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Essay Samples > Book Review > “Smoke Signals”
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“Smoke Signals”

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“Smoke Signals” was the first film to be directed and written by purely Native Americans (Codell 314). The film features on factors such as alcoholism and reservation that greatly affected the Native American society during that time. In addition to this, it touches, though not in details, the history of this society. The author uses both characters and the plot to bring out the themes that dominate the film. It is through these actors that the author conveys his attitudes towards his own society (Codell 315). Thus the film is not only universally but it is truthful, humorous and warm about the Native Americans.

The film is centered on two main characters, Victor Joseph and Thomas who  are brought up together as neighbors and their friendship booms when they learn that they were both rescued from a burning house, by Arnold, Victor’s father when they were still young (Alexie 52). However their characters differ greatly. Thomas is conservative and he still holds into the tradition of story telling (Codell 314). Victor in contrast is outgoing and an aggressive basketball player and always looks for an opportunity to silence Thomas (Alexie 69).  Thomas lost both his parents on this tragedy therefore he gives credit to Arnold for saving him. He takes him as a hero and feels that he owes him respect. Thomas on the other hand does not acknowledge him as a father since he does not understand why he abandoned his family.

Arnold lives with guilt for causing the fire that killed Thomas’s parents. As a result he turns out to be alcoholic and irresponsible to an extent that he lives his family and lives in Phoenix until his death (Alexie 8). When he eventually dies, Thomas and Victor travel to Phoenix to get his belongings as well as his ashes (Alexie 23). Through out the, they hold to their tradition and they take pride for being Native Americans. While on their way to Phoenix, they meet Suzy, Arnold’s friend who reveals to them that it is him who put Thomas’s parents’ house on fire during a party on Independence Day (Alexie 92). Contented, Victor returns with a clear knowledge on why his father behaved the way he did.

The film reveals very serious issues but in a comic way. Most of the observations are made between the stereotype Indians and the Whites. Irony dominates most of the events that happen in the film. For instance, we see the Indians living in a reservation but they still commemorate the independence day of the Whites (Alexie 25). Also even though Thomas is portrayed as the greatest storyteller, he does not have the qualities of a good narrator; he is even worse than some of the characters in the film. Secrecy also dominates the movie; almost all the characters are secretive. Victor is quiet therefore one can not tell what he is thinking about. His father keeps his own secrets as well; his girlfriend, Suzy confirms this when she tells Victor that Arnold and her each kept the secrets of the other (Alexie 91).

The author explores the use of symbols as well. The fire is used to signify/ bring change to the lives of the main characters. Thomas loses both parents and he is brought up as an orphan while Victor does not live a happy life following his father's drunkenness. The question is central to the author’s intentions and implicit of the struggle that the new generation of Native American experience as they strive to define their identity (Boozer 322). How can they overcome the manacles of victimization that were introduced by the Whites and letter spread by both the well-intentioned Whites and the sufferers themselves towards their own people?

In conclusion, Smoke Signals is a film that was features on the life and history of the Native Americans, written by a Native American who is concerned about his people. The plot is focused on two protagonists, Thomas and Victor who are not born friends but become friends because they were rescued from death by the same person and at the same time when they were young. Their rescuer, Victor’s father, is the cause of this tragedy that consumed Thomas’s parents. Following his guilty, he does not live a happy life and resolves into drinking and eventually abandons his family. Reservation and alcoholism are the features that dominate the Native American life style. 

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