In "Smoke Signals", we see the protagonist, Victor, challenged by two people who force him to redefine his self-concept and also the beliefs he has of his father. The first impression we get of Victor is that he has a bad attitude. However, it is evident that he is not a bad person. We are given the impression that he is a bit lost-- that he doesnt really know who he is or wants to be. The movie takes us with Victor on his journey toward self-discovery.
On one hand Victor says many things that lead us to believe that he is very proud of his Indian heritage. On the other hand, he makes some derogatory statements. For example in the reflective scene where his father asks him who his favorite Indian is, young Victor says nobody. He is obviously disgusted with the alcoholism within his family and probably throughout the reservation. I think that he wants to be proud of his heritage, but that the Indians he is surrounded with are a far cry from the painted warriors of long ago. He probably tries to feel connected to the Indians as they were on the plains before the white man came. They were proud, strong and brave, which is how he wants to be. Victor himself has taken on the warrior role. He says to Thomas when they are on the bus, that "Get stoic Indians arent supposed to smile you gotta look like a warrior, like you just came in from killing a buffalo." When Thomas informs him that their tribe were fishermen, Victor disregards the information because it is incongruent with how he wants to think about himself.
Though Victor wants to think of himself this way, it is incongruent with who he really is. We see evidence of this when the two white men take his and Thomas seats. He confronts the men, but backs down quickly, showing that his "warrior" persona, is only skin deep. Victor has a lot going on in his unconscious that he will not let come up to the surface for him to deal with. Inwardly, Victor feels responsible for his father leaving. We see this in the scene right after his father left and Thomas confronts him. Thomas, as we see, stirs up trouble. He doesnt mean to and there is nothing malicious about it, he is just very frank. Young Thomas asks the young Victor why his father left and if it was because he hated him. Victor proceeds to beat Thomas up and then run away. He believes that he is the reason why his father left, but he doesnt want to face it.
On the conscious level, Victor thinks of his dad as a very bad personone who was drunk all of the time, beat him and his mom, and then abandoned them. This notion protected him from his unconscious belief that his father left because of him. If Victor had allowed himself to think about it, he may have realized that the negative notion he had of his father was just a way of protecting himself from the guilt that lay in his unconscious. He may have then come to realize that he wasnt the reason his father left and avoided a great deal of emotional distress. Instead, this notion had to be broken down by a wealth of new evidence presented by the antagonists, Thomas and Suzy Song.
Thomas is constantly talking to Victor about Victors dad in a favorable manner. He goes about it in a very interesting way. Instead of trying to pull Victor aside for a talk and make him think, Thomas rambles on as if he doesnt know any better. I believe he does know. He knows exactly what he is doing. He knows that Victor is struggling, and that in order to be at peace, he needs to confront the issue. Despite Thomas efforts, though, Victor will have nothing of it. He assimilates the favorable things that Thomas has to say about his dad as just more of Thomas fanciful rambling. I believe, though, that it does get to him. Victor loses his temper with Thomas on a few occasions when Thomas is talking about his dad. This leads me to believe that Thomas is scratching the surface and it makes Victor uncomfortable.
Perhaps Victor would have gone on like this but with the addition of Suzy and the information she has, these beliefs (would it be correct to refer to them as constructs?) begin give way. Like Thomas, Suzy has many favorable things to say about Victors father. She says that he was a good man and that he was like a father to her. Victor scoffs at this, but it bothers him. When she finally tells him about the fire, Victor cannot support his theory anymore. It is then obvious that his father left because he was fleeing from the guilt he felt at having caused the fire.
The straw that finally breaks the camels back is when Suzy tells Victor about how his father went back into the burning house looking for him. Victor is then forced to acknowledge the fact that his father did love and care for him. Going into his fathers wallet and seeing the picture of his family reinforces this. Victor then pulls out his knife and cuts his hair. Earlier in the movie, he had told Thomas that an "Indian man is nothing without his hair". Perhaps cutting his hair is symbolic of giving up his old notions and starting over. Since he had built his entire self-concept around the feelings that he had toward his father, he is now left with nothing; he must, in a sense, start over.
Victor does make one last attempt at assimilating the new information. On the drive home, Thomas tells how Victors dad said that the only thing that Victor would ever be good at is Basketball. Perhaps Victor realizes the truth in this statement. He has been so busy playing the martyr and feeling sorry for himself, that he hasnt done much but play basketball. Or perhaps, he held on to basketball because it was something that he and his father shared. Victor becomes angry, but Thomas stands his ground and tells Victor that Victor doesnt know who he is; that he has spent ten years just moping around the reservation. Victor becomes very angry and retaliates by firing back at Thomas about how his dad was a drunk and an abuser. As they argue, he also says how his dad went back and saved Thomas, but not him. I believe that Victor is angry that his father at never coming back and "saving" him from the person he had become as a result of believing that his father was a bad man. Victors hostility may also be a reaction of realizing that what Thomas has been saying all along was really worth its salt. Victor realizes that Thomas knew his father better than he did, and perhaps that evokes feelings of sadness and regret because he wishes he would have seen it before it was too late.
Victor does get "saved", however. The car accident that he and Thomas descend upon is symbolic of this. Like the burning house, the car accident was a result of alcohol. The drunk driver accuses Victor of causing the crash. Victor sees this as absurd and at the same time realizes that blaming himself for his father running away is equally absurd. He realizes that he had as much a part in that as he did in the car accident. He then runs to find help, which is perhaps symbolic of him wishing that he had done more to find his father.
As he is running, his mind is also racing, putting together and accepting all of the information that he has learned. He runs himself to exhaustion, and is helped up by a man who he perceives (for an instant) to be his father. In a sense, his father comes back and saves him. In this we realize that Victor has completely let go of his old constructs and forgiven his father. We see this again when Victor and Thomas speak of where they are going to scatter the ashes. Victor speaks of it as "cleaning out the atticlike throwing things away when they have no more use." There is more here to just scattering ashes, though. Victor is also cleaning out his own mental attic; cleaning out the distorted and obsolete ideas that he had and starting over.
Essay on Smoke Signals by Sherman Alexie
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Smoke Signals by Sherman Alexie
Smoke Signals is a movie written by Sherman Alexie and directed by Chris Eyre that deals with many social issues in modern Native American cultures. The film follows the journey of two Coeur d’Alene Indians, Victor and Thomas, as they travel from their reservation in Oregon to Phoenix, AZ in order to gather the personal artifacts of Victor’s father who has recently died. Along the way, Thomas helps Victor to understand and forgive his father, who left the family when Victor was a young boy. Victor’s father, Arnold Joseph, saved both of the boys from a fire that he inadvertently caused on the 4th of July when the boys were mere babies. Although the boys were saved, Thomas’s parents both died in the blaze.…show more content…
The Indian Spirit Lives
From the very beginning you can see a glimmer of spirit in some of the Indians living on the reservation. The local radio personality, for example, made light of their situation nearly every time he was on the screen. His weather and traffic man is a jovial Indian, comfortably seated atop a van out in the middle of nowhere. He has an umbrella set up to shade him from the harsh rays of the sun, and it looks like he sits there on the roof of his van day in and day out. He speaks to the radio announcer over a cell phone, and his reports are given in a humorous way. When asked about the traffic, he replies that about a half an hour ago a car drove by and that's about it. He didn't seem to mind at all that he was away from the hustle and bustle we associate with life in this day and age. When they spoke about the impoverished conditions of the Indians, it was almost as if they had accepted their lot in life, and was doing the best they could under the conditions given to them. Not once did even a hint of anger at the white man enter their his voice.
Another example of the ancient Native American spirit on the reservation was given early in the movie, just as Victor and Thomas are beginning their journey to Phoenix. We see the duo walking side by side down a dirt road, and soon a beat up "reservation car" pulls up beside them carrying two women. The reservation car is old and worn down, dust caking