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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Symbols & Motifs

Spokane Falls

The reservation that Victor and Thomas live on is near Spokane Falls, which the story implies is a culturally important site to the tribe. Thomas, for example, mentions migrating salmon leaping up the waterfall, evoking the historical reliance of the Spokane people on salmon fishing. This natural wonder is now surrounded by the town of Spokane, Washington, and overtaken by American culture, evoking Alienation from Cultural Identity via imperialism. Nevertheless, the falls continue to play a culturally important role, appearing in Thomas’s dream as the prospective site of a vision and later serving as the place where Thomas and Victor plan to scatter the ashes of the latter’s father. The act of returning Victor’s father to the falls represents their desire to bring him home literally as well as figuratively, reintegrating him within the cultural life of the tribe. As Thomas puts it, “[Y]our father will rise like a salmon, leap over the bridge, over me, and find his way home” (327). Victor returning his father to Spokane Falls therefore also symbolizes the potential of accepting his cultural identity. This symbolism dovetails with the symbolism of water generally; it often suggests cleansing or letting go, while flowing water (as in a waterfall) evokes the natural course of life.

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