Literature Tutorial Outline

American Studies

  1. Introduction

    1. Thesis: In the novel The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven Sherman Alexie shows you real life on an Indian reservation warts and all. Everyone is flawed in some way and Alexi e picks at the scabs to unveil his disappointment in their shortcomings. Alexi writes about self-awareness with dark humor, anger and disappointment and a sense of hopelessness because nothing is ever overcome by the end of the story. There are no live heroes, nobody is trying to better themselves and he masks his shame and disappointment in his tribe with dark humor and fantasy.

  2. Main idea #1: he writes about pride and rage and hopelessness but there are no heroes in these stories.

    1. Alexi writes about alcoholism unemployment powwows and insignificant lives of the people on the reservation and the children who will repeat their life over and over again in new skin to a new generation, but nobody is a hero.

      1. Thomas Builds the Fire is a natural born storyteller yet no one likes or respects him and few people want hear anything he has to say.

      2. A young man dreams of being a basketball star but no one is surprised when he fails.

      3. A man loses his job as a maid in a hotel and kills himself on a train track after his
        first drink. He did everything “right” in his life, did not drink, worked hard and still
        he ends up alone and dead.

    2. There are heroes in the stories but they are all from the past, long dead.

      1. Crazy horse is mentioned over and over again. In all the stories people imagine
        they are Crazy Horse but they can only imagine because there is nobody to look up
        to alive today that is native.

      2. Fantasy segments in the book fill in for lost heroes. Because there are no real
        heroes he makes some up.


  4. Main idea #2: Nobody is trying to better themselves

    1. Alexi writes about the natives strong sense of community and their determination
      to persevere, but not better themselves. The inhabitants of the reservation live in
      poverty and squalor their lives filled with alcohol, violence and apathy

      1. The natives deal with their tragedies soaked in alcohol. Nearly every story ends up in the bar

      2. Violence was never more ugly than when Victor beats up Thomas builds the fire for
        no apparent reason.

      3. Alexi has chronic cynicism about the condition of the inhabitants of the
        reservation. He is openly antagonistic to the history of white injustice that
        has been heaped on native populations for decades but is also angry at the level of
        apathy in the natives for taking it.

  5. Main idea #3: Alexie uses humor and imagination to showcase the characters in the best light yet
    his amused tolerance masks his deep resentment of the failings of his people.

    1. He often tells stories where empowered Indians take over the world and the white
      man suffers as a consequence but all of these are fantasies in his head the reality is the
      Indians never really fight back and try to help themselves.

      1. Imagination is the only weapon on the reservation in the story a Imagining the Reservation Survival= Anger Imagination

      2. stories often go back and forth in time using alternate realities to guess a future where Indians were less apathetic and took control of their lives.

    2. Parents and friends in the novel seem to let down their children more often than not.

      1. After he inherits a child in a fire he goes back to his hard drinking ways and
        abandons most attempts to better himself or his child’s world.

      2. In The Only Traffic Signal On the Reservation Doesn’t Flash Red Anymore the
        two friends sit around and wait for the big basketball star to let them all down,
        which he does.

  6. Conclusion As much as we want the people you become so close to in these stories to triumph it never seems to end up that way. Nothing seems to change in their lives over many generations. Critic Roland Barth’s quote “literature is the question minus the answer” perfectly illustrates Sherman Alexi’s writing because all he asks are hard questions. Alcohol and hopelessness are an ugly circle that no one seems to have the answer for including Sherman Alexi. In a PBS interview in 2002 he was asked “what are your visionary ideas for solving the struggles you work on?” Sherman answered “I have no answers. I only hope I’m asking the right questions.”