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The Depths of The Man Who Loves Salmon: A Literary Analysis by Sherman Alexie

In “The Depths of The Man Who Loves Salmon: A Literary Analysis,” Sherman Alexie explores the complex themes and symbols present in the works of Native American author and activist, Thomas King. Through an examination of King’s use of salmon as a metaphor for cultural survival and the impact of colonialism on Indigenous communities, Alexie delves into the depths of the human experience and the power of literature to illuminate and inspire.

Background Information

Sherman Alexie is a Native American author, poet, and filmmaker. He was born on October 7, 1966, on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Wellpinit, Washington. Alexie grew up in poverty and faced many challenges, including alcoholism and abuse. Despite these obstacles, he excelled academically and went on to attend Gonzaga University and Washington State University. Alexie’s work often explores themes of identity, race, and culture, and he has won numerous awards for his writing, including the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature in 2007. In “The Depths of The Man Who Loves Salmon,” Alexie uses his unique perspective to analyze the work of another author, exploring the themes and motifs that make the text so powerful.


One of the central themes in Sherman Alexie’s “The Man Who Loves Salmon” is the idea of identity and how it is shaped by culture and tradition. The protagonist, Thomas Builds-the-Fire, is a member of the Spokane tribe and is deeply connected to his heritage. He is often seen telling stories and sharing his knowledge of Spokane culture with others, but is also met with ridicule and dismissal from those who do not understand or appreciate his perspective. Through Thomas’s experiences, Alexie explores the complexities of cultural identity and the challenges faced by those who seek to preserve their traditions in a rapidly changing world. Additionally, the story touches on themes of loss, grief, and the search for meaning in life. Overall, “The Man Who Loves Salmon” is a poignant and thought-provoking exploration of the human experience and the importance of cultural heritage.

Symbolism of Salmon

The salmon is a powerful symbol in Native American culture, representing not only sustenance but also resilience and perseverance. In “The Depths of The Man Who Loves Salmon,” author Sherman Alexie explores the symbolism of salmon through the character of Thomas Builds-the-Fire. Thomas, who is often dismissed and ridiculed by his own people, finds solace and purpose in his love for salmon. He sees the fish as a metaphor for his own struggles and the struggles of his people, who have faced centuries of oppression and marginalization. Through Thomas’s eyes, the salmon becomes a symbol of hope and resilience, a reminder that even in the face of adversity, there is always the possibility of survival and renewal. Alexie’s use of the salmon as a symbol underscores the importance of cultural traditions and the power of storytelling to connect us to our past and inspire us to create a better future.

Character Analysis: The Man Who Loves Salmon

The Man Who Loves Salmon is a complex character in Sherman Alexie’s short story of the same name. He is a Native American man who has a deep connection to the salmon that swim in the river near his home. The story explores his relationship with the fish and how it reflects his own life and struggles.

One of the most striking aspects of The Man Who Loves Salmon is his intense passion for the fish. He spends hours watching them swim and studying their behavior. He even goes so far as to catch them and release them back into the river, believing that this will help them to survive and thrive. This love for the salmon is a reflection of his own desire for survival and growth.

At the same time, The Man Who Loves Salmon is a deeply troubled character. He struggles with alcoholism and has a difficult relationship with his family. He is haunted by the memory of his father, who was also an alcoholic and who died in a fishing accident. This trauma has left him with a deep sense of guilt and shame, which he tries to alleviate by caring for the salmon.

Overall, The Man Who Loves Salmon is a complex and fascinating character. He is both deeply connected to the natural world and deeply wounded by his past. Through his love for the salmon, he finds a sense of purpose and meaning in his life. However, he also struggles with addiction and trauma, which threaten to derail his efforts to find peace and happiness.

Character Analysis: Supporting Characters

One of the most intriguing aspects of Sherman Alexie’s The Man Who Loves Salmon is the cast of supporting characters that populate the novel. From the enigmatic and mysterious Dr. Richard Givens to the brash and outspoken fisherman Billy Yellowtail, each character brings a unique perspective to the story and helps to flesh out the world in which the protagonist, Thomas Builds-the-Fire, lives.

Perhaps the most interesting of these supporting characters is Thomas’s grandmother, who serves as a sort of spiritual guide for him throughout the novel. Despite her advanced age and physical frailty, she possesses a deep wisdom and understanding of the world that Thomas often struggles to grasp. Through her teachings and stories, she helps him to connect with his heritage and to understand the importance of his role as a storyteller.

Another notable supporting character is Thomas’s childhood friend, Victor Joseph. Unlike Thomas, who has remained in their hometown on the Spokane Indian Reservation, Victor has left to pursue a career in the city. Though he initially seems to have little interest in his roots, he eventually comes to realize the value of his heritage and the importance of preserving it. His journey serves as a counterpoint to Thomas’s, highlighting the different paths that individuals can take in their quest for identity and meaning.

Overall, the supporting characters in The Man Who Loves Salmon are essential to the novel’s themes and message. Through their interactions with Thomas, they help to illuminate the complexities of Native American identity and the challenges faced by those who seek to reconcile their heritage with the modern world.

Plot Summary

The Depths of The Man Who Loves Salmon follows the story of Thomas Builds-the-Fire, a Native American man who is obsessed with salmon. He spends his days fishing and telling stories about the fish, much to the annoyance of his fellow tribe members. However, when a mysterious illness begins to affect the salmon population, Thomas becomes determined to find a solution. Along the way, he must confront his own past traumas and the prejudices of his community. The novel is a poignant exploration of identity, tradition, and the impact of environmental change on indigenous communities.

Writing Style and Techniques

Sherman Alexie’s writing style in “The Depths of The Man Who Loves Salmon” is characterized by his use of vivid imagery, humor, and a conversational tone. He employs a variety of literary techniques, including metaphor, simile, and repetition, to convey his message about the importance of preserving the natural world. Alexie’s use of humor serves to lighten the mood and engage the reader, while his use of metaphor and simile adds depth and complexity to his writing. Additionally, his conversational tone creates a sense of intimacy between the reader and the narrator, allowing the reader to connect with the story on a personal level. Overall, Alexie’s writing style and techniques in “The Depths of The Man Who Loves Salmon” contribute to a powerful and thought-provoking piece of literature.

Use of Humor

In “The Depths of The Man Who Loves Salmon,” Sherman Alexie uses humor to lighten the heavy themes of loss and grief. The protagonist, Thomas Builds-the-Fire, is known for his long-winded stories that often fall flat with his audience. However, Alexie uses this quirk to inject humor into the story, such as when Thomas tells a story about a man who falls in love with a salmon. The absurdity of the story is both humorous and poignant, as it highlights the protagonist’s deep connection to nature and his struggle to find meaning in a world that has taken so much from him. Overall, Alexie’s use of humor adds depth and complexity to the story, making it a powerful exploration of love, loss, and the human experience.

Use of Tragedy

In “The Depths of The Man Who Loves Salmon,” Sherman Alexie uses tragedy as a tool to explore the complexities of human relationships and the impact of loss. The story follows a man named Thomas Builds-the-Fire, who is deeply connected to the salmon that swim in the river near his home. When a tragic accident occurs and several people are killed, Thomas is forced to confront his own grief and the ways in which his love for salmon has both isolated him and brought him closer to others. Through this exploration of tragedy, Alexie highlights the power of connection and the ways in which loss can bring people together.

Use of Irony

In “The Depths of The Man Who Loves Salmon,” Sherman Alexie employs the use of irony to convey his message about the complexities of Native American identity. Throughout the story, the protagonist, Thomas Builds-the-Fire, is ridiculed and dismissed by his own people for his love of salmon. However, it is this very love that ultimately saves his community from starvation. The irony lies in the fact that the very thing that is mocked and belittled is the thing that ultimately saves them. Alexie uses this irony to highlight the disconnect between traditional Native American values and the modern world, and to show how the two can coexist and even complement each other. By embracing his love of salmon, Thomas is able to bridge the gap between the old ways and the new, and to bring his community together in a way that they never thought possible. The use of irony in “The Depths of The Man Who Loves Salmon” is a powerful tool that Alexie uses to convey his message about the importance of embracing one’s identity, no matter how unconventional it may seem.

Use of Imagery

In “The Depths of The Man Who Loves Salmon,” Sherman Alexie masterfully employs the use of imagery to convey the emotional depth of his characters and the natural world they inhabit. From the vivid descriptions of the salmon swimming upstream to the haunting imagery of a man drowning in the river, Alexie’s use of sensory details creates a rich and immersive reading experience. Through his use of imagery, Alexie not only paints a picture of the physical landscape but also delves into the psychological and emotional landscapes of his characters, revealing their innermost thoughts and desires. Overall, the use of imagery in “The Depths of The Man Who Loves Salmon” is a testament to Alexie’s skill as a writer and his ability to capture the complexities of the human experience.


One of the most prominent motifs in Sherman Alexie’s The Man Who Loves Salmon is the theme of identity. Throughout the novel, the protagonist, Thomas Builds-the-Fire, struggles with his sense of self and his place in the world. He is constantly searching for a way to connect with his Native American heritage, while also trying to navigate the complexities of modern American society. This struggle is reflected in the recurring image of the salmon, which represents both Thomas’s cultural heritage and his personal journey of self-discovery. As he learns more about the salmon and its life cycle, he begins to see parallels between their journey and his own. Ultimately, the motif of identity serves as a powerful reminder of the importance of staying true to oneself, even in the face of adversity.

Cultural Significance

The cultural significance of Sherman Alexie’s The Man Who Loves Salmon lies in its portrayal of the complexities of Native American identity and the ongoing struggle for cultural preservation. Through the character of Thomas Builds-the-Fire, Alexie challenges stereotypes and highlights the importance of storytelling in Native American culture. The novel also addresses the impact of colonization and assimilation on Native American communities, as well as the ongoing fight for sovereignty and self-determination. Overall, The Man Who Loves Salmon serves as a powerful commentary on the intersection of culture, identity, and history in contemporary Native American life.

Historical Context

The Depths of The Man Who Loves Salmon by Sherman Alexie is a novel that delves into the complexities of Native American identity and the impact of colonization on indigenous communities. Set in the Pacific Northwest, the novel explores the relationship between the protagonist, Thomas Builds-the-Fire, and his love for salmon, a symbol of cultural heritage and survival for his people. To fully understand the significance of this novel, it is important to consider the historical context in which it is set. The Pacific Northwest has a rich history of indigenous cultures, including the Chinook, Salish, and Nuu-chah-nulth peoples, who have relied on salmon as a primary food source for thousands of years. However, the arrival of European settlers in the 19th century brought about significant changes to the region, including the construction of dams and other infrastructure that disrupted salmon migration patterns and threatened the survival of these communities. The novel explores these themes through the lens of Thomas’s personal journey, highlighting the ongoing struggle for Native American rights and the importance of preserving cultural heritage in the face of adversity.

Reception and Criticism

The reception and criticism of Sherman Alexie’s “The Depths of The Man Who Loves Salmon” has been mixed. Some critics have praised the author’s ability to weave together themes of identity, family, and tradition in a poignant and thought-provoking way. Others, however, have criticized the book for its heavy-handed use of symbolism and its reliance on stereotypes of Native American culture. Despite these criticisms, “The Depths of The Man Who Loves Salmon” remains a powerful and important work of literature that offers a unique perspective on the complexities of modern Native American life.

Comparison to Other Works by Sherman Alexie

When comparing “The Man Who Loves Salmon” to other works by Sherman Alexie, it becomes clear that this particular story is unique in its focus on the relationship between a man and a fish. While Alexie often explores themes of identity, family, and cultural conflict in his writing, “The Man Who Loves Salmon” stands out for its emphasis on the natural world and the connection between humans and animals. Additionally, the story’s use of magical realism sets it apart from Alexie’s more straightforwardly realistic works, such as “The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven.” Despite these differences, however, “The Man Who Loves Salmon” still showcases Alexie’s signature wit, insight, and compassion, making it a valuable addition to his body of work.

Analysis of Title

The title of Sherman Alexie’s short story, “The Depths of The Man Who Loves Salmon,” is a complex and intriguing one. At first glance, it seems to be a straightforward description of the protagonist’s love for salmon. However, upon closer examination, the title reveals deeper layers of meaning and symbolism. The word “depths” suggests that there is more to the man’s love for salmon than meets the eye. It implies that his love is not just surface-level, but rather something that runs deep and has significant emotional and psychological implications. Additionally, the use of the word “man” in the title suggests that the story will explore themes of masculinity and identity. Overall, the title sets the stage for a thought-provoking and nuanced exploration of love, identity, and the human experience.

Significance of Setting

The setting of a story is often overlooked, but it plays a crucial role in shaping the characters and their experiences. In “The Depths of The Man Who Loves Salmon,” Sherman Alexie uses the setting of the Pacific Northwest to highlight the protagonist’s connection to nature and his struggle to reconcile his traditional Native American beliefs with the modern world. The lush forests, rushing rivers, and abundant salmon are not just a backdrop, but a vital part of the story. The setting also serves to emphasize the theme of cultural identity and the tension between tradition and modernity. Without the specific setting of the Pacific Northwest, the story would lose much of its depth and meaning.

Impact on Indigenous Literature

The impact of Sherman Alexie’s work on Indigenous literature cannot be overstated. As a Native American writer, Alexie has brought attention to the struggles and triumphs of Indigenous people in a way that is both honest and unapologetic. His work has inspired a new generation of Indigenous writers to tell their own stories and has helped to break down stereotypes and misconceptions about Native American culture. The Depths of The Man Who Loves Salmon is just one example of Alexie’s powerful storytelling and his ability to connect with readers on a deep and emotional level. Through his work, Alexie has shown that Indigenous literature is not just important, but essential to understanding the complex history and culture of Native American people.