Why does Thomas use these particular stories of the past in his own defense?
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The Trial of Thomas Builds-the-Fire” includes many implicit and explicit cultural references. The most important of these is the quotation from Franz Kafka’s The Trial that appears at the beginning of the story. Kafka's novel also features an unjust and needlessly complex trial. Kafka’s work also influences the ending of the story, where Thomas is convicted of a crime committed by Wild Coyote more than a century before. This ending, which defies logic but is consistent with the themes of the story, is an example of the absurdism for which Kafka was famous.
The stories that Thomas tells during his trial are retellings of true and imagined incidents in Native American history, similar to the hallucinations in “A Drug Called Tradition” and Victor’s dreams in “Crazy Horse Dreams”. Qualchan was a real Yakima chief and Thomas’s version of his story is accurate (“Spokane History Timeline”).