The main characters Thomas, Victor and Junior all have family problems one way or another. First of all, the father figures in their lives are problematic; drunken and jobless fathers who can never fulfill their fatherhood responsibilities. Victor and Junior have already lost their fathers, and although Thomas’s father Samuel is alive, Thomas does not hesitate singing a mourning song, which is sung for dead people, when his father is lying on the kitchen table drunken and in a motionless position (Alexie, 1995, 100).
Mothers, on the other hand, because of having alcohol during pregnancy, are mostly responsible for the birth of unhealthy babies. They are too weak to raise their children properly. Victor’s mother Matilda starts a new affair with Harold, a White man, just a few weeks after Victor’s father Emery leaves home and goes to Phoenix (Alexie, 1995: 24-25). Junior’s mother is as irresponsible as Harold when she leaves her five children in the car in freezing weather in order to get a drink from a bar (Alexie, 1995: 110).
The spiritual emptiness, which has been created and can never be fulfilled by these dysfunctional and awkward parents, has always created and still creates problems for Thomas, Victor and Junior. They all adopt “Indian identity” from different points; however, their different standings do not change the result. In the reservation, they share the same fate. They are the children of the American Indians who have been left no choice but to struggle in order to survive and keep their vital life values. While doing this, they have lost much of their vigor and strength to lead a good life and to raise their children properly. Victor describes the in an ironic but provocative way the tragic circumstances American Indians are conceived in today’s America: “I was conceived during one of those drunken nights, half of me formed by my father’s whiskey sperm, the other half formed by my mother’s vodka egg. I was born a goofy reservation mixed drink…” (Alexie, 2005: 27).
Thomas, Victor and Junior feel the lack of a family unit which is actually an indispensable cultural value for American Indians, and they reflect their injured feelings in their dreams, visions and imaginations. Junior often dreams of his childhood days and his family; two sisters, two brothers and his parents whose names he cannot remember in his dreams. He dreams of the short and cheap vacations that they had in Spokane when his father had got the rent money for his wheat field in harvest time. He dreams of his parents’ funerals and he remembers in his dream that his siblings could not come to their parents’ funerals because of not having enough money to pay for the travel expenses. Spiritually hurt, Junior dreams of these pathetic days and when his siblings could not even afford to mourn properly (Alexie, 1995: 24).
In another dream, again shaped by childhood memories, Junior undertakes the responsibility of taking care of his siblings when his parents in order to get a drink from a bar leave them in the car all alone in freezing weather. In his dream, Junior to save gas does not run the heat, but instead gives potato chips and Pepsi to his siblings, not forgetting to distribute them evenly (Alexie, 1995: 110-111). Junior cries in his dream until he saves his siblings symbolically; he cries and cries and they run away from the car, turn into adults and start their new lives. When the parents come back from the bar and see that their children have gone, they just accuse Junior and still continue drinking (Alexie, 1995: 111-112). Interestingly, Junior never accuses his parents in his dream. He dreams of one of his childhood recollections, and this dream clearly reflects how deeply the irresponsibility of his parents has affected Junior.
Dreams and Recollections about American Indian and White Relations
The relationship between American Indians and White men has always been complicated for many reasons from the very beginning. Besides the expected and normal problems originating from colonization, there have always been special problems due to two diverse cultures’ dealing with each other, which are completely dissimilar in their worldviews. The relation between the colonizer and the colonized has always been problematic: American Indians have been exposed to many cruelties and always have been the exploited side. Because of the great differences between the worldviews, American Indians could not perceive the evil plans and intentions of white men easily. What destroys the psychology and self-esteem of American Indians is the injustice that they have been exposed to. James S. Olson and Raymond Wilson define the relation of American Indians and Whites in historical context in their book Native Americans in the Twentieth Century:
For more than 370 years Native American history, buffeted by a series of political, economic, social, and cultural forces emerging from both European American and Native American society, has been complex in the extreme. From the beginning of their contact, neither has adequately understood the other. The dominant society has exalted the Protestant ethic to a theological level, figuratively worshipping at the intricately related altars of individualism, materialism, progress, and technology. To Native Americans, European American society has seemed obsessed with the temporal rather than the spiritual, the individual rather than peace and harmony. For their part, non-Native Americans have viewed Native American life as hopelessly stagnant and inefficient, retarded by communal values, subsistence economies, and cultural ecologies. In these mutual misunderstandings, the twentieth century has been no different from the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries (Olson and Wilson, 1986: 179).
The American Indian characters in Reservation Blues and The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven reflect how distressed they are about the disturbing historical facts and the problematic relations with the Whites in which American Indians are always unjustly treated and victimized. They often have dreams and remember their personal recollections about Whites in both works.
Dreams and Imaginations about Fights between American Indians and Whites
The title of the short story collection The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven already refers to the struggle between American Indians and whites. The title basically originates from a popular radio and television program, The Lone Ranger, which was broadcasted between the years of 1948-1959 (Slethaug, 2003). In this program, Tonto, the Indian, is present only to serve the white hero, the Lone Ranger. However, Alexie challenges the white man’s superiority by adding ‘Tonto’ to the title. Besides, their fistfight in heaven means that Tonto does not want to be the loyal companion of the Lone Ranger any more (Cox, 2006: 154). The Lone Ranger and Tonto fistfight; in other words, American Indian man struggles against the White man and he “refuses to occupy the subordinate social space defined and assigned to him by the Lone Ranger” (Cox, 2006: 154).
In the title story of the collection, the narrator, a Spokane Indian, is in strained terms with his white girlfriend. Their arguments are full of damaging words more powerful than fists (Alexie, 2005: 185). These arguments actually symbolize the fights of Tonto and the Lone Ranger. The narrator stands for Tonto, and the White girlfriend is for the Lone Ranger. The narrator often has dreams about their oppressive relationship. In one of these dreams, his girlfriend is a missionary’s wife, and the narrator himself is a minor chief. They fall in love and keep their relation secret; however, the missionary learns about their relation and shoots the narrator. This is also the beginning of a war between the American Indians and Whites. The narrator’s tribe attacks the whites all across the reservation; both sides kill each other. Other American Indian tribes and the United States Cavalry join, and the war escalates (Alexie, 2005: 186). Brutal and poignant realities about Indian and White relation are reflected in the narrator’s dream. The narrator dreams of three mounted soldiers playing polo with a dead Indian woman’s head. He narrates about his dream later: “When I first dreamed it, I thought it was just a product of my anger and imagination. But since then, I’ve read similar accounts of that kind of evil in the Old West” (Alexie, 2005: 186). The American Indian boy and white girl’s relation, rather than a love affair, has deeper meanings; the individual arguments between the couple are actually the products of the commotion between the American Indians and Whites, which is reflected in the narrator’s dream.