This Is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona Summary & Study Guide

This Study Guide consists of approximately 22 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of This Is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona.
This section contains 463 words
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This Is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona Summary & Study Guide Description

This Is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Quotes and a Free Quiz on This Is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona by Sherman Alexie.

The following version of this story was used to create this study guide: Alexie, Sherman. “This Is What It Means When You Say Phoenix, Arizona.” The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven. New York: Grove Press, 2013.

This story takes place contemporary to when it was written, namely the early 1990s. The protagonist is a Native American named Victor, who lives on a Native American reservation in the pacific northwest. He has recently become unemployed. One day, he is informed that his father has died of a heart attack in Phoenix, Arizona. Victor’s father left the reservation when Victor was a child. He eventually settled in a trailer park in Phoenix, and he and Victor were mostly estranged from each other. Nonetheless, Victor feels a pang of grief when he learns of his father’s death.

Victor unfortunately has very little money and cannot afford to transport his father’s cremated remains from Phoenix to the reservation. The reservation’s Tribal Council can only afford to contribute $100. Thomas Builds-the-Fire, a fellow resident of the reservation, volunteers to pay for the rest as long as he can come with Victor to retrieve the ashes. Victor accepts these terms. Victor and Thomas used to be friends when they were children. However, Thomas developed the unusual habit of telling stories almost constantly, even when no one was listening. Thomas became a social pariah. Victor, not wanting to be an outcast too, abandoned his friendship with Thomas. Once, when they were 15 years old, Victor even physically attacked Thomas.

Victor and Thomas travel by airplane to Phoenix. They are seated next to a white woman, and Thomas converses with her. Her name is Cathy and she used to be an Olympic gymnast. She complains about not being able to attend the 1980 Olympics because the United States government boycotted it. Thomas then obliquely references the United States’ history of genocide and oppression against Native Americans. After arriving in Phoenix, Victor and Thomas collect the cremated remains of Victor’s remains. Speaking aloud, Thomas recalls a time when Victor’s father was kind to him.

Thomas and Victor then transport them back to the reservation using Victor’s father’s pickup truck. While driving through the deserts of Nevada, they see no forms of life except for a lone jackrabbit. The jackrabbit immediately runs out into the road and is killed by the truck. Victor and Thomas wonder if the rabbit killed itself on purpose, out of a sense of loneliness. They arrive back at the reservation, and Victor gives half of the ashes to Thomas as a present. Thomas gratefully accepts. However, they both know that their friendship will not resume, as Victor does not want to become an outcast by associating with Thomas.

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This section contains 463 words
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