Reservation Blues

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Reservation Blues Chapter 8 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
This chapter’s song is about an urban Indian who dreams of the reservation. At Cavalry Records, the band warms up nervously. Sheridan and Wright are nervous for Mr. Armstrong’s decision, hoping these Indians can make them money. Armstrong arrives, fat and powerful, and the band counts off as, somewhere, horses scream. At first, all is well, and then suddenly Victor’s guitar begins to rebel, bucking in his arms, and he feels a razor slice his palms. They begin once more, but his guitar falls to the ground. Armstrong announces that “they don’t have it,” and leaves the studio. Sheridan and Wright argue heatedly behind the glass, and band stands, dismayed.
The scream of the horses is another omen that this test will go poorly—and it does nearly immediately. The demonic guitar, which has always served Victor with an air of future menace, rebels violently against him at the most vital moment—showing how “deals with the devil” never work out in the end. The band members are barely given the chance to prove themselves before Armstrong walks away. Like Samuel’s loss in the basketball match against the Tribal cops, it seems their defeat was inevitable.
Themes
Hope, Despair, and the Blues Theme Icon
Storytelling, History, and the Spiritual Theme Icon
An article in the local paper shows Victor’s aggressive optimism on his way to the plane the day before, as well as David WalksAlong’s pessimistic prediction that they are “done for.” Junior says he just wants to be good at something. Back in the studio, Wright and Sheridan return, suggesting Coyote Springs may be able to try again in a couple of months. Victor is furious, throwing his guitar and harming studio equipment. He then attacks the executives, who are angry that the “Indians” are rejecting their generous help. Chess and Checkers throw Sheridan’s money back in his face. Outside, Victor continues to rage, wanting to attack all of the symbols of New York. He and Junior then leave to get drunk.
Victor’s aggressive hope loses out in the face of WalksAlong’s cynicism and despair—and most crushing of all is Junior’s gentle but persistent desire to be good, which is also foiled. Victor’s violence, and the response of the white executives—who cannot see why these “lowly Indians” should be so upset and reject their generosity so fully—is an echo of negotiations over reservation land during the Indian Wars. Junior and Victor decide to handle this defeat in the usual way: with alcohol.
Themes
Race, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
Hope, Despair, and the Blues Theme Icon
Alcoholism and Patterns of Suffering  Theme Icon
Storytelling, History, and the Spiritual Theme Icon
Chess, Checkers, and Thomas wait in their hotel lobby worrying about Victor and Junior—they want to find them, but there are too many thousands of bars. Chess marshals the three, sending Checkers to the room to wait and taking Thomas with her to hit every bar, beginning with the “A”s in the phonebook. Meanwhile Junior and Victor are in their fourth bar of the night, having already been kicked out of three. The New York bars are not so different from those on the reservation. Victor is drunk, calling everyone a liar, and going on about the beautiful white women. When Junior asks why he is so obsessed, Victor responds that, “bucks prefer white tail.” Junior sits in silence, eating peanuts. He has always thought of getting a white woman as the “best kind of revenge against white men,” but knows this explanation is too easy.
The band members are even more lost within the mainstream than they felt when first visiting Seattle, now overwhelmed to be so far from their home. Still, they face up against the impossible task of checking every bar in the city, clinging to the stubborn hope that has characterized their whole adventure. Alcohol is an equalizing force, and Victor is falling back into his element: getting drunk and chasing after white women. Junior’s musing that getting a white woman is the “best kind of revenge against white men” is part of the answer to why the two are drawn to Betty and Veronica, but it also ignores the real possibility of love.
Themes
Race, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
Hope, Despair, and the Blues Theme Icon
Alcoholism and Patterns of Suffering  Theme Icon
Community, Friendship, and Love Theme Icon
Junior remembers meeting his first white woman, Lynn, in college, in Oregon. They were both stuck on campus over break. Lynn told Junior he was pretty, and he said she was too. After hours of talking, she kissed him. Back in the bar, Victor interrupts Junior’s reverie. A police report records that Thomas and Chess have reported the pair as missing now. Checkers falls asleep in the hotel room, and dreams that Sheridan has come to apologize, waving a cigarette like a saber and telling her that the U.S. Army was the Indians’ best friend, but the Indians ruined it. Sheridan then begins to yell and pushes Checkers to the ground, telling her he never wanted to hurt anybody, but the Indians just won’t surrender. He tells her about a pregnant Indian woman he killed in ’72, and how her unborn fetus bit him. In the dream Sheridan admires Checkers’ tribal beauty, but she rejects him, telling him she is only dreaming, and that he is a ghost. He squeezes her face until she cries out.
Junior has felt both love and heartbreak with Lynn, as Alexie will soon reveal. Their beginning seems pure enough, but Junior’s memories are interrupted by Victor’s antics. Checkers’ nightmare about Sheridan makes his link to the infamous U.S. Army officer more explicit. Sheridan’s graphic account of murdering a pregnant Indian woman (in 1872), followed by his ghostly present self’s violent attack on Checkers, is a reminder of the very real ways that past suffering and abuse continue to cause pain to generations of Native Americans alive today. This violence was not a singular event, but the beginning of a pattern that can still be seen all over the reservation.
Themes
Race, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
Alcoholism and Patterns of Suffering  Theme Icon
Storytelling, History, and the Spiritual Theme Icon
Community, Friendship, and Love Theme Icon
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Chess and Thomas enter yet another bar, asking the pretty waitress about Victor and Junior. She says she’s never seen a real Indian before, a “bow-and-arrow Indian”—only Indians from India. She asks the cook, who says he’s pretty sure there aren’t Indians around at all anymore. When Chess and Thomas tell the pair that they themselves are Indian, the cook looks at them, saying that they don’t look like Indians in the movies—they look Puerto Rican. He asks if they speak English, and they leave to go home.
Chess and Thomas are outsiders in this world, rare specimens to be gawked at. The waitress’s reaction and the cook’s claim that there aren’t Indians around at all anymore reveals the extent to which Native Americans are not at all represented in mainstream white culture, except in ways that are false or outdated, as “bow-and-arrow Indians.”
Themes
Race, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
In Junior’s memory, Lynn reveals that she is pregnant a few months into their relationship. In the present, in the sixth bar of the night, Victor laughs, drunk, as Junior announces his pregnancy to the room. “Am I the father?” Victor asks. In Junior’s memory, he proposes, and Lynn tells him that she can’t marry him, because he is Indian. Her parents wouldn’t even talk to him when they came to visit campus. Junior remembers walking away, heartbroken. “Nothing as white as the white girl an Indian boy loves,” he says aloud, and then asks Victor if he knows that the end of the world is near. Victor says he does, and passes out. Junior carries him out of the bar.
Junior is sinking back into his memories, and into the pain of his past with Lynn. His attempt to be “be good”—to marry her and raise their child—is bluntly refused on account of his race, an insurmountable barrier between them. The whiteness of the women pursued by Indian men goes beyond the physical; it is a symbol of everything that they cannot have because of their race, of a wild and impossible hope. Junior is giving in to despair now, and the phrase “the end of the world is near”—previously a comic interruption by The-man-who-was-probably-Lakota—becomes more tragic and sinister when Junior says it.
Themes
Race, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
Hope, Despair, and the Blues Theme Icon
Alcoholism and Patterns of Suffering  Theme Icon
Community, Friendship, and Love Theme Icon
In Checkers’ nightmare, Sheridan tells her that he has known her and dreamed of her for centuries, and she says she does not believe in monsters. He slaps her, but she insists that he is only another white guy telling lies. Sheridan kisses Checkers and pulls at her clothes, but George Wright’s knock on the door interrupts them. Hearing Checkers scream, Wright throws his shoulder against the door.
Sheridan’s sexually predatory stance is a reflection on all of the white men who have preyed violently on minority women because of their position of powerlessness. The fact that Wright is the one who intervenes is a sign that change for the better might be possible even in seemingly evil people—even if it takes centuries.
Themes
Race, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
Alcoholism and Patterns of Suffering  Theme Icon
Storytelling, History, and the Spiritual Theme Icon
In a letter in Junior’s memory, Lynn reveals that she has had an abortion. She tells him that she hummed a little song and then it was over, and to remember that she loves him, but that it is all over now. In the present, as the sun rises, Thomas and Chess return to the lobby and “discover America,” finding Victor asleep on a couch while Junior reads USA Today. The three of them carry Victor up to the room. Junior reveals that he has only been drinking orange juice all night, since somebody had to take care of Victor.
The tragic ending of Lynn’s relationship with Junior swirls in his memory, driving him closer to despair. The irony of these two Natives “discovering America,”—a feat always misattributed to Columbus, who “discovered” the continent for Europeans—is a dark joke that caps an evening full of despair and pain. Junior has been responsible in defense of his alcoholic friend.
Themes
Race, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
Hope, Despair, and the Blues Theme Icon
Alcoholism and Patterns of Suffering  Theme Icon
Community, Friendship, and Love Theme Icon
They are all surprised when George Wright answers their knock on the hotel room door. He explains that Checkers just had a nightmare, and wanted him to wait up with her until they returned. Chess goes to check on her, while Thomas and Junior try to look threatening. Wright tells them he came to apologize, and that he wants to help them because he owes them. They ask him why he owes them, and he looks into their faces, seeing millions of beaten, scarred, and diseased Indians, split open by bayonets and bullets. He then looks down at his white hands and sees the bloodstains on them.
Wright’s repentance seems genuine, if unexpected, and is another signal that evil is not native to any race or religion, but is rather a choice. The immense guilt that Wright feels is a sign that repentance is possible. It’s also a way of representing the idea that, because of the abuses that Native Americans have suffered at the hands of whites over generations, the white majority is in many ways now responsible for making things right.
Themes
Race, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
Hope, Despair, and the Blues Theme Icon
Alcoholism and Patterns of Suffering  Theme Icon
Storytelling, History, and the Spiritual Theme Icon