Reservation Blues

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Chess (Eunice) Warm Water Character Analysis

A Flathead Indian from Arlee, Montana, Chess becomes a back-up singer and keyboardist in Coyote Springs, and falls in love with Thomas Builds-the-Fire. She is very close with her sister, Checkers, of whom she is also fiercely protective. The two sisters earned their money fighting forest fires in Montana before joining the band. Chess is wise, and tells stories like Thomas. At the end of the novel, deeply frustrated by the death of Junior and the cycle of suffering that brought it about, she proposes to Thomas and the two decide to move to Spokane and have children together—children who will grow up with two “brown faces” looking down at them.

Chess (Eunice) Warm Water Quotes in Reservation Blues

The Reservation Blues quotes below are all either spoken by Chess (Eunice) Warm Water or refer to Chess (Eunice) Warm Water . For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Race, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Grove Press edition of Reservation Blues published in 1995.
Chapter 4 Quotes

“You never told us who won that game between your father and the Tribal Cops.”
“Who do you think?” Thomas asked. “Who do you think won that game?”

Related Characters: Thomas Builds-the-Fire (speaker), Chess (Eunice) Warm Water (speaker), Samuel Builds-the-Fire
Page Number: 129
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Alexie reveals the ending to the pick-up basketball game from years before when Thomas’s father, Samuel Builds-the-Fire, took on the Tribal Cops in the ultimate underdog contest. There was no happy ending to the story - Samuel and his team lost. This cycle of impossible hope, driven, the Warm Water sisters would suggest, by the macho drive of would-be warriors in the tribe, leads inevitably to defeat and despair - such that Thomas does not even have to say outright that his father lost, because it is the obvious outcome to such a common story. Thomas' repeated question is tinged with defeatism and anger that this cycle is a part of his identity - the Tribal Cops, representatives on the reservation of the power of White America, have always won, and always will win against the marginalized Natives who dare to speak up or struggle against injustice, as Thomas’ father did in his own way.

The story that Thomas tells is a powerful one, illustrating the history of struggle against the governmental powers that perpetuate a cycle of hopelessness. Thomas uses his gift as a storyteller to bring to life his father’s effort once again, even as Samuel lies prone on the table in the present. If anything, this tale serves to underline the tragedy of his father’s fall from glory to this moment, and to bristle against the seeming inevitability of that fall.

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Chapter 5 Quotes

“There was a part of every Indian bleeding in the snow. All those soldiers killed us in the name of God, enit? They shouted ‘Jesus Christ’ as they ran swords through our bellies. Can you feel the pain still, late at night, when you’re trying to sleep, when you’re praying to a God whose name was used to justify the slaughter?”

Related Characters: Thomas Builds-the-Fire (speaker), Chess (Eunice) Warm Water
Page Number: 167
Explanation and Analysis:

Thomas is speaking to Chess about the role of religion in her life, as she tries to convince him to come to church with her. For Thomas, it is impossible to separate the historical injustice and violence perpetrated by the Christian Church from any of its present-day spiritual teachings. These teachings were used to justify the slaughter of thousands of his own race, and so must be corrupt and evil, as far as he is concerned. He feels a real bond to every Native who was killed, a bond made stronger perhaps by his role as a storyteller, who listens to the voices of the reservation’s many ghosts.

The fact that Catholicism still has such a strong hold on the reservation is, in Thomas’ mind, only further proof that the white Christian desire to oppress the Natives, weeding out their traditional spiritual practices, has not left. Rather, according to Thomas’s perspective, their continued presence serves to reinforce patterns of guilt and fear that isolate, rather than build community. Like alcohol, religion is another means by which those in power aim to pacify the just anger of the oppressed, giving them a false sense of happiness or hope while removing their will to change their current circumstances for the better by rising up against the structures that restrict them.

Thomas smiled.
“You know,” he said, “I’ve always had a theory that you ain’t really Indian unless, at some point in your life, you didn’t want to be Indian.”
“Good theory,” Chess said. “I’m the one who told you that.”

Related Characters: Thomas Builds-the-Fire (speaker), Chess (Eunice) Warm Water (speaker)
Page Number: 169
Explanation and Analysis:

Thomas and Chess speak about the struggle of Native American life, and arrive at the same conclusion: that self-hatred and a desire to escape one’s Native identity is in itself an integral part of what it means to be Native. As she rightly reminds Thomas, it was Chess who came up with this pearl of wisdom first; it seems as though the female characters in the novel are more capable of taking this kind of perspective on their pain, while the male characters are often too trapped within the cycle of suffering to see its cause. That Thomas unconsciously echoes Chess is a sign of their growing love for one another, as they are beginning now to take refuge from all of this suffering by relying on each other.

This sort of lamenting of one’s position in life that both characters describe is a key part of blues songwriting, which is inherently mournful, sometimes with a tinge of anger at the sorry conditions the singer finds him or herself trapped within. They express, and perhaps overcome this despair through song, which builds a community of support, of fellow-sufferers willing to hope for better.

Chapter 6 Quotes

“You want the good stuff of being Indian without all the bad stuff, enit? Well, a concussion is just as traditional as a sweatlodge… What did you New Agers expect? You think magic is so easy to explain? You come running to the reservations, to all these places you’ve decided are sacred. Jeez, don’t you know every place is sacred? You want your sacred lands in warm places with pretty views. You want the sacred places to be near malls and 7-Elevens, too.”

Related Characters: Chess (Eunice) Warm Water (speaker), Betty, Veronica
Page Number: 184
Explanation and Analysis:

Chess yells at Betty and Veronica when they decide to leave the reservation after Victor and Junior fight with White Hawk and are taken to the hospital. Chess’s mounting frustration at the invasion of these white women comes to the fore here, as she berates the two outsiders for their limited, ultimately racist view of what it is to be Native American.

Betty and Veronica, argues Chess, are interested in Junior and Victor only as a means of touching the exotic, engaging with a culture they see as holding a special, spiritual power. They misunderstand this power, says Chess, because they believe they can control it and make selective use of it, taking only the good without the bad and keeping all the conveniences and advantages of their white identities at the same time. The sacred is everywhere, in everything, and they are blind to it because it doesn’t suit their exotic fantasy of what magic is. In fact, Chess goes on, the pain of violence driven by alcoholism, as exemplified by this recent fight, is an equal part of what it means to be a Native American, trapped within patterns of suffering that Betty and Veronica cannot begin to understand.  

Chapter 10 Quotes

Chess looked around the graveyard, at all the graves of Indians killed by white people’s cars, alcohol, uranium. All those Indians who had killed themselves. She saw the pine trees that surrounded the graveyard and the road that led back to the rest of the reservation. That road was dirt and gravel, had been a trail for a few centuries before. A few years from now it would be paved, paid for by one more government grant. She looked down the road and thought she saw a car, a mirage shimmering in the distance, a blonde woman and a child standing beside the car, both dressed in black.

Related Characters: Junior Polatkin, Chess (Eunice) Warm Water , Lynn
Page Number: 282
Explanation and Analysis:

Chess takes a moment to look over the reservation cemetery at the end of Junior’s funeral, and she sees a mirage of the white woman Junior loved in college, and their unborn child. Surveying the rows of graves, Chess sees the race-driven violence behind each of the dead Natives, the patterns of suffering - alcoholism, cancer caused by uranium mining, and car accidents - that she believes are enforced by the racist policies of mainstream white America. She is nearly overwhelmed by the magnitude of this destruction, and by the many suicides who gave in to despair. The trees and the gravel road that “had been a trail for a few centuries before,” are a piece of the old reservation, before the advent of white settlers, repositories of the history of Native Americans in this place that go beyond the graveyard. The trail will be paved over soon, erased by the government’s money, a bandaid applied to the wrong wound. In the distance, the blond woman is a vision of what might have been for Junior, a happy family with a child that Victor lied about, who was in fact aborted. If the racism that separated Junior from his college girlfriend, Lynn, had not existed, this family might.

In the blue van, Thomas, Chess, and Checkers sang together. They were alive; they’d keep living. They sang together with the shadow horses: we are alive, we’ll keep living. Songs were waiting for them up there in the dark. Songs were waiting for them in the city.

Related Characters: Thomas Builds-the-Fire, Chess (Eunice) Warm Water , Checkers (Gladys) Warm Water
Related Symbols: Horses
Page Number: 306
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote, which ends the novel, Thomas, Chess, and Checkers cross the borders of the reservation on their way to a new life, accompanied by a herd of shadowy horses. They have finally grown so frustrated with life on the reservation and among its community that they have decided that the only way to keep hope alive and break the pattern of suffering and despair is to build upon the smaller community of love they have created amongst themselves, in a new place. When making this decision, Thomas is sad to leave the stories of the reservation behind - but the shadowy ghost horses that appear to shepherd them across the border are a sign that the spirit and history of their culture will accompany them, and this gives Thomas and his companions hope that songs are “waiting for them in the city.” They sing together now, using the blues as a means of overcoming there despair, and look to the future. There will be new stories, and new songs - and perhaps, this time, they will at long last have new endings.  

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Chess (Eunice) Warm Water Character Timeline in Reservation Blues

The timeline below shows where the character Chess (Eunice) Warm Water appears in Reservation Blues. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 3
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This chapter begins with a love song, and the reason becomes clear when Chess and Checkers Warm Water, Flathead Indian sisters, push their way to the front of the... (full context)
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...on stage with Junior and Thomas, and Thomas announces that the next song is for Chess. He points at her in the crowd, and everyone chants her name. Thomas sings the... (full context)
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...and noting that Victor and Junior were “drunk as skunks.” The night of the show, Chess and Checkers helped Thomas pack the gear, since Victor and Junior were passed out in... (full context)
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Chess invites Thomas back to their house to spend the night, and although he feels a... (full context)
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Chess tells Thomas that they grew up in a little shack in the hills with their... (full context)
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Chess begins to cry, and takes a moment to herself in the bathroom. Thomas asks about... (full context)
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Thomas smiles at Chess when her story is finished—she is the first Indian he has found who tells stories... (full context)
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...believing she was dead—he convinced himself she had run away with another man. He brought Chess and Checkers small gifts whenever he returned from searching. One time, he brought each sister... (full context)
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...brought it inside so that it didn’t get cold. Victor cooks an omelet, surprising everyone. Chess leaves the kitchen after Victor farts, and Thomas follows her. Victor and Junior are left... (full context)
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Thomas tells Chess that the band is better than they sounded last night, blaming Victor and Junior being... (full context)
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Struck with an idea, Thomas invites Chess and Checkers to join the band as singers. Chess is skeptical, unwilling to leave home.... (full context)
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...audience.” The audience goes wild, begging for more “music, hope, and joy.” After the show, Chess, Checkers, and Thomas find Victor and Junior naked and drunk in the back of the... (full context)
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Checkers goes to sleep on the pool table inside, while Chess and Thomas sit on a bench and talk. Chess tells Thomas that Victor and Junior... (full context)
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...Wally won the Indian boys beat him up—all except Beaver. And Wally never stopped dancing. Chess correctly guesses that the two were half brothers. When she asks what the story means,... (full context)
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...quotes Michael White Hawk badmouthing the band. The band members are asleep throughout Thomas’s house. Chess dreams of a small unpainted Indian man on a pale horse, who rides alone and... (full context)
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Chess wakes up in the dark, frightened, and calls for Thomas, finding him in the kitchen... (full context)
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...engine by Thomas. They band members are driving back to the reservation, everyone asleep but Chess and Thomas, who listen to Hank Williams on the radio. The music rises up into... (full context)
Chapter 4
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...drunken father. Victor and Junior, too, are jaded to this sight, and they go inside. Chess and Checkers help Thomas lift his father into the house and lay him on the... (full context)
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...he had nothing left to be good at. Now, looking at him on the table, Chess and Checkers are surprised he ever played: he is dirty and overweight. Checkers says that... (full context)
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Thomas pours them all a glass of commodity grape juice, and Chess remarks that their cousins drink this mixed with rubbing alcohol. They fall silent, and then... (full context)
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Chess and Checkers wait for Thomas in the kitchen, jealously watching Samuel sleep. Checkers tells Chess... (full context)
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...the Sherriff.” The cops score again. Back in the present, in the kitchen, Thomas asks Chess if she ever drank, and she and Checkers reply that they never did—they were too... (full context)
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Chess and Thomas remember an argument they witnessed a few days earlier in Spokane—a drunk white... (full context)
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Thomas, Chess, and Checkers talk about Thomas’s mother, who died of cancer. Thomas tells them that she... (full context)
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Chess remembers that her father Luke used to rave about being a radioman in World War... (full context)
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...Checkers slaps him. She begins to struggle against him, until Victor throws her down. Then Chess intervenes, and Thomas tackles Victor. The two wrestle, until Junior finally interrupts them. Thomas leaves... (full context)
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Thomas and Chess return to the house to announce their decision. Junior is under the table with Checkers,... (full context)
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Victor and Junior drink coffee while Thomas and Chess discuss Seattle—how it’s named after an Indian Chief, but that they got the name wrong.... (full context)
Chapter 5
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...Father Arnold. She wears Nikes, remembering when her father Luke used to send her and Chess to buy cheap plastic tennis shoes in the Spokane supermarket. Now Checkers always buys Nikes,... (full context)
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...black girl. She would follow the white girls around, wanting to be just like them. Chess told her they were better than the white girls any day, but Checkers never believed... (full context)
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...the reservation for a visit. They were supposed to all be friends, and once she, Chess, and the two white girls helped with Communion. In the storage closet, one of the... (full context)
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When the white nieces left, Chess and Checkers saw them off at the train, and Checkers wanted so desperately to go... (full context)
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In the van, Coyote Springs sleeps fitfully, frightened by the city. Chess is still awake, though, and she listens to the men’s nightmares. Junior dreams of horses,... (full context)
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Junior falls back asleep, but Thomas stays up with Chess. They discuss religion. Thomas tells her he was baptized Catholic, but quit the church at... (full context)
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...landed and rock ’n’ roll the next day.” Thomas tells the interviewer that he and Chess voted against the two white women, but Junior and Victor voted them in with a... (full context)
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...Thomas tells him she stayed behind to sing in the Church choir. He says that Chess is also religious. The interviewer asks Thomas whether this seems odd, and Thomas tells him... (full context)
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Thomas and Chess take turns driving the victorious band home, with Junior, Victor, Betty, and Veronica in the... (full context)
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...beauties of the reservation, and thinks of his stories. He closes his eyes and tells Chess a story about how they were both slaughtered at Wounded Knee, that there was “a... (full context)
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Thomas smiles, and tells Chess his theory that you aren’t really Indian unless at some point you didn’t want to... (full context)
Chapter 6
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...It takes issue with Betty and Veronica, names Victor and Junior as drunks, calls out Chess and Checkers for being Flathead (not Spokane) Indians, and calls Thomas a “crazy storyteller.” It... (full context)
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On Sunday morning, Thomas accompanies Chess and Checkers to the Catholic church, fighting the urge to run away. Chess holds his... (full context)
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...band, suggesting that they have a lot of potential and describing them in commercial terms. Chess and Checkers, for example, would attract men with their “exotic animalistic woman thing.” Junior is... (full context)
Chapter 7
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...turns to Junior, laughing at his fear, and hands him two huge drumsticks. She calls Chess and Checkers by their real names, Eunice and Gladys, and leads them to a sweat... (full context)
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...to keep going, and they play once more through the song. That night, Thomas and Chess talk in their sleeping bag. Thomas tells a story, imagining that Coyote Springs is opening... (full context)
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...the feather, and whispers a prayer. Thomas produces a feather for each of them, and Chess tells Thomas she loves him. As they fly away, the reservation waits, collectively, for their... (full context)
Chapter 8
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...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... (full context)
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Chess, Checkers, and Thomas wait in their hotel lobby worrying about Victor and Junior—they want to... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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Chess and Thomas enter yet another bar, asking the pretty waitress about Victor and Junior. She... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
Chapter 9
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...even bothered to take their instruments home from New York. On the plane, Thomas and Chess had revealed their plans to leave the reservation. Junior had sat and thought of Lynn,... (full context)
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On the night before that, Thomas and Chess discuss their future while Checkers sleeps on the floor beside their bed, escaping from her... (full context)
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...dad is “way into the Indian thing,” since he has some portion of Cherokee blood. Chess tries to explain that Cherokee and Dakota are different tribes, but he doesn’t understand. Dakota... (full context)
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Chess and Thomas finally decide they will go to Spokane. The two of them and Checkers... (full context)
Chapter 10
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...mother and father. Big Mom and Father Arnold take turns leading the service, while Checkers, Chess, Victor, and Thomas watch. Lester and the three dogs are also present. The dogs howl,... (full context)
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Chess looks around the graveyard at all the Indians “killed by white people’s cars, alcohol, uranium,”... (full context)
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Checkers goes straight to bed after the funeral. Chess asks her if she’s still bothered by nightmares of Sheridan, and Checkers explains that now... (full context)
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Checkers refuses to speak to him alone, insisting that Chess stay with them. Arnold apologizes, but Checkers tells him it doesn’t matter, and that she... (full context)
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Big Mom lights sage, and Chess, Checkers, and Thomas get ready to pray, for everybody, as Big Mom puts on a... (full context)
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...Coyote Springs is gone. Victor wanders around the reservation with the three dogs, while Thomas, Chess, and Checkers prepare to leave for Spokane. Thomas tells Chess he isn’t worried about saying... (full context)
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...that he feels at home there, and that the people might need his music. As Chess, Checkers, and Thomas start to leave, Big Mom takes up a collection for them from... (full context)
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As they drive away in silence, Chess, Checkers, and Thomas think about the future. They finally admit that they are scared, and... (full context)