The Lone Ranger & Tonto Fistfight in Heaven
Sherman Alexie’s, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven is a combination of short stories that highlight the many struggles that Native Americans faced within their culture as well as trying to fit in with the “American” culture. Throughout the story, we see Alexie help the reader understand the challenges that were being faced by all the American Indian characters in the book through ideas or thoughts that infuses the everyday culture of white society and show the contrast that the Native American characters faced trying to blend in with that society.
In the story “The Lone Ranger and the Tonto Fistfight in Heaven” (pgs. 181-190), we see Victor reminiscing about how he branched out from the Spokane Indian Reservation and attempted to live his own life in Seattle, Washington. Victor has a relationship with a white woman, and that is when he started to notice how he, and his people, could never be a part of American culture.
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He sees that the American society is always going to judge him because “dark skin and long black hair…was dangerous” (pg. 183).
Since he did not look like the typical Caucasian American person, he was always going to be suspicious because he had the potential to do something bad, like a shoot up the cashier at 7-11 at 3 in the morning. The whole scene where Victor is going to buy a creamsicle from 7-11 is a great example of how Victor realizes that he could never be a part of the white culture. The “graveyard shift cashier” (pg. 181) is used to represent the stereotypical white person, who Victor has to try and win over by “proving” he is not dangerous, and will not hurt them.
He breaks the ice by asking the worker if he knows all the words to the Brady Brunch theme song (pg. 184). This question is followed by a startled look and then a laugh, which shows the ease of tension on the cashier’s part. The ease of tension on the cashier’s part displays that Victor had succeed in breaking the stereotype that the white cashier had of Native Americans. By Victor doing this it also shows that he has a character predicament. He is being identified by the color of his skin, and the length of his hair, rather than him being identified as Victor an individual.
At that moment, he has come to the realization that the labels hold true, and that no matter how “American” he may feel, he will never be perceived as that because of ethnicity. There was another instance where his ethnicity comes into play. In the same short story, we see Victor trying to just clear his mind by taking a drive after he gets into a fight with his girlfriend. On pages 182-183, Victor gets pulled over by a cop because he was “making people nervous” and that Victor “[didn’t] fit the profile of the neighborhood”.
Victor is being racially profiled, because the neighbors of that predominantly white neighborhood and the white police officer felt threatened, just because he was not one them and they did not believe that he could fit in with their culture. Both of those examples are of how white pop culture comes into play. In both instances, Victor is judged based on preconceived notions of what white people were taught about Victor’s Native American culture.
This makes it hard for Victor to find his identity because he longs to be a part of the American culture, because he does not see the difference between him and others, but the others see a difference between themselves and him. Since they are the majority, and he is the minority, if they do not accept them open-heartedly, there is no way for him to truly be accepted because each and every time he is going to have to break those stereotypes that they have of him because of his skin tone, because of how he wears his hear, because of his ethnicity, and because of his identity.
He is always identified as a Native American, rather than Victor, who just happens to be of Native American heritage. The white community is an exclusive group, and as much as he tries to join the group, he is always shunned. Another community that Victor is shunned from is his own Spokane Indian Reservation community. After his year in Seattle, he returns to the reservation. He enters a depression-like state, stating that all he did was watch TV all day, and when his mother asked him, “What are you going to do for the rest of your life?
And he responded, “Don’t know” (pg. 187). Later in the story he explains that because of his educational advantages, like going to college, he was thought to be someone from the reservation who was going to “make it” (pg. 188). Now, he is feeling disconnected with the society that has accepted him from the beginning, because he did not succeed in becoming what he was always thought to become. His initial plan was to leave the reservation in hopes of making a name for himself and finding his own individual identity, but he could not do that.
The fact that he could not assimilate himself into another culture shows that he could not submerge himself into another culture, which also makes him go through an identity crisis because he wants to identify with one culture, but he cannot. I believe that Victor did not want to identify with the Native American culture, because he had the longing to leave the reservation, and because he had a relationship with a white woman. I do not think Victor wanted to be “white”, but he wanted to be “American”, which in American culture is synonymous with white and that is why he never belonged.
When he went back home to the reservation, he also did not feel the connection with that culture, which played a role in his identity crisis. He could not fully identify himself into both cultures, let alone one. I think that Victor comes to the realization that as much as he wants to be an individual, and to be identified as himself, he cannot because of society. As much as he tries to change the stereotypical views that people perceive of him, he realizes that he cannot change the mind of every person in the world that is judging him. He longs for a world where he can be an individual.