The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven

The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven Summary and Analysis of "The First Annual All-Indian Horseshoe Pitch and Barbecue"

Summary

The anonymous narrator of this story tells about a time that Victor bought a used piano. He plays a Béla Bartók composition at the reservation carnival, and the music’s dissonance resonates with the Indian audience, who feel it reflects their troubled history. The narrator relaxes with his girlfriend under a picnic table and enjoys the simple beauty of the carnival.

A man named Simon wins the horseshoe pitch, the storytelling contest, and the one-on-one basketball tournament. He tells a story about how Indians used to be able to walk across the Spokane River on the backs of salmon, and reminds the carnival-goers that basketball was invented the year after the battle of Wounded Knee.

The story ends with a surreal interlude as evening falls. The Indians run and dance, and an anonymous woman holds a mixed-race baby and remarks, “Both sides of this baby are beautiful” (148).

Analysis

In “A Good Story”, the narrator’s mother complains that he only tells bleak stories about life on the reservation. “The First Annual...” appears immediately after “A Good Story” in the collection, and in some ways, it functions as an example of the type of "good story" about contemporary Native American life. Although many of the characters harbor resentment towards white Americans and their culture, Alexie suggests that empathy and shared experience are the keys to overcoming historic grudges. The Bartók composition is the first hint of this kind of reconciliation. Although it was written decades earlier by a European composer and is very different from what the audience normally listens to, the Indians are able to identify their own history of strife within the music’s dissonance. This sets the stage for the anonymous woman’s observation at the end of the story that both sides of the mixed-race infant are beautiful.

“The First Annual...” straddles the line between realist and surreal narration. The first half of the story evokes the collection’s realistic stories about Victor, such as “Amusements” and “This Is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona”. It features many of the same characters that appear in the other Victor stories, and the narrative style is fast-paced, emphasizing action rather than description. However, this story is unique in that it is about Victor but is narrated by a secondary character in the story, as opposed to an omniscient narrator or Victor himself. Yet the final section has more in common with the visions in “Crazy Horse Dreams” and “A Drug Called Tradition”. The last section’s style is impressionistic and emphasizes lush, poetic language over the utilitarian storytelling of the earlier portion of the story.

The term "Skin" appears here for the second time in the collection. It was first mentioned in “Distances,” a fantastical, post-apocalyptic vision about what happens after a mysterious event wipes out all white people. In “Distances” the word "Skin" is used for Native Americans who lived on the reservation prior to the apocalyptic event; they are contrasted with Urbans, who had moved into the cities. The use of this term in “The First Annual...” emphasizes the purity of these characters’ experience of reservation life.