A Comparison of Two Modern Short Stories: "This Is What It Means To Say Phoenix, Arizona"

A Comparison of Two Modern Short Stories: “This Is What It Means To Say Phoenix, Arizona”
by Sherman Alexie, and “The Love of My Life” by T.C Boyle

            The society is generally described as something that is always changing, always adapting to the present situation.  And so, it is just likely that the stories from different points of history would differ - A Comparison of Two Modern Short Stories: "This Is What It Means To Say Phoenix, Arizona" introduction. That is because the concerns and the challenges of the times are changing. Stories are mere expression of our concerns and the challenges we face. We could see how the concerns of Shakespearean works differ from modern day works. This paper will feature modern day works, particularly modern versions of the short story genre. The two works would be “This Is What It Means To Say Phoenix, Arizona”by Sherman Alexie, and “The Love of My Life” by T.C Boyle. A common theme between two stories is that they are both about stories of young individuals. Ultimately, both stories in many respects depict the mindset of young people of the modern era.

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Alexie’s “This Is What It Means To Say Phoenix, Arizona”, is basically about a young man of Indian descent, Victor, trying to get to Phoenix to retrieve the remains of his dead father. The initial conflict was that Victor does not have the enough amount to go to Phoenix. He had asked the council, who is supposed to help in this kind of situations, to lend him some money. But the council only gave him a hundred bucks which was not even enough to buy him a one way ticket. A childhood friend, Thomas Builds-The-Fire, offers him some help. Victor has no other option but accept the offer of Thomas. IT would be revealed in the later parts of the story that Victor had brutally beaten Thomas when they were still younger.

  On the other hand, Boyle’s “The Love of My Life” is basically a story about a modern young couple. The relationship of China and Jeremy involves the controversial premarital sex. During the initial parts of the story, the couple think of teenage pregnancy as something detestable. China and Jeremy even describe teenagers who become pregnant as “Breeders.” The conflict will arise when China got pregnant. Expectedly, Jeremy does not want to be a father yet. He constantly persuades China to abort the child—and they did at a motel. The issue would be disputed in court and Jeremy’s arguments would be “there was no baby”, just blood and mucus, nothing but a mistake. The story would end with the young couple separated. Interestingly, regardless of what had transpired, China still refers to Jeremy as “the love of my [her] life.”

The setting for Alexie’s “This Is What It Means To Say Phoenix, Arizona” is not exactly mentioned in the text. However, with the abundance in clues, it is easy to conclude that the setting is an Indian habitation, a village perhaps. The existence of a tribe council also tells the readers that the place still upholds old traditions. As for the case of, Boyle’s “The Love of My Life”, the setting was not also explicitly determined. But reading the story would lead the readers to think that the story had transpired within an urban or “modern-thinking” society community.


Before we traverse further in the comparison of the characters, it would be essential to describe the context of the stories. In Alexie’s “This Is What It Means To Say Phoenix, Arizona”, the characters are Indian Americans. On the other hand, “The Love of My Life” by T.C Boyle is about a middle class high-school couple. From the context alone, there could much said about the two stories. The characters in “The Love of My Life” are seemingly privileged, even spoiled, young people. The situation of China and Jeremy is in great contrast to the situation of Victor and Thomas.

             Another kind of human relationship was portrayed in the story Love of My Life. In this case, however, the relationship is more of a romantic kind, exceeding friendship that was salient in the relationship of Victor and Thomas. Although different, the two characters have similarities with Victor and Thomas in terms of their relationship with each other. Both couples may treat each other harshly at some points in the story. In this is what it means to say Phoenix, Arizona, Thomas and Victor are often confronted to situations where they argue with each other. These arguing were commonly brought by both character’s opposite outlook and views towards life. While Victor is a more of the realistic type of person, Thomas was characterized as being fascinated with stories that are arguably only products of his imagination. However, even if the two shares the opposite personality, they nevertheless managed to keep their friendship alive, at least during when the two were travelling to pick- up the remains of Victor’s father. Thomas and Victor know how to give and receive. Because of this, a balance in their relationship was formed.

            China and Jeremy can also be compared to Thomas and Victor. The couple illustrates the common scenario of young couples involved in fights and disagreements. Most of the conflicts arise from the discrepancy in the perspectives of the two. While Jeremy is more of a fun- loving type of person, China is a serious one who takes her studies gravely. Jim, although gives high regards to education, wants to enjoy his college life especially he is already on his senior year. China, however, often gives her one hundred focus and attention to her schooling. Although the two have this difference in their personalities, they still love each other. In addition, they share the same views regarding pre-marital sex. Although they practice it already, China and Jeremy both believes that pre-marital sex should be done with carefulness and full responsibility. They both believe that if they do not become careful with their actions, they would only produce a bunch a babies. Furthermore, they know that being careless would only led them to be likened to other couples whom they referred in the story as simply “breeders”. They do not want to be like them that is why they try to be careful as often as they can.

            Another aspect that defines the differences in the personalities of the characters is their way of handling their problems. In the first story, when Victor was faced to the challenge of bringing the remains of his father from the latter’s place, he did not simply surrender his hope of finding a better way of getting the task done. Instead, he looked for other means to gather money and Thomas proved to be of a big help. China and Jeremy also faced such kind of challenge when they found out about China’s pregnancy. But unlike the case of Thomas and Victor, the two characters opted to surrender their hopes of finding a better way to resolve the issue. Instead, they just sought the convenience being offered by abortion.

            Finally, the characters’ personalities in the two stories could be analyzed deeper through their outlook on human nature’s committing of mistakes. This would particularly refer to their acceptance of mistakes done when still at young age. Both of them of them accepted the mistakes they have committed. In the case of Victor, this pertains to his beating and hitting Thomas without any valid reason when they were still kids. However, during the time they were together in the town of Victor’s father, Victor had the opportunity to apologize to Thomas. In that way, he accepted the mistake he has committed when he was young. In the case of China and Jeremy, though, the couples also saw the weight of their mistake towards the end of the story. Having involved in unwanted pregnancies is one of the challenges modern and young people of today experience. This situation did not spare China and Jeremy.


            Both stories are products of the authors’ perception of two human relationships—friendship and romantic love. However, they portrayed the stories differently from the ones written before by traditional writers. Modernity plays a vital role in their stories as they saw how changes in our society have cultivated the minds of the young people of today.


Alexie, S. (1994). This Is What It Means To Say Phoenix, Arizona. Retrieved on 5 June 2008.

Boyle, T.C. (2000). The Love of My Life. Retrieved on 5 June 2008.




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