“The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven” is a collection of interconnected short stories by Sherman Alexie, who published it in 1993 and added two new levels in 2003. It contains 22 short stories with the same characters, Native Americans living on the Spokane Indian Reservation. The book’s main characters are Victor Joseph and Thomas Builds-the-Fire; they appear in most stories. Moreover, there is the central theme: people’s lives’ detachment from their roots and the impossibility of adapting to a new world as a marginalizing factor. A reader can see its manifestations, especially in the following stories: “A Drug Called Tradition,” “Amusements,” and “Distances.” They all have the same nostalgic motif and atmosphere about days when Indians lived by their traditions not in reservations but on their lands conquered by white men. However, in modern times Native Americans tend to marginalized behavior as they are not already authentic Indians and cannot be white men. Without a precise and definite identity, people cannot make any solid existential, ethical, and worldview foundation and a constructive mode of being in this world.
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The first of the stories cited, “A Drug Called Tradition,” even by its name, presents a reader with the main problem: the marginalization and the absence of actual tradition. The narrative is about how Victor remembers taking drugs in his youth and romantically dreaming about his ancestors’ time. The young Indians drug primarily for fun when it was a traditional sacred ritual for their ancestors. It tells a reader how they profane the sacred being spiritually cut off from their roots, trying to “be real Indians tonight” (para. 80). Such a trial is not amazing because it is a usual inner desire to be fulfilled by the spiritual content of one’s identity. Indian boys in the modern world are forced to secretly summon visions to take a slight dip in their ancestors’ magical world. Young Native Americans are not satisfied by simulacrums with which modernity wants to fill the void within.
The story “Amusements” also colorfully represents the central theme of the whole collection, for it is about the attempts of Indians to have a more “privileged” white men’s identity. Victor’s friends Sadie and Dirty Joe are trying on a carnival to satisfy and have fun as white men, which tells a reader the lack of pride and respect in them to their roots. Mostly, it is a fault of all-encompassing Western globalization that unifies the whole world’s diversity stating only the Western mode of being is natural and right. Individuals and even nations under the described influence unconsciously agreed with that point of view, proof of which a reader can see in the story. This fact affects a marginalization process, specifically of Indians, as they are somewhere between their authentic world and imposed one not being attached to any of them. It is significant to live through the native and traditional identity because it offers the man a maximum realization.
“A Train Is an Order of Occurrence Designed to Lead to Some Result” is another story where a reader can see the peculiar reflection of the central theme. Samuel Builds-the-Fire, a grandfather to Thomas Builds-the-Fire, was fired from his job on his birthday and committed suicide by laying his head on the rails. “There is a moment when an Indian realizes he cannot turn back toward tradition and that he has no map to guide him toward the future” (para. 33). This quote precisely emphasizes that an Indian is detached from his roots and cannot adapt to a world built by white men. Samuel Builds-the-Fire understands that sharply being forgotten by his children and hurt by watching people of his tribe “fall into alcoholism and surrendered dreams” (para. 20). Only his job was a reason to continue to live, and when he lost it, he was overcome by despair. Therefore, this story again shows how the impossibility of Indians to adapt to the world marginalizes them.
In conclusion, the central theme of the collection of short stories “The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven” is the isolation of Indians from their roots as a decaying factor. A reader can understand this reading, for example, “A Drug Called Tradition,” “Amusements,” and “Distances” stories that from different points of view disclose the problem. The first shows how young Indians try to immerse themselves in their traditional magic world by using the drug because they are not satisfied with what the modern world suggests. The second directly addresses the rejection of some Indians of their identity because it does not fit how to live rightly. The third is about the suicide of an old Indian who fell into despair, unable to return to tradition and adapt to the contemporary world. Most people of his tribe became alcoholics trying to fill the hole inside, but he did not want to be like them. Indians who are detached from their roots gradually lose their identity, becoming marginals as they cannot live another way authentically.
Sherman, A. (1993). The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven. Open Road Media.