The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven

The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven Summary and Analysis of "Because My Father Always Said He Was the Only Indian Who Saw Jimi Hendrix Play 'The Star-Spangled Banner' at Woodstock"

Summary

As a young man, Victor’s father beat a National Guard soldier during an anti-Vietnam war rally. A photographer captured the moment, and the resulting picture won a Pulitzer Prize and was featured in many news outlets. As a result of this incident, Victor’s father was imprisoned for two years. After being released, the first thing his father did was hitchhike to Woodstock, where he claims he was the only Indian to see Jimi Hendrix’s famous performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner”. Over the years, the father developed an attachment to that recording, and would often listen to it while drinking. He became even more dependent on alcohol and nostalgia after divorcing Victor’s mother.

Victor remembers several important moments with his father. On a long car ride in a blizzard, they discussed war and the importance of music. When Victor was younger, they visited Jimi Hendrix’s grave in Seattle. And when Victor’s father was gravely injured in a motorcycle accident, his mother visited him every day even though they were in the process of divorcing. After the divorce, Victor’s father moved to Phoenix and gradually fell out of touch with Victor and his mother. Victor missed him deeply and tried to focus on the good memories rather than the bad ones.

Analysis

This story further develops Victor as a character. Victor’s abandonment by his father helps explain why he grows bitter as he gets older (as seen in later stories in the collection, including “Amusements” and “A Good Story”). The information we get about Victor’s relationship with his father also sets the stage for “This Is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona”, a well-known story that chronicles the aftermath of Victor's father's death.

Like other stories in this collection, “Because My Father Always Said...” contains numerous allusions to religion. Victor compares his father’s drinking to a traditional ceremony (26). This cutting comparison reveals the importance of drinking in Victor’s father’s life. It is also a subtle jibe at the way that drinking has become an important "ceremony" for many people on the reservation, where alcoholism is rampant. However, Victor also refers to Christianity, noting that Jimi Hendrix was younger than Jesus Christ when he died. By referring to both religions, Alexie hints at the religious pluralism in Native American culture. In the 19th and 20th centuries, many Native Americans were forced to convert to Christianity, and Christianity is still followed by many Native Americans. However, traditional spirituality also informs modern Native American culture, and many Native Americans follow traditional beliefs to a greater or lesser extent. However, many Native Americans characterize traditional spirituality as a cultural practice that infuses daily life rather than a religion per se (Tinker).

“Because My Father Always Said...” features many examples of difficult but loving relationships. Victors’ parents’ marriage is deeply flawed, to the point that they seek a divorce. However, they also love each other intensely, as demonstrated by Victor’s mother’s faithful care for her husband while he is in the hospital. Victor and his father have a flawed but deeply meaningful relationship. Although they have had many intimate moments and understand each other well, Victor’s father ultimately leaves his son. This leaves Victor with many conflicting emotions. On the one hand, he misses the good times he had with his father and hopes that he will return one day; on the other, he resents his father for abandoning him in the first place. The problematic relationships in this story can be compared to Adolph and Arnold’s relationship in “Every Little Hurricane” and James and Norma Many Horses’ marriage in “The Approximate Size of My Favorite Tumor”.