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“Smoke Signals” Movie and “This is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona” by Sherman Alexie Essay

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Updated: Jan 11th, 2022

“Smoke Signals” movie is based on the short story “This Is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona” by Sherman Alexie. However, a few differences can be found between them. The paper will present the argument concerning the fact that “Smoke Signals” movie offers more important details revealing the personality of Arnold than the novel thus helping his son to see him as a better man and feel real inner peace after this.

Speaking about what is in common between the movie and the novel it should be first of all stated that the movie is based on the novel and thus basically has the same plot. At the same time “Smoke Signals” movie provides more information to understand what sort of a person was the main protagonist’s father Arnold. In general, both of the masterpieces under consideration speak on the same problem of the relationships between fathers and sons. The interesting fact is that Sherman Alexie, the author of “This Is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona” novel also suffered from this problem: his father was a drunkard. That is why the book has a very special attitude to the problem when compared to the movie (West 29). In addition, the film and the novel both relate the very important topic of true companionship based on Victor Joseph’s and Thomas Builds-the-Fire’s relationships.

The main events of the story plot of both works deal with Arnold’s death in Phoenix, Arizona, and Thomas’ and Victor’s trip to collect his ashes and belongings. As the journey begins and continues Victor learns a lot of important information about his father and what sort of a man he was. He also understands how his friend Thomas values him and is willing to help.

Considering the differences between the movie and the novel two main points should be discussed: the fire of 1976 Independence Day and the character of Suzy Song. Alexies’ story does not reveal as many details about Victor’s father as the movie does. The main reason for this is the presence of Thomas and Suzy characters in the movie. The other reason why the movie has more details about Victor’s father to offer to the audience is the fire on the 1976 Independence Day.

First of all the movie tells about the fire on the Independence Day of 1976 when Thomas’ parents were killed. With the development of a story plot, it becomes evident that Arnold (Victor’s biological father and Thomas’ adoptive one) was the one to originate the fire and thus became guilty in Thomas’ parent’s death. If to compare it with the novel it tells that Thomas’ father, on the contrary, died in Okinawa in World War II and his mother passed away while giving him birth (Alexie 73). The fire’s role in the movie is crucial for helping Victor to understand the personality of his father much better and to see him from the best side possible. When revealing the sad events of the fire Thomas Builds-the-Fire explains to Victor why his father was a drunkard and treated him rather cruelly. He told that Arnold could not help the feeling of guilt of Thomas’ parents’ death as he was the one to cause the fire. Thomas also tells Victor that Arnold was a good adoptive father for him; he treated him with kindness and care. This helps Victor to see his father from a different point of view.

In addition, Suzy was never a part of Victor or Arnold Joseph’s lives in the novel. However, her presence in the movie made a great contribution to help Victor to understand that his father changed in his last years and became a better person: he stopped drinking and developed a positive outlook on life. Learning this Victor felt relief and was imbued to have warm feelings for his father.

Considering the reasons why Alexie decided to make Arnold a better man in the movie a few examples from the other chapters of the Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven should be taken into consideration. In the book, Arnold was not portrayed as a good person and this is evident from the “Because My Father Always Said He Was the Only Indian Who Saw Jimi Hendrix Play The Star-Spangled Banner at Woodstock” story chapter. The chapter represents him as an aggressive person who was even imprisoned for the beating up of a National Guard private. Arnold is also shown as a heavy drunker in this chapter. He is often absent from home while his poor wife works hard to provide for their children. In addition to this Arnold is a violent husband and he constantly fights with his wife.

Reflecting on all the concluded information it should be stated that the “Smoke Signals” movie and the short story “This Is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona” by Sherman Alexie have a common plot and are dedicated to the same topics and issues: the relationship between fathers and sons and the value of true companions which are close to help when somebody is in need. At the same time, the movie adds much more details to show Victor that his father Arnold was a better man than his son believed. In particular, the most significant of those details is the story about the fire on 1976 Independence Day and the character of Suzy Song.

Works Cited

Alexie, S. The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven. United States: Grove/Atlantic, Inc, 2005. Print.

West, D., and Joan M, and Alexie, S. “Sending Cinematic Smoke Signals: An Interview with Sherman Alexie.” Cineaste 23, no. 4 (1998): 29. Cross Database Search.

GALE Literary Database. Tarrant County College Libraries (from home), rlington, TX. 2008. Web.

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IvyPanda. 2022. "“Smoke Signals” Movie and "This is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona" by Sherman Alexie." January 11, 2022. https://ivypanda.com/essays/smoke-signals-movie-and-this-is-what-it-means-to-say-phoenix-arizona-by-sherman-alexie/.

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IvyPanda. (2022) '“Smoke Signals” Movie and "This is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona" by Sherman Alexie'. 11 January.

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