CWE Core Humanities

Juxtaposing theory and the real world

This is what it means to say Phoenix, Arizona

April 7, 2009 by dwuebben · 17 Comments · Uncategorized

Last night in class we were discussing the seemingly opposite outlooks posed by Victor and Thomas. In this post I would like you write about what they intend to do with Victor’s father’s ashes. What do they think will happen when the pour out the ashes? How is this expectation significant to understanding their overall attitudes and relationship to one another?

17 Comments so far ↓

  • noellie

    Sherman Alexis’s short story “This is what it means to say Phoenix, Arizona” describes two man’s journey of understanding tradition, modern day life and community. It imposes the belief that taking care of each other will help to preserve tradition and should be a way of life.

    The story consist of two characters name Thomas
    and Victor who both analyzes things differently. Thomas is considered as weird but a traditional person and Victor is more modern with social issues. At the end of the their journey Victor decides to spilt his fathers ashes with Thomas as a way of expressing his thanks.

    Thomas and Victor both unintentionally decides to pour the ashes in the Spokane Falls but Thomas believes that when he does this that Victors fathers ashes “will rise like
    a salmon, leap over the bridge, over[him] me, and find his way home.” “His teeth will shine like silver, like a rainbow. He will rise, Victor, he will rise.” His belief symbolizes his tradition that the salmon is a smart fish that remembers and will travel very far even if they have to leap very high to get to its destination. He also believe that Victor will take care of himself along with others and that act will make his father happy, cause that is
    part of their tradition. Remembering where he came from is an act of his father serving
    though victor.

    Victor believes that pouring his father’s ashes into Spokane Falls, is the act of “cleaning the attic or something.” “Like letting things go after they’ve stopped having any use.” He suggests that it was time for him to let go of his past and move on by taking
    care of what means the most to him.

    Victor and Thomas attitudes and relationship toward each other changes because they see that all they have is each other. The characters unknowingly share a similar view
    on life and tradition, which teaches them that we all need someone to listen to and share life with.

  • Janice

    Sherman Alexie’s story, “This is what it means to Say Phoenix Arizona”, is about Victor a young man and his journey to get his dead fathers remains. He takes this journey with another tribe member Thomas Builds -the- fire ,who he has known as a child. Thomas Builds -the-fire is the only one who makes it possible for Victor to go on this journey.
    When they get back from this journey Victor is not sure how to thank Thomas Builds -the- fire so he gives him the cardboard box with half of his fathers ashes. Victor remains with the other half. They both were going to dispose the ashes in Spokane Falls. Both men had different outlooks on how and why they were going to do it. Victor felt that discarding the ashes in the falls was like “letting things go after they’ve stopped having use”. Victor’s thinking this was probably that it was meaningless and his father was no longer of any use since he was dead. Victor also seems to feel that after death everything stops and Thomas enlightens him and assures him that nothing stops.
    On the other hand Thomas Builds -the- fire, said that he would leave the ashes in the water and that Victors father, “would rise like a salmon.. and find his way back home”. Thomas Builds -the- fire was not just a story teller he had some Native rituals and beliefs. Perhaps the salmon represents the after life and that he’d come back in another form. Another form in whatever it may be to maybe even look after his son.
    Victor as well as the rest of the community just saw this guy as a story teller in the end he must of seen him in a different light. Victor promises Thomas to listen to another story either to keep the communication going or for another lifes lesson, meaning that everyone needs someone even those who you would least expect.

  • Esther

    Victor and Thomas intend to throw Victor’s father’s ashes in the Spokane Falls but both of them expect two different results from that action. Thomas thinks that when he pours the ashes out that Victor’s father will rise and reincarnate into a salmon, fly over him and find his eternal home. On the other hand, Victor thinks of doing the same thing but he doesn’t expect his father to rise like a salmon but he seems to feel as if he is releasing himself from a burden or releasing himself of something he has no use of as he describes as “letting things go after they’ve stopped having any use.” Their actions are similar but their perspectives are different and that is significant to their overall attitudes and their relationship towards one another.
    The relationshipVictor had with both his father and Thomas can best be describes as distant or not very close. His mindset towards spritual things can also best be described as distant he is only focusing on what happens in the present and he has no perspective on what will happen to his father after death. Ironically, at the end the relationship between him and Thomas turns around and they get closer.
    Thomas seems to be in tune with the after life and how Victor’s father can impart a blessing to him even after his death by turning into a salmon and “leaping over the bridge and over me (him).” His relationship with Victor’s father was sacred and his with relationship with Victor is caring and one that shows concern for his spiritual side. At the end of the story its seems as if he will be successful in awaking Victor’s spiritual awareness because Victor agrees to pay attention to Thomas as he tells his stories.

  • Norma

    “This Is What it Means to say Phoenix, Arizona” is a short story by Sherman Alexei. The story is about Victor’s father’s death in Arizona and the journal of Victor and Thomas. Thomas is the story teller. Through the story we can perceive that victor had a awkward relationship with his father and as well with Thomas. When Thomas sees Victor at the tribal trading post and communicates his condolences to victor for his loss. Thomas asks Victor to listen one of his stories just one time and Victor agrees. Thomas offers his help to Victor, and after Victor goes to his house he accept his help. As they are in the airplane, throughout the fly to Arizona to get Victors fathers remains and their way back to hometown Victor and Thomas recounted their experiences that they had when they were little. When they got back to their home town it seems that Victor do not know how to thanks Thomas for his help.
    Victor gives half of his father ashes to Thomas. Thomas took it and said another of his stories “I am going to travel to Spokane falls one last time and toss these ashes into the water. He thinks that his father will arise like salmon. By saying this story I think Thomas is trying to comfort Victor even though he knows that Victor didn’t have a healthy relationship with his father, by victor going to Arizona to get the ashes. Thomas feels that Victor might have some love for his father, and he said “He will arise, Victor, he will arise (Sherman534). On the other hand, “Victor smile” and say “I was planning to do the same thing with my half (Sherman534)” he thinks his father ashes will “clean the attic” (Sherma534).
    Both had the same plan to through the ashes to the water at “Spokane falls” (Sherman534. Thomas thinks that by throwing the ashes on the water Victor’s father” will arise like Salmon and will find his way home” (Sherman534). On the other side Victor think his father ashes will clean the “attic”. This act is important on toward their relationship to one another. These journals to Arizona guide them to new understanding of themselves.

  • anacabral

    When a family member or a close friend passes away there is an inevitable feeling of melancholy, pain, anger, resentment, and overall analyzation of what has been lost. The coping method of grieving varies from person to person. In Sherman Alexie’s, “This is what it means to say Pheonix, Arizona” Victor plays the role of protagonist in this short story had just lost his father to a heart attack and needed to go back to his home town and pick up his fathers remains and collect his “inheritance”. As victor was unable to afford the travel arrangements Sherman Alexie presents another character that can be viewed as an actual childhood friend or Victor’s suppressed other self, Thomas. Thomas is represented as an optimistic, out spoken, wacky storyteller.

    Victor and Thomas traveled their journey to Pheonix, Arizona and picked up Victor”s fathers remains and the inheritance. The story goes into further detail as to the reason of Victor and Thomas’ separation. As a way to apologize for the way that Thomas was mistreated by Victor, he gave Thomas half of the ashes of his father. The both analyzed what they would do with their shares of the ashes and they both came to the same conclusion that they would “[travel] to Spokane Falls one last time and toss [the] ashes into the water.” Thomas envisioned that Victor’s father “…will rise like a salmon, leap over a bridge, over me, and find his way home.” This imaginative view of Victor’s fathers’ reincarnation indicates that he knew that he would return to the exact spot where he was born. Thomas viewed his reincarnation as something magical and poetic. Whereas victor’s view was drastically different. Victor viewed that “it’d be like cleaning the attic or something. Like letting things go after they’ve stopped having any use.” The clear difference between these two characters proves that they both had a different view of Victor’s father.

    I believe that Thomas and Victor’s different views are reflective of their personal views or past views of Victor’s dad. Thomas’s view represents a positive view of hope for the future. Victor’s view is actually very interesting. The fact that he referred his reincarnation to be “…like cleaning the attic…” means that he thought of his father as something old, useless, hampering, and annoying. The difference in Victor and Thomas’ view actually completes them. Their lives are complete opposite views but complement each other perfectly. Together they have given each other insight and unites them in a way that they only can comprehend.

  • gravesangel617

    The story “This Is What It Means To Say Phoenix, Arizona” by Sherman Alexie, is about a young man named Victor and his former friend Thomas Builds-The-Fire, a storyteller. Thomas and Victor take a road trip to Phoenix to recover the ashes of Victor’s father. Victor decides to give half of the ashes to Thomas.

    Victor says that he wants to dump the ashes over the bridge at Spokane Falls. He says that he thinks of disposing of his father’s ashes as “cleaning out the attic or something. Like letting things go after they stop having any use” (Sherman 534). I think that Victor sees letting his father’s ashes go downstream is a way of letting go of the anger and pain of his father leaving him, which he has no more use for.

    Thomas, on the other hand, also wants to dump the ashes in the same place, but he says that the father “will rise like a salmon, leap over the bridge, over me, and find his way home. It will be beautiful. His teeth will shine like silver, like a rainbow. He will rise, Victor, he will rise” (Sherman 534). For Thomas, the rising of Victor’s father is a way of his coming home. The father was not strong enough to return in person, but he will be able to return in spirit.

    Victor feels that Thomas sees things very unrealistically, the way that storytellers see them, the mystical version of things, not the way things really are. This makes Thomas seem like a child to Victor. But Thomas likes Victor, even though they are not friends any more and Victor beat up Thomas once when he was drunk and showing off. Victor is going to Phoenix because he has to; Thomas is going with him because he promised Victor’s father that he would look after Victor.

    I think this was a great story, because it shows the meaning of real friendship. Thomas is Victor’s only true friend, the one who is there to help him when it really counts. None of Victor’s other so-called friends give him the money he needs to travel to Phoenix, or help him deal with his father’s death in any way.

  • Amelia

    In the reading “This is what it means to say Phoenix, Arizona” by Sherman Alexie we see the different charateristics of Thomas and Victor. They both have their way of seeing life. After they collected the father’s ashes they split the ashes.
    Thomas tells Victor “I’m going to travel to spokane Falls one last time and toss these ashes into the water”. Thomas returns to the place where he visited and was waiting for a vision and the one that showed up was Victor’s dad. Thomas stated that part of the deal that he made with Victor’s dad was to take care of him. A way of showing the father that Thomas had kept his word was by returning where they met and letting go of his ashes. Thomas shows a more symbolic way of showing the death respect. He represents the more naturalistic way of letting go of the death. He sets the spirit free ans states “Your father will rise like a salmon, leap over the bridge, over me and find his way home” Thomas gives the father life in a shape of a salmon and says “He will rise”. He gives the return of the father a more meaningful way of rising.
    On the other hand Victor states that he will also do the same thing as Thomas. He states”But I didn’t imagine my father looking anything like a salmon”. He imagines his father returning into a more simple life lke “cleaning the attic or something”. He doesn’t give importance to the rise of his father instead tells Thomas that is “Like letting things go after they’ve stopped having any use”. He doesn’t show the the dad was of any impotance to him. Victor is more self center and more realistic to real life.
    At the end Victor promises to Thomas that if he was to see him again, he would stop and listen to his story.

  • Crystal

    In “This is what it means to say Phoenix, Arizona” by Sherman Alexie we learn the story of Victor and Thomas builds a fire. Victor’s father dies and he has to make it to Phoenix to claim his remains. He has no way of getting to Phoenix until Thomas offers to give him the money under one condition, he has to take Thomas with him. Victor agrees and they go on this journey together.

    Both boys are very different from each other. Victor seems to be irresponsible. He has no job, no money is often drunk and seems detached and not affectionate at all. Thomas is traditional, responsible, has a vivid imagination and is always telling stories. Victor didn’t know that Thomas had once promised his father to look out for Victor and I believe this is the only reason he offered to help Victor.

    Growing up Victor and Thomas were friends but it started to change as they got older. Thomas began telling stories and people mocked him so Victor didn’t want to be associated with him. Victor even beat Thomas up one time when he was drunk for no reason at all. Even with all this Thomas still looks out for Victor because he promised his father he would. Thomas seems to be a good person and Victor is very shallow. Is more concerned with what people will say or think than being a good person.

    When they get back to their home town Victor splits his fathers ashes with Thomas. They both had the same idea of where to dispose of the ashes but have different interpretations of how it will be. Thomas views it as something very spiritual. When he throws the ashes away he looks at it as if Victor’s father will “rise like a salmon.” Victor views it as just disposing of trash or “cleaning the attic or something.” Victor sees it as the end for his father but Thomas tells him “nothing stops, cousin, nothing stops.” Thomas believes that Victor’s father does still exist but in another form.

    I think just reading how they each interpret disposing of the ashes tells you a lot about the kind of people they are. It supports the descriptions I gave of them earlier.

    Victor promised Thomas to pay him back the money he spent but Thomas told him not to worry about it. He just asked Victor to just one time stop and listen to one of his stories. Victor promised he would.

  • Ayana Pena-Espinal

    In Sherman Alexie’s “This Is What It Means To Say Phoenix, Arizona,” Victor and Thomas had different ideas as to what would happen to Victor’s fathers’ ashes. Out of gratitude for all his help Victor decided to share his father’s ashes with Thomas. Ironically enough they both had the idea to pour them over Spokane falls. Thomas viewed this as a chance for Victor’s father to rise up again over everything and go “home.” He saw every detail of this as a “beautiful” encounter with life. Victor, on the other hand saw this as setting his father free and moving on. He saw this as a “release” of all bad feelings. These expectations are significant to understanding their overall attitudes and relationship to one another because it shows how although Thomas was seen as a “crazy” person he was very traditional in his thoughts. Victor believed and understood tradition but in a different way. Just the idea of him not knowing his father very well but still feeling the need to go to Arizona gives us that traditional connection. Yes, he did take Thomas with him because he needed the money but, he also treated him as his friend throughout the trip. He listened to some of Thomas’s stories, which is what we realize at the end of the story, all he ever wanted Victor to do atleast one time.


    In Sherman Alexie’s short story “This is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona” the author talks about two characters that were inseparable as children but as they grew up, they seem to grow apart and are different than one another. In the end they are joined together by a death of someone in particular who had some significance in each of their lives.

    Victor and Thomas were childhood buddies but as both of them started to grow one was more different than the other and was left behind for being different. As Thomas who seemed peculiar was teased over his strange way of being, Victor who was once his friend would join in as well.

    Thomas held more significance to Victor’s father ashes because he shared a special moment and had small bond in which he makes a promise. As for Victor who was more of a loner and not a daydreamer, felt abandonment and did not feel a close connection to his own father. He only could remember bad experiences.

    To Thomas dumping the ashes game him a contempt feeling where he knew and felt that Victors father spirit would forever live and go with him wherever he went and keep watch over him. As for Victor he feels that dumping the ashes into the water was a closure of his negative feelings for his own father. And a goodbye for, he wanted to start new and fresh and be out with the old.

  • Gabriela

    In the story, “This Is It Means To Say Phoenix, Arizona,” Victor and Thomas split the ashes of Victor’s father. They both intended to release the ashes into the fall. In Victor’s mind, he believes that once he releases the ashes, for him life will go on. He will have the little memories of his father, but then eventually those will stop. Thomas on the other hand, believes that once he spreads his half of the ashes, Victor’s father will be free and ready to share some new stories with Thomas. Thomas being on a more old traditional Native American, believes that once the ashes are spread, the father’s spirit will be able to be with nature and help Thomas share more stories with those who listen.

    This is significant because it shows that Victor’s character is a more modern Native American who doesn’t expect for his father’s spirit to continue on after the spreading of his ashes. Thomas like I said shows more of an old tradition spirit, believing that Victor’s father will be one with nature and Thomas when he is getting ready to listen to the winds, would hear Victor’s father in the wind.

  • marlene516

    In the story, ” This Is What It Means To Say Phoenix Arizona” , Victor and Thomas both decided to throw their half of the ashes of Victor’s father in the Spokane Falls. Thomas believes that when he spreads the ashes in the falls, the soul of victor’s father will be free and the soul will “find his way home.” I think when says this he could be referring to the father’s soul finding his way to heaven. I also think he could be talking about his soul and memory being kept alive in the community. Victor on the other hand wants to throw his father’s ashes in the falls as away of letting go of his father’s memory and moving on with his life.

    Victor sees life in a more literal and physical sence. He does not like to thing about what is going to happen to his father’s soul after his ashes are gone. His father is dead and that is all. Thomas on the other hand is more imaginative and likes to breath life into everything and give it a story even if it is no longer in existence or never existed at all.

  • Renee A.

    In Sherman Alexie’s short story “This is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona” the author presents two characters Victor and Thomas builds the fire, who are described as being two separate individuals that grew up as childhood friends.

    Victor is depicted as a pestimist who drinks too much, has no money and no emotional attachment to his father. Thomas builds the fire is the complete opposite, he is optimistic, outgoing, traditional and spiritual. Thomas often tells stories of life’s lessons and morality. Victor listens to Thomas’ stories, however he views them as idle chit chat.

    Victor’s father dies and he has to travel to Phoenix Arizona to retrieve his father’s remains as well as his inheritance. Thomas agrees to give his financial and moral support by accompanying Victor on this emotionally difficult journey. To show his gratitude towards Thomas, [for always being there] Victor splits his father’s remains with him. Mutually they decide to dispose of the remains by “traveling to Spokane Falls one last time and tossing the ashes into the water.” Thomas envisioned that the father would rise like a salmon, leap over a bridge, over them, and find his way home. Thomas relates to the father’s reincarnation as being spiritual. Victor viewed it to be more like a chore “it’d be like cleaning the attic or something. Similar to Spring cleaning, discarding that which is no longer useful.

    Although these characters are portrayed as being two separate individuals I believe that Thomas builds the fire is actually the rational mind of Victor. He represents the voice of logic and reason, which Victor so desperately needs. The act of evenly dividing the father’s remains [the ashes]and throwing them into the falls is symbolically presented by Sherman Alexie as a means of healing and closure for Victor. Finally, he is able to be on one accord with his rational mind [Thomas builds the fire] and let go of past resentment he feels for his father.

  • Hyejin Lim

    In the Sherman Alexie’s story “This is what it means to say Phoenix,, Arizona”, Victor and Thomas had same ideas of Victor’s father’s ashes. Both they want to toss ashes into the Spokane Falls. However, they have same idea of ashes, they have different explanation about that. Thomas think that Victor’s father will rise as a salmon and Victor think that it is like cleaning the attic or something. I think that Thomas means the Victor’s father will be free as a salmon and Victor wanted to let him go. I think traveling made them to understand each other. They were friends when they were children but not anymore after Victor beaten up the Thomas. After that, they didn’t have conversation. However, while the traveling they had conversation and they saw their differences and understand it. Especially, at the plain, Thomas talked with kathy. Victor didn’t like it. He was ashamed of Thomas. However, they laughed together. I think Victor realize that is not bad. They are not going to be friends as they did when they were children. However, they will see them different thinking and sight before they go to the Phoenix together.

  • AnnMarie Richardson

    In the Sherman Alexie’s story “This Is What It Means To say Phoenix , Arizona” talks about to men that used to be friends on a journey to Phoenix Arizona to bury Victor’s father. Victor and Thomas travels on a plane to find Victor’s father who died in his trailer. When they get there they find that the father body is so messed up that he couldn’t be identified unless they had his dental records. So they had to burn him into ashes. They each took half of the ashes for themselves to take back home.

  • Jennae

    Death is a difficult time in the lives of those who have lost someone near to them. It can be just as difficult a time for someone who longed to have some sort of connection to the deceased. In the story, “This Is What It Means To Say Phoenix, Arizona,” Victor is bitter due to the lack of connection he has with his now deceased father, while Thomas is the person who realizes that you can connect only when you are willing to forgive and accept people as they are.
    Thomas is a storyteller and somewhat a prophet. As children, Victor and Thomas are friends. It is Thomas who predicts that Victor’s dad “wants to run and hide,” and that “he is afraid of his own family.” When Victor is a teen he beats Thomas up in front of others until a neighboring woman ends the beating possibly saving Thomas’ life.
    Thomas is able to forgive Victor. It is his forgiveness that allows him to continue dreaming. It is his ability to let go of the hurt of Victor’s betrayal that allows him to help Victor regain his ability to dream as though he were once again a child. Thomas is representative of the innocence that left Victor when his dad walked away. Thomas is also representative of the joy and liberty of letting go and loving as is. It is Thomas, through his dreams, who is able to continue his contact with Victor’s father. Victor’s anger won’t allow him to see his father in reality or in his dreams.
    Victor and Thomas decide after retrieveing his dad’s ashes to travel to “Spokane Falls one last time and toss [the] ashes into the water.” Victor sees this action as though he were “cleaning out the attic or something.” For him it is like a chore to think of his father, in Victor’s heart, his dad is useless to him. When you get rid of junk in an attic, you clear up space for the new. For Victor, his desire shows that he wanted to be free of the weght and space his dad took up in his heart. He wanted to trash the useless memories so that he would have more space to move in life. Thomas, however, views the spreading of the ashes to “enable Victor’s dad to rise like a salmon, leap over a bridge, over me, and find his way home.” Thomas felt good about spreading the ashes. To Thomas he would give Victor’s dad the opportunity to be free once again. Thomas even says “over me, indicating that he could see Victors dad getting on with the afterlife freely without feeling excluded, he didnt mind be left behind he just loved enough to desire that Victor’s dad be happy.”
    In the end, “a new story” comes to Victor in the silence. Connecting with Thomas and listening to a friend from his past helped him to open his heart and dream for the future.

  • AnnMarie Richardson

    They had planned to do the same thing with the ashes but they had a different meaning. Victor wanted to throw the ashes over Spokane Falls but he thought that it would be like cleaning out an attic. He felt like it would be like letting things go after they had no use anymore. So he probably felt that everything he was holding on to like his tribal ties or traditions had no use in the modern world. That he would be letting go of his dreams.

    Thomas had another thought about throwing the ashes over Spokane Falls. He thought that the father would be like a salmon, rising over a bridge and over him and finding his way home. So he felt like his dreams will still be alive. He felt that he can keep all the tribal traditions alive. That maybe it was hope for the tribe in this changing world.

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