In “This is What it Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona,” Sherman Alexie is writing about the loss of Native American culture and traditions. He is also writing about the loss of the communal spirit represented by tribes and their governing councils.
Thomas Builds-the-Fire is a storyteller. He represents the oral tradtion of their tribe. And though he talks a lot of nonsense, he says a lot of truth, like what he says about Victor’s father having a weak heart. But Victor doesn’t listen, and neither does anybody else. They beat up Thomas and isolate him so he goes crazy.
Thomas is a true friend to Victor. He gives him money and goes with him to Phoenix to get Victor’s father’s remains. It’s meaningful that they go to Phoenix. It’s a hot place in the desert where Victor’s father was turned to ashes. In mythology, the Phoenix is a bird that burned itself on a funeral pyre, then rose again
Victor has the chance to be reborn by reconnecting with Thomas and his tribal heritage. He decides not to, and lets it go. It’s as dead as the jackrabbit they run over in the road.