Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Smoke Signals

If you’re considering writing about Smoke Signals, you may want to think about some of the following and consider how you might put some of these ideas together to make a coherent argument about what the movie suggests about America, about fathers and sons, about friendship, about journeys, and so forth.  I’ve broadly grouped thoughts here, but you could easily link quotations from different groups.  For example, the thoughts on “Learning to be an Indian” might tie into the section on “Fathers/Fatherlessness.” 

              House fire—Fourth of July party (fireworks)
              Thomas Build-the-Fire
              Thomas’s opening voice over: “You know, there are some children who aren’t really children at all.  They’re just pillars of fire that burn everything that they touch.  And there are some children who are just pillars of ash that fall apart when you touch them.  Me and Victor, we were children born of flame and ash.”
              Pheonix (city, bird reborn in flame—on rising from dead, Thomas: “Victor, I’m going to travel to Spokane Falls one last time and toss the ashes into the water.  And your father will rise like a salmon”)

              Thomas and Suzi—Arnold like a father
              Generational—roots, ancestry
              Thomas’s final voice over: (“How do we forgive our fathers?  Maybe in a dream. Do we forgive our fathers for leaving too often or forever when we were little?  Maybe for scaring us with their unexpected rage or making us nervous because there never seemed to be any rage at all?  Do we forgive our fathers for marrying or not marrying our mothers?  For divorcing or not divorcing our mothers?  And shall we forgive them for their excesses of warmth or of coldness?  Shall we forgive them for pushing or leaning?  For shutting doors?  For speaking only through layers of cloth, or never speaking, or never being silent?  Do we forgive our fathers in our or in theirs?  Or in their deaths?  Saying it to them or not saying it?  If we forgive our fathers, what is left?”)
              Bequest, inheritance, what do our fathers leave/give us?  (things both unexpected and the expected)             

              Arnold Joseph on Fourth of July: “Happy Independence Day, Victor.  You feeling independent?  I’m feeling independent.  I’m feeling extra magical today, Victor.  Like I could make anything disappear.  Houdini with braids, you know?  Wave my hand and poof!  The white people are gone, sent back to where they belong.  Poof!  Paris, London, Moscow. […] Poof!  Poof!  Poof!  Wave my hand and the reservation is gone.  The trading post and the post office, the tribal schools and the pine trees, the dogs and the cats, the drunks and the Catholics and the drunk Catholics.  Poof!  And all the little Indian boys named Victor.  […]  I’m so good, I can make myself disappear.”
              Arlene Joseph: “Yeah, your father is magic, enit?  A real Houdini, huh?  He sawed us into pieces, didn’t he?  I feel like my head is in the kitchen, my belly’s in the bathroom, and my feet are in the bedroom.”
Young Thomas: “When Indians leave, they never come back: last of the Mohicans, last of the Winnebago…”
Arlene’s magic fry bread
              Thomas’s voice over: “I don’t remember that fire.  I only have the stories.  And in every one of those stories, I could fly.”

              Thomas’s continual story telling
              Trading stories (girls in backwards-driving car, Suzi Song and Thomas)
              Suzi: “You want me to tell you the truth? Or do you want lies?”  Thomas: “I want both” (this seems to tie in to ideas in The Things They Carried)
              Incorporating other stories (e.g. the Biblical story of the loaves and fishes à Arlene and fry bread feast)

              Victor (Thomas’s grandmother: “A good name.  It means he’s going to win, enit?”)
              Joseph (Biblical—father of Jesus, Chief Joseph)
              Thomas (Biblical—doubting, )

              Cultural pictures (Thomas: “The only thing more pathetic than Indians on TV is Indians watching Indians on TV.”
After accident: “It’s like you’re the Lone Ranger and Tonto.”  Thomas: “It’s more like we’re Tonto and Tonto.”
References to John Wayne, Custer, Geronimo, etc)
              Victor’s lesson to Thomas on bus after accusing Thomas of having watched Dances With Wolves two hundred times (Victor: “You got to look mean or people won’t respect you.  You got to look like a warrior.  You got to look like you just came back from killing a buffalo.”)

              What is Victor’s journey?
              What is Thomas’s journey?
              What is the function of each in the other’s journey?


  1. I think it is interesting how the story keeps referring to and incorporating fry bread. Thomas even changes into a shirt that says something like FryBread Power. I haven't quite figured out the significance of it yet or if it would be enough to write about, but interesting all the same.

  2. Thank you for giving us this list of things to write about. I was planning on doing my paper on smoke signals so this is a big help. I though think that i might right on the signifacance of the cutting of hair. I havent found out exactly what it means but Im still looking for it.

  3. Zach, I don't know if cutting hair means the same in Couer d'Alene culture as it does in Souix culture, but I believe Zitkala Sa talks about it in her book (which we read excerpts of earlier this year)--they cut her hair when she goes to boarding school, and it disturbs her because (if I remember correctly) in her culture only the vanquished warriors and people who are in mourning cut there hair. Both seem potentially relevant to Alexie, but I'd definitely see if you can find evidence that hair cutting means the same in his tribal culture as hers--AND check me to see if my memory is right!!