28 pages 56 minutes read

Sherman Alexie

This Is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona

Fiction | Short Story | Adult | Published in 1993

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Character Analysis

Victor

Victor is a young Spokane man and the protagonist of the story. Where others on the reservation have English first names and Indigenous last names, such as Norma Many Horses or Thomas Build-the-Fire, Victor’s last name is never given, indicating his Alienation from Cultural Roots.

The death of Victor’s estranged father sets his character arc into motion. Alexie establishes Victor’s initial state mostly indirectly, via his inner thoughts; outwardly, Victor is closed off. Victor’s coolness toward characters like Thomas Builds-the-Fire contrasts with his private reflections, which reflect shame, insecurity, and frustration. For example, after brushing off Thomas’s offer of help in the Trading Post, Victor recalls a happy childhood memory, his body language suggesting weary sadness or even regret: “He held his head in his hands and thought about Thomas Builds-the-Fire, remembered little details, tears and scars, the bicycle they shared for a summer, so many stories” (320).

Such flashbacks and private moments reveal Victor’s underlying desire for connection and community and illustrate how he has grown embittered since his youth—e.g., his and Thomas’s celebration of the Fourth of July, which is one of the only instances in the story where Victor seems happy. The fireworks are disappointing, and the boys acknowledge that the Fourth of July does not represent freedom for them as Indigenous Americans, but they laugh and show gratitude for what they do have.

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