Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven

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Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven

By | December 2005
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In Sherman Alexie's "The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven", the past is never really past. The aftershocks of 500 years of Native American persecution, oppression, and neglect continue to haunt the world of the reservation, in the form of alcoholism, poverty, and familial dysfunction. In spite of all this-or perhaps because of it-ancient tribal tradition/ritual lives on, if in a modified, more contemporary version. Throughout the story, the old ways-whether they be storytelling or vision seeking-serve to renew hope, and strengthen the bonds of the community. Thus, the past is both a destructive and a redemptive force within the novel. It is at once a source of continuing suffering and an antidote to that suffering. These two opposing forces are best represented by two of the novel's principal characters: Victor and Thomas-Builds-the-Fire. Victor, raised in poverty by an alcoholic, "failure" of a father, can only see the past through dark colored glasses. For him, the past is a force that, more often than not, leaves disaster in its wake; the tragedy of the past begets the tragedy of the present, pain begets pain. It is an endless and indefatigable cycle. Thomas-Builds-the-Fire on the other hand, is a man who sees value in the past and in tradition-hence his role as a storyteller. When Thomas speaks of the past in his stories, he speaks of past Indian glory, of acts of bravery and sacrifice, and in such a past he sees hope for the future. For each man, the past holds a different meaning, and a different potential; where one sees only decay, the other sees the possibility for rebirth. In the first few pages of the novel Victor lays out his belief in the power of the past to wreak havoc on the present, "Their...anger had not died. Instead, it moved from Indian to Indian...giving each a specific, painful memory. Victor's father remembered the time his own father was spit on as they waited for a bus in Spokane. Victor's mother remembered how the Indian...
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