Resonating within the piece, “The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven,” composed by Sherman Alexie, is a representation of an antagonistic relationship between the Native American people and Western civilization. Throughout this intricate short story, Alexie illustrates the emotional difficulties modern day Native Americans undergo as they reside within a disillusioned native community plagued with poverty and alcoholism. Alexie introduces a young Native American man that is constantly bombarded with racial discrimination and internalized racism, inevitably detaching him from his own cultural essence and descending him into an agonizing pit of isolation. The Native American man is seen as a burden towards Eurocentric society as his encounters with individuals of Caucasian descent had always been negative; he narrates his racially profiled confrontation by a white 7-11 employee, the detrimental relationship he had with his white ex-girlfriend, and his encounter with the police officer profiling his race as a threat to a white suburban neighborhood.
Rather than utilizing a traditional narrative structure of events, Alexie’s sporadic storytelling aligns with the narrator’s aimless direction in life and his overall paramount struggle in finding his true identity within a socially unjust world. In this brief piece of literature, Alexie presents the fragmented narrative of a young, unidentified Native American man undergoing alienation and self-estrangement within a nation dominated by western culture.
Although the narrator returns to his native Spokane reservation, the detrimental impacts of western civilization had stripped away his sense of belonging within his own environment. In “The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven,” Sherman Alexie reveals that the narrator had previously left to Seattle in order to pursue his personal goals and ambitions. According to the narrator, “ …I was special, a former college student, a smart kid. I was one of those Indians that was supposed to make it, to rise above the rest of the reservation like a fucking eagle or something. I was a new kind of warrior,” ( Alexie 386). In this quote, the narrator is implying that since he is a minority residing within predominantly white society, the levels of expectations are set higher for him, especially since he received a college education. In order to achieve the success that is expected of him, he decided to relocate and discovery a new world in which he can conquer with pride.
Unfortunately, the narrator is instead defeated by a crippling state of isolation that has taken over his mental state, resorting to alcohol and physical violence as a temporary escape. The feeling of isolation has been gradually manifesting within the narrator’s state of mind, and became more apparent the longer he stayed in Seattle. Due to his recurring nightmares that were worsening day by day, he immediately returned to his Spokane reservation, only to be welcomed by the same sense of displacement he had felt in Seattle. The narrator evidently feels troubled with his empty direction in life and he begins to state that, “[t]hese days living alone in Spokane, I wish I lived closer to the river, to the falls where ghosts of salmon jump. I wish I could sleep. I put down my paper or book and turned off all the lights, lie quietly in darkness,” (Alexie 387). In this quote, it is evident that the narrator’s state of mind is deteriorating progressively and further isolating himself within the confinement of the reservation. The narrator is used to dwelling within the shadows of a white civilization. Throughout the short story, the narrator is unwilling to accept the instituted western culture in America, gaining a sense of alienation within its society as a whole.
Since the narrator fails to present his name in the story, this indicates that he is unable to identify himself as he lives in a western society. As soon as the narrator stepped into a 7-11 for the sole purpose of a Creamsicle, he was already identified as a criminal by a white 7-11 employee. Upon closer examination of white employee, the narrator noticed that “[h]e swallowed hard like a white man does in those situations. I looked him over. Same old green, red, and white 7-11 jacket and thick glasses. But he wasn’t ugly, just misplaced and marked by loneliness,” (Alexie 384). The juxtaposition of these two judgments, the white employee identifying the Native American narrator as a criminal and the narrator identifying the employee as a lonely, displaced individual, overall states that the 7-11 worker is a reflection of his current state of mentality. While the worker, may be white, he had been fond of him due to this personal connection. It seems as though the narrator is willing to search for any familiarity as he resides within a white society. In addition, while driving around Seattle, the narrator also states that, “[s]ometimes, though, I would forget where I was and get lost. I’d drive for hours, searching for something familiar. Seems like I’d spent my whole life that way, looking for anything I recognized,” (Alexie 383). Native American culture is rare to encounter within a white civilization. The narrator’s sense of identity is lost within the premises of a western culture.
Although the narrator attempts to relieve his state of isolation through a personal relationship, the sense of estrangement could never be truly ignored. In “The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven,” Sherman Alexie displays the violent, yet repetitive relationship between the narrator and his white girlfriend. The narrator states that, “[i]n Seattle, I broke lamps. She and I would argue and I’d break a lamp, just pick it up and throw it down. At first, she’s buy replacement lamps, expensive and beautiful. But after a while she’d buy lamps from Goodwill or garage sales. Then she just gave up the idea entirely and we’d argue in the dark,” (Alexie 384). The constant arguments illustrate how as the narrator moves to Seattle, he still cannot conform to society’s standard, let alone even develop a successful relationship with an individual of Caucasian descent.When his girlfriend stopped purchasing lamps in general, that signified her lack of understanding upon the narrator’s hardships in society. Their relationship descends into darkness as the arguments become more incoherent to the narrator’s point of view.
The narrator’s feeling of alienation return once more as his relationship begins to display antagonistic behavior. He comes to the conclusion that in order to escape the feeling of isolation, he returns back to his Spokane reservation.
In the short story, “The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven,” Sherman Alexie provides the recurring theme of isolation and self-isolation among Native Americans living in America. The narrator undergoes a series of hardships a modern Native American faces within a western society. As a Native American, the narrator deals with constant racial discrimination due to his race. Western civilization looks down upon him and entraps him within his own bubble of isolation.