Victor and his friend Sadie attend a carnival. They spot Dirty Joe passed out drunk. Normally they would let him sleep in peace, but they feel uncomfortable leaving him at an event attended mostly by white people. As Victor and Sadie tend to Dirty Joe, the white carnival-goers laugh at them. They decide to put Joe on a roller coaster called the Stallion.
Victor and Sadie pay an attendant to keep Dirty Joe on the ride all day. They have fun watching Joe ride, until a crowd of white people starts laughing too. Realizing what they have done, Sadie and Victor try to leave, but Victor turns back when he sees that Dirty Joe has woken up. He rushes back to help him as he gets off the roller coaster and vomits, humiliated by the crowd. The attendant points out Victor as the one responsible for the prank, and a security guard chases him into the funhouse. He stares at his distorted reflection in a mirror.
“Amusements” features an epigraph from Adrian C. Louis, a Lovelock Paiute author whose realist fiction about reservation life shares many characteristics with Alexie’s work. In the epigraph, a Native American narrator characterizes himself as having endless reserves of sadness, even though he has been hardened by a difficult life. This is appropriate for “Amusements,” one of the darkest stories in the collection. It portrays Victor, Sadie, and Dirty Joe suffering not only the consequences of poverty and alcoholism, but also the ridicule of the white carnival-goers.
The title of “Amusements” is ironic. Tonally, it contrasts with the story’s bleak mood. The title’s significance to the plot is multi-layered: it refers not only to Sadie and Victor’s cruel prank on Dirty Joe, but also the amusement of the white people observing the prank. Alexie suggests that the seemingly trivial "amusements" enjoyed by the characters in the story begin to seem sinister when placed in the context of the historically tense relationship between Native Americans and white Americans.