Sherman, Alexie. “This Is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona”.Literature: Reading, Reacting, Writing(2011): 162-175. Laurie G. Kirszner, Stephen R. Mandell: Cengage Learning. 28 Feb. 2013.
The story is written from the first person and structured around tidings of Victor’s father’s death in Phoenix, and the task of returning his ashes, modest savings and old pickup trailer back home. Victor, the native American who lives in reservation. Suddenly he gets message about his father`s death. Author is shortly picturing the life of people in reservation. No money, no work, no prospects for the future. Victor went to a tribal council to help him bring his father`s body back home from Phoenix, Arizona, where he died, but the council refused. One hundred dollars all he get. Then Thomas Builds-the-Fire, a local storyteller agreed to help Victor to get to Phoenix but with one condition – they should go together. Thomas is author`s most controversial character in meaning of being ensconced within his conservative tribal traditions still ready to critique them and add various ironies. He was a weird man and many tribesmen thought he was mad and stayed away from him. Thomas was always telling strange stories that one listened. When Victor asked how Thomas discovered about his father`s death he answered “I heard it on the wind. I heard it from the birds. I felt it in the sunlight”.
Men had known each other since childhood and a relationship between them was always stained. Victor not delighted by that idea but he had no choice.
Author is showing the importance of tradition in Indians society. He has to be buried on his own land whatever it takes. When they reached Victor father`s car it was not much left there: just a few old pictures and a stereo. The body had to be cremated so all son got was a box of ash, which he softly put on the back seat of the trailer and cover by a hat. Thomas remembered that he already met his father before. It was long time ago when he was thirteen. Once he had a dream that told him to go to the city of Spokane and wait for vision. Tom walked all way and finally reached it. It was a place where he met Victor`s father. He was a very kind man, feed Tom and drove him back home to the Indian reservation, allowing him to understand that his vision consisted of the meaning that people are existing to take care of each other. He said he is not going to tell anyone about this incident and Thomas will help Victor, his son if he ever needs one. Tom accepted the deal and so he is now. He asked only for one thing as a reward. At least one of his never-ending stories must be heard by Victor. The author claims the importance of respect, attention, and compassion in our life. Thomas, a storyteller which never been listened is asking to be his listener, because every story needs one.
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This vision and insight provide the main idea of Sherman Alexie`s novel. Thomas’s mother died long ago when he was a child, and grandmother raised him. However, he understands and sympathizes Victor`s loss in losing even a far from perfect father. Thomas’s companionship and help are simply given to Victor just like that to take care for him in physical and literal way to adulthood. The novel ends with the two young men back home in reservation. As they part after a long journey, in gratitude Victor gives half of his father’s ashes to Thomas, and they are planning to dispel it over the waters of river at Spokane Falls, composing and continuing the stories which Tom has been telling once again for a long time.