Childhood Friendship in Sherman Alexie`s Short Story

Categories: Sherman Alexie

'This is what it means to say Phoenix Arizona' is a short story written by Sherman Alexie that describes the story of Victor and his childhood friend Thomas Builds-the-Fire. Poets and novelists choose a specific setting that creates a perfect scene and contribute to the development of the story. Sherman Alexie used reservation as the major setting in the story but also used others such airplane, trailer in Phoenix, and pick-up truck on a road through Nevada. The native settings depicted in the short story allow the reader to put the context into the modern and current lens hence making it better to understand.

Importantly, the different settings help in creating and shaping the relationships between Victor and Thomas Builds-the-Fire. This essay provides the description of the various settings in the story and their role in changing the relationship between Victor and Thomas Builds-the-Fire.

The Reservation's Trading Post

The reserves were crowded with Native Americans that were seen as poor and no hope could be found in the place.

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Victor had high hopes of getting all the money for the air ticked but he lost hope when given $100 which could not cater even for a ticket. The trading post portrayed destruction where poverty, unemployment, and alcoholism resided. Through all these negativities, there rise Victor's friend, Thomas, who was hated, and many did not like to socialize with him because of his old stories but always had good intentions. On seeing Victor, Thomas expressed his sympathy over the death of his father and Victor is surprised how Thomas knew about the death of his father.

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Through all the poverty Thomas is willing to help with the remaining part of the money if he is taken along.

Victors father death makes Victor meet with his childhood friend and since they had parted ways when they grew, Thomas was still willing to help Victor under one condition that he would go with him. Victor had a decision whether to take Victor along or not. After long considerations he decided to take Thomas along and asked him how much he had. Thomas said, 'I’ve enough to take us down there, but you have to take us back.” Victor replied, 'and my dad had a savings account I’m going to claim” (Alexie 281). It is this situation that joined the old friends back, and they bonded like nothing ever happened for the lost years. Poverty and unemployment as displayed in the reserves made the two friends rekindle their friendship and join hands getting money to make the trip.

The Airplane

The airplane is yet another place that brings the two friends together as they prepare to go and take the ashes belonging to Victor’s father. As expected in an airplane, there are travelers and these play critical roles in strengthening the bond between the two friends. Before Victor and Thomas boarded the airplane, they were not in speaking terms as Victor has been attacked and beaten up by his drunken friend in their childhood, where he reminded him about it. Alcoholism is used in the story to illustrate how Victor views the society. He considers it Native Americans drink, and after that, they fail to find the reasons behind drinking, but according to him, he had many causes. The reasons include; the death of his father and lack of education and a future.

During their flight to his father's destination, they met with a white girl. The lady triggered the attention of both Victor and Thomas Builds-the-Fire. Thomas used humor in trying to get her attention and Victor felt embraced and closed his eyes. He said to the gymnast, “ |A|re you a gymnast or something?” (Alexie 281). Even though Alexie describes Thomas’s jokes as not funny, she laughed and seemed interested in hearing more. The artist elaborates on the clear distinction, and a problematic paradox resident Americans face and how they are isolated by their own and appreciated by outsiders. She sparks a conversation that gets Victors attention when she asked, whether he was an Indian. The motion continued to the end of the trip and this made the two realizes how much they were missing out for the year’s loss of friendship.

A Trailer in Phoenix

They board a taxi to the trailer and Thomas took this chance to apologize and said. In the taxi, the two were together and thus brought a perfect moment for the two to talk and tell stories. Victor seemed to have already forgiven Thomas. The author used irony denouncing that both Victor and Thomas could smell the cabin. It meant that the cabin was closer to the destination they were dropped by the taxi. The cabin smelt awful due to the exposed body of Victor’s father high degrees in the area.

The smell changes the mood as it is certain that his father is no more. Thomas remembers all the times they had together inform and the mood is all changed. In the trailer, the author introduces reminiscing, where Victor remembers how Thomas saved his life after he had sunken his foot in a wasp invaded territory. Also, Thomas remembers Victor's father and how it made him wait for a vision from up the hills, and he continues to tell him that all he would get there was being attacked. All he remembers being told was to take care of each other as Victor's father had a vision the two would remain to be friends till old age. He had a vision that one day these friends would need each other more, and he wanted the bond to stay forever but he did not tell anyone about the vision until they found out themselves (283). Thomas insists that Victor's father was right that they would need each other in the future, and he only asked he would come with Victor because of his father. It indicates that he had so much love for Victor's father.

Remembrance of the old memories when they were young from the trailer gave the two men reasons to rekindle the friendship. Their friendship bond was strengthened by remembrance of Victor’s father and the memories they got from the trailer. Victor was generous and loving as he let his childhood friend carry part of his father's ashes.

Pick-up Truck on a Road through Nevada

Journey through Nevada was a long journey using the truck left behind by Victor’s father. The author depicts traditionalism describing how they kept his father's ashes, saying it was supposed to be. He chronologically lists how they maintained the fathers' ashes in the pick-up saying they placed it cautiously behind the seat; put a cowboy hat on the wooden box and dodgers cap on the cardboard box (284). They say that that's how it was supposed to be done hence concluding it is tradition. The journey would be a long one, so they decided to take turns. Throughout the journey there seemed a strange view since the place was quiet and clear. There was nothing on their way or any obstacles until it was Thomas turn to drive and hit a long-eared Jackrabbit. Victor describes how he felt the loneliness and emptiness of the desert.

Thomas describes Victor as a careful person who takes care of what is surrounding him. He goes further to describe him as a selfless individual that would not even harm animals. Thomas was described as careless as he hit the only animal they came across on their way to Nevada. Victor sounds commanding in the car after Thomas hits the only animal they see after a long drive. He is so quick to judge as he tells Thomas that they have killed the only existing animal in the area.

The author pictures Thomas as persistent and ambitious as he continues to tell his stories even after everyone had stopped listening. In his mind, he only had one wish that his childhood friend would attend one of his storytelling sessions. Thomas described how Victor's father would reincarnate after being thrown into the water, comparing his teeth with silver. Victor had the same intentions as Thomas, but he did not imagine his father emerging like a salmon, as Thomas described him. The pick-up truck through Nevada changed the whole mood of the story as it ends when the old friends are in good terms and forgotten about all their differences.

At the ending of the story, Thomas tries to get back his lost friend to attend his shows. Victor showed his friend that childhood friendship was not over when he agreed to come to the show, and this was a significant step for rekindling their friendship.

Updated: Nov 01, 2022
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Childhood Friendship in Sherman Alexie`s Short Story. (2021, Oct 08). Retrieved from

Childhood Friendship in Sherman Alexie`s Short Story essay
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