Throughout the collection, Alexie suggests that the most intense relationships often combine elements of both love and hate. He introduces this concept in "Every Little Hurricane", when Victor interprets his uncles' bloody fistfight as an expression of love. Norma and Jimmy Many Horses' marriage is another example of this kind of conflicted relationship. They love each other and are deeply compatible, but in "The Approximate Size of My Favorite Tumor", Norma leaves Jimmy briefly because she cannot stand his lighthearted attitude toward his own terminal cancer. Yet despite her frustration, Norma eventually returns to Jimmy because their love outweighs even the biggest flaws in their relationship. Through this story, Alexie demonstrates that if love is true, it can overcome a substantial amount of hate.
Each story in The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven showcases the hardships of Native American life in the late 20th century (many of which still exist today). These include poverty, alcoholism, racism, and isolation from society outside one's reservation. However, Alexie also emphasizes the inner strength and resilience that helps many Native Americans cope with these problems. In "Because My Father Always Said...", he writes, "Indians were pretty much born soldiers anyway. Don’t need a uniform to prove it" (29). Alexie makes a similar point in "The First Annual All-Indian Horseshoe Pitch and Barbecue". In that story, Victor plays a composition by Béla Bartók at a reservation carnival; the narrator suggests that the audience identifies with the music because of its "beautiful dissonance and implied survival" (146).
Many of the characters in The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven benefit psychically from telling stories. Alexie suggests that storytelling offers both catharsis and an avenue for Native Americans to preserve their history and their cultural traditions. He depicts many kinds of storytelling in the collection. For example, Thomas Builds-the-Fire tells surreal stories that often have natural or historical settings. His stories offer insight on tribal history and how the Native American experience has changed over time. Victor also likes to tell stories, but his stories are very different. Like Alexie, Victor's stories are bleak and realistic. They address contemporary life on the reservation. In "A Good Story", the unnamed narrator (who is most likely Victor) tells an uplifting story of friendship after his mother complains that he only tell sad stories about Indian life. Storytelling is an important mechanism of both reality and hope.
Forgiveness is a problematic concept in this collection, and Alexie addresses it from different angles in different stories. He often depicts forgiveness as a crucial element in helping characters relate to each other; it plays a prominent role in several stories including "Somebody Kept Saying Powwow" and "This Is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona". However, Alexie's fiction is also preoccupied with portraying the Native American experience on a broader level, and he also addresses the question of historical forgiveness. Native Americans have been subjected to a variety of atrocities in recent history, and Alexie is more tentative about whether his reverence for interpersonal forgiveness should be applied to American history. In "Imagining the Reservation", he suggests that Native Americans can overcome their tragic history not necessarily by forgiving, but through the use of imagination and creativity to craft a better future.
Alcoholism is a very serious problem in the Native American community, and Alexie depicts a reservation where many of the inhabitants' lives have been destroyed by drinking. Alcohol often plays a role in the collection's darker stories, such as "Amusements", "The Only Traffic Signal on the Reservation...", and "A Train Is an Order of Occurrence...". In each of these stories, alcohol leads the characters to behave cruelly and make tragic mistakes that could otherwise have been avoided. Alexie also uses alcoholism as a vehicle for characterization. Characters' decision to drink or abstain is often a reflection of their personality, as is their response to other characters that drink. For example, Norma Many Horses drinks relatively responsibly but is very tolerant of characters like Victor, who drink to excess. This reinforces her status as a compassionate, responsible community leader.
Tradition plays an important role in the lives of Alexie's characters, whether they realize it or not. Some characters, such as Thomas Builds-the-Fire and Norma Many Horses, feel great reverence toward traditional Spokane culture. Thomas and Norma both make a point of participating in Spokane storytelling, dance, and ceremonies, and they encourage others to do the same. However, Victor, Junior Polatkin, and James Many Horses have a more distant relationship with tradition. Victor actively makes fun of certain aspects of traditional culture at several points in the collection. Nevertheless, they often find that their worldview is informed by Spokane tradition even when they don't realize it. This is a central theme in "A Drug Called Tradition", in which Victor and his friends take psychedelic mushrooms and have disturbing visions about Native American history, only to be comforted by Big Mom, the tribe's spiritual leader. Tradition permeates the life of every character, no matter how far removed they are from the ways of their culture.
Spirituality plays a subtle but important role in Alexie's fiction. Characters in this collection rarely engage in any kind of religious practice, and spirituality is not discussed as explicitly as some of the book's other themes. Nevertheless, Alexie often describes his characters in religious terms. The collection contains numerous references to both Christianity and traditional Spokane spirituality. For example, young James's similarities to Jesus Christ play an important role in establishing the tone of "Jesus Christ's Half-Brother...". Likewise, Samuel Builds-the-Fire's story about the creator god Coyote reveals a great deal about his attitude towards white people in "A Train Is an Order of Occurrence...". Through this system of comparisons and allusions, Alexie shows that religion and mythology give people tools to understand the world around them, regardless of how spiritual they are in practice.
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