Sherman J. Alexie, is a short story written in the first person focusing on two Native American Men who grew up together on a Reservation for Native Americans but have been estranged from each other since they were teenagers.
Victor who is the narrator of this story is a young man who lost faith in his culture and its traditions, while Thomas our second main character is a deeply rooted traditional storyteller. In the beginning of the story Victor, our Native American narrator learns the death of his father.Jobless and penniless, his only wish is to go to Phoenix, Arizona and bring back his father’s ashes and belongings to the reservation in Spokane. The death of Victor’s father leads him and Thomas to a journey filled with childhood stories and memories that will make them reconsider the state of their friendship.
The author Sherman J. Alexie uses money, a lonely jackrabbit in the deserts of Nevada, and Thomas’s stories as symbols to bring on and let us think about the importance of friendship, and values such as loyalty and optimism.Victor needed help from the beginning of the story. When he was penniless and needed to go to Phoenix, Arizona out of all his friends and acquaintances Thomas offered to lend him the money he needed even though Victor and all the other Native American boys on the reservation had been ignoring him for years because of “the same damn stories he was always telling over and over again”. (Sherman, 288) Thomas’s action was a true sign of friendship and he gave his friend the money without expecting anything in return.The only condition Thomas had, was to go with him to Phoenix, and, as he would reveal later in the text, the reason for that was that he had given his word to Victor’s father that he would “watch out” (Sherman, 292) for his dear son.
Thomas was staying loyal to the promise he gave to Victor’s Father. Since they were kids, he has looked after Victor. He was always there to take care of Victor, as an example: “When Victor was twelve, he stepped in a wasps’ nest”(Sherman, 291) and might have died if Thomas had not come by.The money he gave Victor, his presence during the trip as he had promised his father, and him saving his life when they were kids shows Thomas’s truthfulness to his friendship with Victor and his loyalty and truthfulness in keeping his promises. Throughout the story, Thomas was always an optimist. His stories always had a positive ending.
He seems to remind us that no matter what happens in life, everything will have a good turn out. The stories are everything that Thomas has. He relies on them to provide him his identity. Once everyone had turned their backs on him, his stories were the only thing that kept him going.They make him happy and they keep him alive. Thomas is as lonely on the reservation as the jackrabbit was on the desert in Nevada. According to Thomas, the jackrabbit was so lonely that he chose to give his life away under the wheels of their car.
Thomas “build-the-fire” was a storyteller, and as long as he could tell his stories, he would live and the purpose of his life would be fulfilled. The stories always ending well represent Thomas’s unshakable belief in a better future, and him never giving up. Thomas’s kindness was never really reciprocated.
Instead, the other Indian boys teased him.When he jumped off the roof and broke his arm as a child, his playmates started laughing at him and sang to him that he had broken his wings. (Sherman, 292) As the author would point out, “they hated Thomas for his courage.
”(Sherman, 292) Once, Victor even beat him up for no particular reason. As he grew older Thomas resigned himself to being treated so unfairly, and even after Victor and him had shared this unique experience, he would acknowledge that when they came back to the reservation, other people’s judgment would not allow them to be friends, even tough Victor did not have anything against Thomas but actually liked him.When they were kids, they were the closest friends in the world. They didn’t care about what other people thought, and they never judged each other. It is this kind of forgotten friendship that they rediscovered once they left the reservation and went away from people’s judgmental sight. Thomas has been the victim of the peer pressure that Victor seems unable to grow out of, and even though they are fond of each other, victor gave up on his friendship with Thomas.
Victor learned from Thomas throughout this journey.He realized what had happened to him and why he had let his life and his friendship go in the direction it had gone. He learned how to forgive and how to accept people for who they are. During the trip, Victor apologized for beating him up when they were younger, and finally starts to accept Thomas for who he is, “the crazy storyteller who talked to dogs and cars, who listened to the wind and pine trees.
”(Sherman, 294) In such a short time, Victor seems to have matured and his relationship with Thomas has also shifted to a point where he understands Thomas better, along with a new understanding of himself. In many ways Thomas also helps Victor to understand his own place within the greater scheme of things. In the wake of losing his father, Victor must come to terms with his own identity, not simply as an Indian, but as a man within a larger puzzling world. Thomas, serving as metaphorical mirror of mnemonic reflection, helps Victor understand his own role as a member of the community, of the society, of a family. ”(Baker) In “This is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona”, Sherman J.
Alexie uses powerful symbols to get us to think about important issues of our everyday lives. Thomas “Builds-the-Fire” is a perfect illustration of a true and loyal friend. His money and companionship were freely given to Victor, while he gave in to peer pressure and lost control of his own actions. Unlike the rabbit in the desert, Thomas chose life over death, making a powerful statement: “We are all given one thing by which our lives are measured, one determination.
Mine are those stories that can change or not the world.It doesn’t matter which, as long as I continue to tell the stories. ”(Sherman, 293) Thomas “Builds-the-Fire” teaches us and Victor, great lessons about friendship, loyalty and honesty. Work Cited Kirszner, Laurie G.
, and Stephen R. Mandell. This Is What It Means To Say Phoenix, Arizona. Literature: Reading, Reacting, Writing.
Boston: Thomson/Wadsworth, 2007. 287-95. Print. Baker, Anaya M. “Literary Analysis: This Is What It Means to Say Phoenix Arizona, by Victor Joseph – by Anaya M. Baker – Helium. ” Helium – Where Knowledge Rules. Web.
08 Nov. 2010. .