At least, this is what Alexie is implying. This is an example of the bias present in reservation realism. Alexie desires the reader to be extremely biased toward Thomas and the natives so he embellishes historical events and utilizes imagery, such as the golf course, that emphasizes a adverse bias against the whites.

Furthermore, Alexie portrays the injustice that Americans perpetrated against natives by way of depiction of the legal officials at Thomas’s trial as injudicious and corrupt. In addition, a theme of injustice permeates this story. Considering that Thomas represents the Native American neighborhood, the guards and the judge signify white America. When Thomas is in prison, the officers are deliberating about what to charge him with. They are inventing a “felony charge” for Thomas since they “don’t require his kind around” (94). The members of the justice method are corrupt therefore connoting universal societal corruption in regards to minorities. If the system that is developed to uphold justice fails to do so it is logical to assume that justice does not exist, at least in the world of Thomas Builds The Fire. When Thomas ultimately admits to Wild Coyote’s murder, he expresses his remorse admitting that he is “sorry that those males had to die” (102). He is even “happy” for the surviving soldiers who “fought well” and “deserved to live an additional day” (101). However, this is disregarded by the judge who gets Thomas to admit to the “cold blooded” murder. They judge does not care about the motives for Thomas’s actions. He just wants to place a native in jail. This brand of injustice represents the unfair treatment of minorities in America by the judicial program.

Despite the fact that unrealistic, the theme of reincarnation aids the author to show that the histories of the Native American peoples are connected. For the purposes of this operate, Thomas is reincarnated and has in fact experiences all of the events depicted nonetheless, the reincarnation can also be interpreted figuratively. Crimes committed by natives against whites in the present era, are the consequences of past events. Considering that this collection, and reservation realism, typically has a concentrate on the civil unrest and criminal activity at present occurring within the native community, Alexi is attempting to clarify this behavior through the fantastical story of Thomas Builds The Fire. Here, is an instance of the “story-truth” carrying more weight than an actual, realistic portrayal. If Thomas in fact existed he would not bear in mind his past lives even if reincarnation is feasible. Nonetheless, the surreal theme succeeds in creating Thomas’s story much more powerful, and hence more persuasive. Nevertheless the fictitious court eventually disregards any mitigating situations and Thomas is sent to jail.

On his way to the penitentiary, Thomas shares the bus with “six other prisoners” of numerous races. The bus will deliver them to “a new sort of reservation, barrio, ghetto, logging-town tin shack” (103). Once once again, a native man is getting taken involuntarily from his property and the vicious cycle continues. It is crucial to note that Thomas is not alone and is rather accompanied by other races of oppressed men and women. This shows that oppression and injustice in America is not indicative to any 1 race. Suffering is as integral to the American encounter as baseball and apple pie. The identical conflict of prejudice and oppression is continually reborn, just like Thomas. Maybe Alexi is suggesting that it is up to us to cease history from repeating itself.




















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