Because My Father Always Said He Was The Only Indian Who Saw
Jimi Hendrix Play “The Star-Spangled Banner” At Woodstock
As is customary with many young boys, Victor looked up to his father with immense intrigue and pride. Throughout this short story, Victor reflects upon the few memories he has with his father, a strong and committed man. Sherman Alexie’s central message to this short story is that the power of being a parent is eternal, and the power of a song or a few words can be enough strength to push a person to keep fighting. Growing up, Victor analyzes the significance behind his father’s behavior while learning from him the most important life lessons. The resilience and gratitude for one’s country which was taught by Jimi Hendrix to Victor’s father was then passed onto Victor, representing the influence music and lyrics can have on a person’s life. Alexie helps demonstrate how Victor’s parent’s relationship, the Vietnam war, even being a member of the Spokane Indian Reservation are all wars that needed to be fought to obtain victory in Victor’s father’s life. Alexie purposely showcases Victor’s father’s strength and wisdom but also weakness at some points, teaching to both the reader and to Victor how although one must fight for their beliefs with all their might, even love cannot win some of the toughest issues in life. Even though his father’s pride eventually left him to leave his family, Victor is forever changed by what his father taught him through his actions, words, and the cherished memories he left behind.
Victor’s father fought for the peace and marriage he believed in, told his son what he believed to be true, and followed the path in life he wished to lead. Whether this led to beneficial parenting or not, Victor admired him for his sense of spirit and pride. He “was trying to make a social statement,” (Alexie 24) and even though “his prison sentence effectively kept him out of the war, [he] went through a different kind of war behind bars” (Alexie 25). Victor’s father grew up fighting the Vietnam War the only way he knew how- through fighting for peace. By “beat[ing] the shit out of the National Guard,” (Alexie 25) Victor’s father proved his aggressive yet passionate manner, as well as his desire for the violence to discontinue in the country he had grown to be proud of. He explained how “Indians are pretty much born soldiers anyway... don’t need a uniform to prove it,” (Alexie 29) further teaching his son the importance in pride for oneself. His appreciation for America is apparent in his enjoyment of the national anthem sung by Jimi Hendrix, which he played “until it wore down” (Alexie 26). This gratification he felt for the United States and his dismal way of showing it at times symbolizes how love is not always the verbal act of telling someone or something you love them, but sometimes rather showing it and fighting for it. His repetition of listening to the song ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ is one of the most important memories Victor has from times with his father, symbolizing all he was taught from him about pride, music, strength and love.
Jimi Hendrix played a major role throughout this short story, compelling both Victor’s father and Victor to appreciate music at an extreme and endearing level. The song ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ which Jimi Hendrix played at Woodstock for Victor’s father symbolizes how music can bring people together, how powerful a few lyrics and chords can be. Victor’s father taught to his son how “every song has a special meaning for someone somewhere,” allowing Victor to realize that “music just might be the most important thing there is” (Alexie 29). The song Jimi played for Victor’s father represented a multitude of things, mainly how essential the love for one’s country and heritage truly is. The song was played for him just after Victor’s father was released from jail, a feat that was difficult to accomplish at the time. Since he was also the only Indian to see this performance, he feels special and as though he represented an elite group of people, therefore exemplifying a point in his life when he felt superior to others. This circumstance causes the reader to ponder the significance of Victor’s father being the only Indian to see Jimi Hendrix play, and way he repeatedly discusses how proud he was of this fact. “Alexie challenges readers of diverse backgrounds to join together to re-evaluate past and present ideologies” (Walsh 2). Alexie’s writing is for people of a multitude of backgrounds, which shows why he wanted his readers to contemplate the significance of the pride behind Victor’s father being the only Indian at the performance. Even Victor questions why his father was so gratified to be the sole representer of his race, and why it is Jimi Hendrix that his father chose to be his sole inspiration. The purpose of Victor’s father’s pride in representing the Indian population is examined because Alexie focuses on “the issues of contemporary Native Americans, their search for identity in modern America and their often ambivalent feelings about their disappearing traditional culture” (Hinton 2). Alexie highlights the importance behind this song and this specific moment in Victor’s father’s life when he felt so special and content so immensely because Victor realizes how impactful this moment was for his father, making it momentous for him as well. Victor’s father’s adoration for ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ helps to convey the message of love, which he passes on to Victor who begins to understand how “music had powerful medicine,” (Alexie 29) inferring that Victor believes music helped his father become a better person and overcome his internal distress.
Alexie’s own childhood reflects the experiences Victor went through in attempting to understand the reasoning behind some of his father’s actions, such as excessive drinking or fighting with Victor’s mother. Turning to alcohol to help him through his troubles and frustration, Victor’s father learned some harsh ways to deal with depression. Alexie’s own father “was also an alcoholic, and was frequently absent from home” (Gale Group 2). This exemplifies how perhaps Alexie was greatly impacted by his father’s excessive drinking, urging him to write and explain how he personally knew that parental actions often have major consequences for their children. Victor idolized his father so much that he would sleep at his fight at night under the kitchen table, just so his father could listen to Jimi Hendrix while he cried and fell asleep, knowing someone else was close by. Alexie portrays their nightly ritual as an unspoken understanding Victor and his father share. Although Alexie purposely highlights this to exemplify for the reader his father’s weakness for alcohol and sadness as he cries every night, this proves that love can be displayed by listening and enjoying the same music with someone every night and simply being there with them at the end of the day, just as Victor does for his father. As an only child, Victor played a fundamental role to his parents, having both of them confide in him at times. Although Victor’s father “didn’t talk much when he was sober,” (Alexie 28) Victor knew deep down that his father “needed [him] just as much as he needed every other kind of drink” (Alexie 27). Victor’s strong relationship with both of his parents taught him a lot about love for other people, and how important it is to not only fight for your battles, but also to simply fight to be there for the ones that you care about and to never give up on them. Victor’s father’s act of becoming too depressed towards the end of the story, when he began to drink more and talk less, is an important lesson as well. Alexie purposely added this decline in Victor’s father’s happiness and his eventual leaving of his beloved wife and son, to explain to the reader that through all of his positive energy he gave to his son, in the end the stress of his deteriorating marriage and the modernization of the country the Indians first lived in, led him to despair. Alexie’s purpose for this melancholy ending is to exemplify that nobody is an ideal person or parent. Victor learned a significant amount from his father, was made stronger by his father’s pride and compassion, but unfortunately was also hardened by his father’s eventual disclaim of many of his original ethics. After Victor’s father leaves him and his mother, Victor continues to “imagine [he] heard motorcycles and guitars,” (Alexie 36) proving that in the back of his mind, to Victor, his father will always be there for him.
Although Victor was left to conclude his childhood with only the sole help of his mother, his father seems to have taught him something so momentous that he carries with him and remembers so well even in his adulthood. The necessity of fighting, the necessity of following one’s heart, even if it means leaving something you love Victor’s father taught him when they would listen to Jimi Hendrix together, fall asleep in the kitchen together, or simply in the love Victor saw his parents shared, no matter how much they may have argued. Victor realizes that “Indians fight their way to the end, holding onto the last good thing, because our whole lives have to do with survival” (Alexie 32). This supports the message of the power Victor’s father had in forming his son’s character, and how essential his father’s actions were to his beliefs.
Alexie, Sherman. The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven. New York: Atlantic Monthly, 1993. Print.
Coulombe, Joseph L. "The Approximate Size of His Favorite Humor: Sherman Alexie's Connections and Disconnections in the Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven." University of Nebraska Press (2002). Print.
Gale Group. “Because My Father Always Said He Was the Only Indian Who Saw Jimi Hendrix Play ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ at Woodstock.” Book Rags. 2007. Web. <http://www.spraksikring.com/kurs/AlexieStudyGuide.pdf>