Alexie's Humorous Names

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by Don L. F. Nilsenand Alleen Pace Nilsen

The book becomes the movie!

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• In The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven Sherman Alexie uses names for ethnic identification, character development, plot development, and most of all humor, irony, and amusement.

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SAMUEL BUILDS-THE-FIRE• Samuel Builds-the-Fire was the father

of Samuel Builds-the-Fire, Jr., who was the father of Thomas Builds-the-Fire. All three of them had the gift of storytelling. Samuel could win bets by telling stories about nearby random objects (Alexie 132).

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• When all of his friends had died, and all of the younger Indians on the reservation had no time for his stories, “Samuel felt like the horse must have felt when Henry Ford came along” (Alexie 135).

• So he moved to Spokane and rented a small studio apartment. He filled the four corners of the room with plaster to make the room round. Then he painted a black circle in the middle of the ceiling that looked like the smoke hole of a tipi. Now, “it felt like home” (Alexie 135-136).

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THOMAS BUILDS-THE-FIRE• “‘Dam it, Thomas,’ Junior yelled. “How

come your fridge is always…empty?” (Alexie 12).

• Thomas walked over to the refrigerator, saw it was empty, and then sat down inside.

• “There,” Thomas said. “It ain’t empty no more.” (Alexie 12)

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• Thomas was a storyteller “with ratty old braids and broken teeth” that nobody wanted to listen to (Alexie 66).

• Victor was at the Trading Post, and Thomas looked at Victor, smiled, and walked over to him.

• “Victor, I’m sorry about your father.”• “How did you know about it?”• “I heard it on the wind. I heard it from

the birds. I felt it in the sunlight.” • “Also, your mother was just in here

crying” (Alexie 61).

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• When Victor asked Thomas to tell him a story, Thomas closed his eyes and said,

• “There were these two indian boys who wanted to be warriors. But it was too late to be warriors in the old way. All the horses were gone. So the two Indian boys stole a car and drove to the city. They parked the stolen car in front of the police station and then hitchhiked back home to the reservation” (Alexie 63).

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• As Victor and Thomas drove through Nevada with Victor’s father’s ashes, they were amazed at the lack of animal life. After Victor had driven for sixteen hours, Thomas started to drive.

• Finally, they saw their first animal in Nevada. It was a long-eared jackrabbit (Alexie 71).

• Just as they were congratulating themselves for finding something alive in the Nevada desert, the jackrabbit darted out into the road and under the wheels of the pickup (Alexie 72).

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• “Stop the…car,” Victor yelled.• “Oh, man, he’s dead,” said Victor as he

looked down at the squashed animal.• “Really dead.”• “The only thing alive in this whole state and

we just killed it…. You drive for a thousand miles and there ain’t even any bugs smashed on the windshield. I drive for ten seconds and kill the only living thing in Nevada.”

• “Yeah,” Victor said. “Maybe I should drive.”• “Maybe you should.” (Alexie 72)

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• After the trip, Victor felt that he owed Thomas something, so he handed Thomas the cardboard box which contained half of his father’s ashes.

• “Listen. I want you to have this.”

• Thomas took the ashes and smiled (Alexie 74).

Sherman Alexie’s Confessions of a Part Time Indian

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LYNN CASEY• Junior Polatkin and Lynn Casey kissed each

other. “Junior had never kissed a white woman before and he used his tongue a lot, reached for every part of her mouth, and tried to find out if she tasted different.”

• “‘Irish,’ Lynn broke the kiss and said, as if she read Junior’s mind. ‘I’m Irish’” (Alexie 238).

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NOAH CHIRAPKIN• Noa Chirapkin is the only Skin (reservation

indian) Victor knows who has traveled off the reservation.

• He told Victor he rode off for days and days, “but there were no cars moving, no planes, no bulldozers, no trees” (Alexie 106).

• Once the Others took Noah Chirapkin, tied him down to the ground, poured water down his throat until he drowned (Alexie 108).

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• “Lester FallsApart passed out on top of the stove and somebody turned the burners on high” (Alexie 10).

• “James Many Horses sat in the corner and told so many bad jokes that three or four indians threw him out the door into the snow” (Alexie 10).

• “James didn’t spend very much time alone in the snow. Soon Seymour and Lester were there , too. Seymour was thrown out because he kepf flirting with all the women. Lester was there to cool off his burns” (Alexie 10).

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EVE FORD• When Thomas Builds-the-Fire is trying

to defend himself in court, the bailiff is trying to restrain Eve Ford.

• She made a sudden “leap of faith” across the room toward Thomas.

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• The bailiff tried to restrain her, but “Eve stomped on the Bailiff’s big belly until two tribal policemen tackled her, handcuffed her, and led her away.

• “The judge was red-faced with anger; he almost looked Indian. He pounded his gavel until it broke” (Alexie 99).

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HUNGER AND PANG• Victor says, “Sometimes it does feel

like we are all defined by the food we eat…. My father and I would be potted meat product, corned beef hash, fry bread, and hot chili.”

• “Sometimes there was no food in the house. I called my father Hunger and he called me Pang.

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• In a chapter named, “Jesus Christ’s Half-Brother is Alive and Well on the Spokane Indian Reservation,” we are told about James between 1966 and 1974.

• In 1967, Frank and Rosemary’s house catches fire. Frank throws James out the window, and Victor runs over to catch him like a football hero, but James slips through his fingers and ends up looking “almost normal except the top of his head looks all dented in like a beer can” (Alexie 111-112).

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• In 1969, Victor takes James to the Indian clinic because he hasn’t spoken yet. “He’s strong enough to hold his body off the ground but he ain’t strong enough to lift his tongue from the bottom of his mouth to use the words for love or anger or hunger or good morning.”

• “Maybe he’s going to howl out the words when I least expect…, and he’ll yell out a cuss word in church or a prayer in the middle of a grocery store” (Alexie 116).

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• In 1969, Victor breaks his leg playing basketball and is taken to the hospital, where they ask him if this is his wife and son. He says yes, and they ask how old he is.

• Victor says “he’s almost four years old and they say his physical development is slow but that’s normal for an Indian child” (Alexie 118).

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• In 1973 James would watch Victor play basketball.

• He “sits on the sideline clapping when my team scores and clapping when the other team scores too. He’s got a good heart.”

• “He always talks whenever I’m not in the room or I’m not looking at him but never when anybody else might hear” (Alexie 128).

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DIRTY JOE• Dirty Joe got his name because he

cruised the taverns at closing time and drank all the half empties. Sadie and Victor found him passed out drunk near the carnival midway (Alexie 54).

• Victor said, “Sadie, let’s put him on the roller coaster,” and she agreed (Alexie 55).

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• “We loaded Dirty Joe into the last car and checked his pockets for anything potentially lethal. Nothing. Sadie and I stood there and watched Dirty Joe ride a few times around the circle, his head rolling from side to side, back and fourth. He looked like an old blanket we gave away” (Alexie 56).

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JOHN-JOHN• John-John and Joseph have a running

dialogue about his name:

• “Hey, John-John, why do you got two first names?”

• “Cuz you have to say anything twice to make it true?”

• “No, that ain’t it.”

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• “Cuz our parents really meant it when they named me?”

• “I don’t think so.”

• “Maybe it’s just a memory device?”• “Who knows?”

• “Cuz I’m supposed to be twins?”• “No, man, that’s too easy.”

• “Cuz Mother always had a stutter?”• Laughter (Alexie 229-230).

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JOSEPH• John-John had a picture of his older

brother Joseph, code named Geronimo. Joseph was a missing-in-action jet pilot, and in the picture he sat in full military dress in front of an American flag.

• “The photograph was folded, spindled, mutilated” (Alexie 224, 227).

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• When someone told Joseph that “Uranium has a half-life of one hundred thirty-five million years,” Joseph responded, “Sh_t, I can tell you stories that will last longer than that” Alexie 225).

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• New York Times Book Review editor Rich Nicholls called Sherman Alexie’s The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven “one of the major lyric voices of our time” (Alexie xiii).

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• After Alexie’s agent had read his manuscript, she said, “You’re not ready. I’ll take you on as a client, but we’re going to have to work on these stories for a year or two before I send them out to publishers” (Alexie xv).

• “But wait,” Alexie said, “I thought I was one

of the major lyric voices of our time” (Alexie xv).

• “According to the manuscript I’ve got sitting in front of me, you’re not even one of the major lyric voices on my desk.” (Alexie xv)

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• Alexie says that these days it is only Diane, his wife, who refers to him as “one of the major lyric voices of our time” (Alexie xvi).

• And this happens only when he stutters or mispronounces a word, or says something “so inane and arrogant that it defies logic” (Alexie xvi).

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• Alexie says, “This book could have easily been titled The Lone Ranger and Tonto Get Drunk, Fistfight, and Then Fall into Each Other’s Arms and Confess Their Undying Platonic Love for Each Other in Heaven Followed by a Long Evening of Hot Dog Regurgitation and Public Urination” (Alexie xviii).

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• Talking about forest fires, Victor says, “Somebody always starts a fire down at the Indian burial ground and it was about time for the Thirteenth Annual All-Indian Burial Grounds Fire, so Frank and Lester and I ran down to the fire station expecting to get hired (Alexie 111).

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JAMES MANY HORSES• James Many Horses signs his letters as

“James Many Horses III.”

• He’s the only James Many Horses on the reservation, “but there is a certain dignity to any kind of artificial tradition” (Alexie 168).

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NORMA MANY HORSES• Norma Many Horses was really young, but

everybody called her “grandmother” anyway, as a sign of respect (Alexie 199).

• “Norma was a warrior. She was powerful. She could have picked up any two of the boys and smashed their skulls together. But worse than that, she would have dragged them all over to some tipi and made them listen to some elder tell a dusty old story” (Alexie 65).

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• Norma was very very tall. When Raymond asked what tribe she was from, Jimmy said “Amazon” (Alexie 159).

• Jimmy liked Norma and told her that if he stole 1,000 horses, he’d give 501 of them to her.

• She responded, “And what other women would get the other 499?” (Alexie 160).

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MOSES MORNINGDOVE• When Frank and Rosemary

MorningDove die in a fire James becomes an orphan.

• Moses Morningdove says that since Victor saved James’s life he should be the one who raises him. It’s an Indian tradition (Alexie 112).

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ROSEMARY MORNINGDOVE• Near Christmas, Rosemary Morning Dove gave birth

to a boy. Rosemary said she was a virgin, but Frank Many Horses said it was his.

• “Rosemary MorningDove named him ___ which is unpronounceable in Indian and English but it means: ‘He Who Crawls Silently Through the Grass with a Small Bow and One Bad Arrow Hunting for Enough Deer to Feed the Whole Tribe.’”

• “We just called him James” (Alexie 110-111).

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LITTLE JIMMY ONE-HORSE• When Simon liked Jimmy One-Horse, he

called him “Jimmy Sixteen-and-One-Half-Horses.” When he didn’t like him, he called him “little Jimmy Zero-Horses.”

• Jimmy had a tumor. The X-rays showed that it was the size of a baseball, “shaped like one, too. Even had stitch marks” (Alexie 157).

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JUNIOR POLATKIN• In a chapter entitled “Indian Education” (171-

180), Alexie tells about Junior Polatkin’s first-grade through his sixth-grade.

• In first grade, Junior was always being picked on, so his indian names became “Junior Falls Down,” or “Bloody Nose,” or “Steal-His-Lunch,” or “Cries-Like-a-White-Boy” (Alexie 172).

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• Junior Polatkin won the basketball game between the Springdale Chargers and the Wellpinit Redskins. Norma Many Horses wrote up the win in the tribal newspaper:

• “Junior Polatkin tipi-creeped the Chargers by stealing the inbounds pass and then stealing the game away when he hit a three-thousand-foot jumper at the buzzer.”

• “I doubt we’ll be filing any charges against Junior for theft,” Tribal Chief of Police David WalksAlong said. “This was certainly a case of self-defense” (Alexie 206).

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• Norma Many Horses gave Junior Polatkin the Indian name of “Pete Rose” because they have so much in common.

• “Pete Rose played major league baseball in four different decades, has more hits than anybody in history.”

• “After all that…greatness, he’s only remembered for the bad stuff” (Alexie 210).

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• Junior Polatkin dreamed that he was a gunfighter with braids and a ribbon shirt. In his dreams, he gunned down Wild Bill Hickock, Bat Masterson and Billy the Kid.

• “Junior dreamed his name would be Sonny Six-Gun and he dreamed that white and Indian people would sing ballads about him” (Alexie 232).

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• After he graduated from High School, Victor said, “Why should we organize a reservation high school reunion? My graduating class has a reunion every weekend at the Powwow Tavern” (Alexie 180).

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JIMMY SHIT PANTS• Victor and his father saw Jimmy lying

on a sidewalk. “He wasn’t quite drunk, a few sips…actually. He had on a little red coat that couldn’t have been warm enough for a Spokane winter. But he had some good boots. Probably got them from Goodwill or Salvation Army” (Alexie 216).

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SIMON• At the “First Annual All-Indian Horseshoe

Pitch and Barbecue,” Simon won the horseshoe pitch with a double-ringer.

• He won the storytelling contest with a story about when the salmon in the Spokane River swam so thick that an Indian could walk across the water on their backs (Alexie 147).

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• Simon won the coyote contest by saying that “basketball should be our new religion. A ball bouncing on hardwood sounds like a drum.”

• Simon won the one-on-one basketball tournament with a “jump shot from one hundred years out.”

• And Seymour told Simon, “Winning all those contests makes you just about as famous as the world’s best xylophone player” (Alexie 147).

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• Simon was famous on the Spokane Indian Reservation for driving backwards. His car had only one gear, reverse, using his rear-view mirror as his guide.

• “He always obeyed posted speed limits, traffic signals and signs” (Alexie 156).

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SILAS SIRIUS• Silas Sirius was a reservation

basketball hero. Once he “grabbed that defensive rebound, took a step, and flew the length of the court, did a full spin in midair, and then dunked that… ball. I don’t mean it looked like he flew, or it was so beautiful it was almost like he flew. I mean, he flew, period” (Alexie 47).

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SUZY SONG• One day in 1969 when Victor comes

home from the Trading Post, Suzy Song is feeding James and rocking him like a boat or a three-legged chair.

• “I say no and I take James away and put him in his crib and I move into Suzy’s arms and let her rock and rock me” (Alexie 117).

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VICTOR • Victor is telling about a basketball game in

which his team had come from sixteen points down in the fourth quarter, and Victor was fouled. Both of his free throws clanged off the rim.

• Before that time, he was a 90 % free-throw shooter. After that night he was a 50 % free-throw shooter.

• He was a victim of what he called “Post-Traumatic Free-Throw Stress Syndrome” (Alexie xx-xxi).

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• Victor’s father said he met Victor’s mother at a party in Spokane. He tells Victor…

• “We were the only two Indians at the party. Maybe the only two Indians in the whole town” (Alexie 27).

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• “I thought she was so beautiful. I figured she was the kind of woman who could make buffalo walk on up to her and give up their lives” (Alexie 27).

• “Every time we went walking, birds would follow us around. Hell, tumbleweeds would follow us around” (Alexie 27).

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• Victor’s father was “the only indian who saw Jimi Hendrix play ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ at Woodstock” (Alexie 24).

• Later Victor’s family visited Jimi Hendrix’s grave, and had their picture taken lying down next to the grave (Alexie 31).

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• When Victor’s father died he was cremated and his ashes were placed in a wooden box, with enough left over to fill a cardboard box. “He always was a big man,” Thomas said.

• Victor carried one box and Thomas carried the other box to the pickup and they set the two boxes behind the seats.

• Then they put a cowboy hat on the wooden box and a Dodgers cap on the cardboard box (Alexie 71).

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DAVID WALKSALONG• David WalksAlong is Victor’s tribal


• He got his name from the fact that “WalksAlong walked along with BIA policy so willingly that he took to calling his wife a ‘savage in polyester pants.’” (Alexie 94)

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TREMBLE DANCER• Victor is in love with Tremble Dancer,

but he’s a Skin (who lives on the reservation), and she’s an Urban (who left the reservation and came back).

• The tribe doesn’t like the Urbans because they have developed White-man diseases (Alexie 105).

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• At first Tremble Dancer isn’t sick, but “she does have burns and scars over her legs. When she dances around the fire at night, she shakes from the pain” (Alexie 105).

• “Sometimes Tremble Dancer waits for me at the tree, all we have left. We take off our clothes, loincloth, box dress. We climb the branches of the tree and hold each other, watching for the Tribal Council.”

• “Sometimes her skin will flake, fall off, float to the ground. Sometimes I taste parts of her breaking off into my mouth. It is the taste of blood, dust, sap, sun” (Alexie 107).

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OLD JESSE WILDSHOE• Talking about Jimi Hendricks, Victor’s father said,

“Only the good die young,” Victor’s mother said, “Only the crazy people choke to death in their own vomit” (Alexie 32).

• Victor’s father asked, “Why you talking about my hero that way?” (Alexie 32).

• Victor’s mother responded, “Old Jesse WildShoe (a fancydancer) choked to death on his own vomit and he ain’t anybody’s hero” (Alexie 32, 122).

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JANA WIND• In 1970, Victor went to a Christmas party at

Jana Wind’s house. He got really drunk and Jana’s father, Ray, challenged him to a game of one-on-one basketball.

• They drove over to the highschool to the outside court which was covered with two feet of snow.

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• So Ray “smiles and pulls out a bottle of kerosene and pours it over the court and lights it up and pretty soon the snow is all melted down…

• …along with most of Lester FallsApart’s pants since he was standing too close to the court when Ray lit the fire” (Alexie 121).

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• Julius Windmaker was the best basketball player on the reservation. He was “the latest of a long line of reservation basketball heroes going all the way back to Aristotle Polatkin, who was shooting jumpshots exactly one year before James Naismith supposedly invented basketball” (Alexie 45).

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WOVOKA• Wovoka was the Paiute Ghost Dance


• He said, “All Indians must dance, everywhere, keep on dancing.”

• “Indians who don’t dance, who don’t believe in this word, will grow little, just about a foot high, and stay that way. Some of them will be turned into wood and burned in fire” (Alexie 104).

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• Ray Young Bear said, “There is something about trains, drinking, and being an indian with nothing to lose” (Alexie 130).

Sherman Alexie’s Confessions of a Part-Time IndianAlexie is the author and the illustrator.

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