Sherman Alexie’s novel The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven depicts how reservation Indian’s survive their hardships that mainstream society has put on them, with the use of emotion and imagination. Survival for Alexie’s Indians is, “not to slow dance with [their] skeletons (21).” The reservation skeletons are the anger of the past and the dreams of the future that each Indian needs to combine to survive in the present. Alexie’s novel shows these different phases through his characters that are trying to find the combination to survival.
In Funhouse Aunt Nezzy is trapped within a patriarchal society, which has oppressed her talents and her dreams. Living in an environment where there is no respect for women has suppressed Aunt Nezzy’s ability to understand her path in life. Her craft of making buckskin outfits gives her, her only hope, ” a woman comes along who can carry the weight of this dress on her back, then we’ll have found the one who will save us all (76).” Aunt Nezzy’s imagination gives her strength by looking into the future for hope of a savior however; her environment helps her realize that she is lingering in her dreams.
Anger from past oppression from Aunt Nezzy’s family and her dreams of a savior triggers a reaction that helps Aunt Nezzy’s balance her skeletons. ” She stood, weakly. But she had the strength to take the first step, then another quick one. She heard drums, she heard singing, she danced. Dancing that way, she knew things were beginning to change,” Alexie not only shows that Aunt Nezzy anger has triggered her to stop the oppression within her home but she know holds the power to change it for all Indian women (82). The images and anger of the past have helped Aunt Nezzy find her life within the present by reminding her that Indian women are strong and can bear the
weight of the reservation.
Other characters within Alexie’s novel, like Thomas Builds-the -Fire, remain in one phase of the survival equation. Thomas imagination keeps him close to his skeleton of the future, which makes him an outsider, “he looked around our world and then poked his head through some hole in the wall into another world (Alexie 14).” Thomas is a modern day storyteller who has many images that can teach his people how to look into the future.
However, Thomas does realize that he holds the power to trigger others people emotion by the power of his words, “that contained more emotion and meaning than entire sentences constructed by the BIA. A noise that sounded like rain had given Esther courage enough to leave her husband, tribal chairman David Walksalong (Alexie 94).” Alexie shows that Thomas is holding on to the future when he does not get anger at the fact that he was sent to jail because he has inspired someone to learn how to survive.
In fact, mainstream society is scared of Thomas’s gift of storytelling, ” a storytelling fetish accompanied by an extreme need to tell the truth. Dangerous,” because his stories trigger people ideas of survival (Alexie 93)”. These futuristic stories Thomas tells gives Alexie’s Indians images of a society where,
“Custer could have, must have, pressed the button, cut down all the trees, opened up holes in the ozone, flooded the earth. Since most of the white people died and most of the Indians lived, [he] decided only Custer could have done something that backward (104).”
Thomas character in the novel is to be a mediator in helping other Indians realizes that there is a future of hope for the reservation Indians. Alexie shows Thomas’s character as being close with his future skeleton to portrait someone that can help trigger the survival equation within the reservation.
On the other hand, Victor is stuck dancing with his past skeleton according to Alexie’s survival equation. . In All I Wanted to do was Dance Victor believes he can solve his problem about the woman that left him by flashback to the good times. However, his flashbacks are only filled with violence and alcohol that make him anger about his behavior towards his lover,
“It happened that way. He thought one more beer could save the world. One more beer and every chair would be comfortable. One more beer and the light bulb in the bathroom would never burn out. One more beer and her would love her forever. One more beer an he would sign any treaty for her (Alexie 88).”
The alcohol that Victor consumes seems to be his only way of coping with a loss. This method of suppressing anger has been passed down from Victor’s parents, which is shown through flashbacks of his parents when they were still together, “they were both
drunk. Everything familiar and welcome (Alexie 87).” The cause for victors lingering with his past skeleton is that he was taught by his parents how to survive by drinking problems away which causes Victor to search for a more adequate survival method.
Alexie’s characters in The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven all are searching for the proper way to balance their skeletons, “but, no matter what they do, [they need to] keep walking, keep moving [with their skeleton]. And don’t wear a watch (22).” If Alexie’s Indians stop and linger with the past or the future they well not be able to survive in the present. This problem of dancing slow with their skeleton is seen in Victor and Thomas but both their cases are different. Thomas is a mediator and helps other find their path to survival and Victor is now learning how to search from mistakes made by his parents in the past. Showing these different stages Alexie’s has shown that his Indians are able to cope with societies hardships through their journeys of finding themselves.
Alexie. Sherman. The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. 1993