“How to Tell a True Spokane Story: Sherman Alexie’s: Teaching O’Brien’s Things They Carried Through Alexie’s Tonto and Lone Ranger Fistfight in Heaven"

Document Type


Presentation Date

Spring 4-9-2011

Conference Name

AURCO Conference

Conference Location

Wright State University (Lake Campus), Celina, OH


Presentation covers how teachers can build on O’Brien’s Things to explain
Alexie’s strategy in Lone Ranger and Tonto. Sherman Alexie asserts that
even though he altered many of the details, names, and events in his various stories, they are still true. In fact, they are “truer” because
“they’re in a book” (LRT xx) Despite the insistence on the truth of the
stories, Alexie admits that the stories “are the vision of one individual
looking at the lives of his family and his entire tribe, so these stories are
necessarily biased, incomplete, exaggerated, deluded, and often just plain
wrong. But in trying to make them true and real, I am writing what might be
called reservation realism.” He continue, asking “What is the definition
of reservation realism? Well, I’ll let you read the book and figure that
out for yourself” (TLR xxi).
Alexie’s statement presents a contradictory definition that is reminiscent
of Tim O’Brien’s similarly contradictory attempt to define how to tell a
true war story in the Things They Carried. O’Brien’s definition
similarly asserts that “a thing may happen and be a total lie, another
thing may not happen and be truer than the truth” (TTC 89). The difference,
the narrator notes later, lies in the fact that “story-truth is sometimes
truer than happening truth” (TTC 203). I contend that O’Brien’s
“story-truth” helped Alexie define his concept of “reservation
realism,” a realism built of his autobiographical experience but expanded
and revised into a “higher” realism.


Sherman Alexie, Native American Literature, Tim O'Brien, Vietnam Literature, Twentieth-Century American Literature


English Language and Literature

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