The writer discusses Sherman Alexie's book of interlinked short stories The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven. He reads the book as a literary construction as well as a work born of a particular culture and artistic tradition. By doing so, he insists on a more complicated understanding of its content, shape, and meanings in a critique of folklore theories that limit our concepts of the power and dimensions of shaped words. He also challenges the popular but simplistic notion that Native American writing is somehow more “oral” than other texts.
The writer examines Sherman Alexie's collection of short stories The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven. He maintains that the Spokane Indian characters that populate Alexie's stories struggle continually against passivity, cynicism, and despair to find healing for the pain that evolves into self-pity and the anger that evolves into self-loathing. Using skeletons as a metaphor for the memories, dreams, and voices that accompany one into the present and the future, he contends, Alexie suggests the dialogic nature of Indian subjectivity and advocates a type of synchronized cooperation between subjects and their skeletons. In these stories, he argues, the characters that stay in step with their skeletons achieve a clarifying introspection that enables them to see themselves in relation to the past, present, and future.
Dancing, storytelling, drums, chants: these ceremonial rituals affirm the Indians' need for community, their spiritual legacy, and an empowering sense of who they are. These are the weapons modern Indian warriors need to overturn the white man's stereotypes, to integrate their identities, and to affirm their future survival. These are also the weapons that will convert passive readers into combative participants.
In this essay I will argue that Alexie's humor is central to a constructive social and moral purpose evident throughout his fiction but particularly in his collection of short stories, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven. He uses humor--or his characters use humor--to reveal injustice, protect self-esteem, heal wounds, and create bonds.
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